At the end of the 19th century, an influx of Slovenians from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire settled in New York’s East Village.
They found the familiar voices of European groups, including Germans, Poles and Ukrainians, and were welcomed to celebrate Mass at the German parish of St. Nicholas on Second Avenue. In time, so many Masses were being offered in Slovenian that the group was asked why they didn’t have a church of their own.
It was a good question, and the Slovenians responded with the founding of St. Cyril’s parish in 1916 along with the purchase of a brownstone at 62 St. Marks Place that would serve as the church. Slovene Franciscan friars promised to send priests to serve at the parish and have done so since the beginning.
Father Krizolog Cimerman, O.F.M., pastor since 1992, said, “We have about 450 parishioners. The majority of our people don’t live in the archdiocese. I send them bulletins.” Father Cimerman was moderator of parish missions in Ljbljana, Slovenia, before he came to New York.
Mass is celebrated in Slovenian every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. An English Mass is offered on Saturday at 6 p.m.
The native culture was honored in a special way at the Centennial Mass offered Oct. 16 with Archbishop Stanislav Zore of Ljubljana serving as principal celebrant. Concelebrants included Father Cimerman; Father Marjan Cuden, provincial of the Slovenian Province of The Holy Cross; and Father Nikola Pašalic, pastor of St. Cyril and Methodius in Manhattan. Some attendees wore traditional Slovenian costumes.
More than 260 people attended a dinner that followed at the New York Athletic Club. Cardinal Dolan was presented with a handmade straw hat created in Domžale, a town in Slovenia where many of the founders of the parish are from. When they first arrived in the East Village 100 years ago, they brought their skills with them and made and sold straw hats for the Orthodox Jewish community.
The church building was renovated in 1996 with $350,000 in grant money from the Slovenian government. The converted brownstone was in desperate need of structural repairs.
The interior is a testimony to the artistry and the faith of the Slovenian people. Above the portal, or entrance, is a 6-foot-wide, 16-foot high stained-glass window created in 1986 with the image of Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga, the first bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, Mich., and the first Slovenian missionary to Native Americans. In 1997, Slovenian artist Bogdan Grom created Stations of the Cross for the church. He also made a statue of St. Francis of Assisi and one of St. Anthony of Padua. Above the altar is a stained-glass window depicting the parish’s namesake.
Cultural hours, introduced at the parish in 1971, are held every third Sunday of the month with Mass followed by a traditional lunch of kielbasa and sauerkraut. “Some come for the Mass, some for the culture, and some for the food. It’s very good,” Father Cimerman said with a laugh.
The pastor noted that weekend attendance is low. Younger generations have assimilated and have lost fluency with the language. Many longtime parish families have moved out of the neighborhood and across the metropolitan area.
“They never forget that the church is here,” he said. “Big holidays like Christmas, Easter, Palm Sunday and anniversaries, we have people from all over.
“It’s nice to preserve the Slovenian heritage, but my primary duty is to help people in the transformation from the Slovenian world into the American world and remain in the Church to preserve their faith,” Father Cimerman said.