Croatian Priests in America
Stories of early
Catholic priests and missionaries in America often appear
like real fairy tales. They went forth, especially along the
western coast, discovering new regions and new native tribes.
They tried to convert them to the teachings of Jesus Christ
and in that way build new missions. Among those first Catholic
priests there were Croatians as well. In the sixteenth century
there was a Dominican priest named Vicko Paletin, born on
the island of Kor…ula, who worked as a missionary in Mexico.
He advocated a humane way to christianize the natives and
he also wrote several interesting dissertations about the
new continent in Latin. In 1570, after many years of work
among the natives, he returned back to his native Kor…ula
and built a large Dominican friary where he lived and later
passed away. The second missionary was a Jesuit named Ivan
Ratkay. He was born in 1647 in Croatia's Zagorje region to
a very noble family. He arrived in Mexico in 1680 where he
functioned among the native tribes converting them to Christianity.
He had high hopes of going up north to California, but an
early death prevented his dream from coming to fruition. He
died in December 1683, at the age of 36, most probably poisoned
by the indigenous people. Many hold him to be a martyr and
Ratkay did not realize his dream of making it up north, another
Croatian priest, Fr. Ferdinand Konšćak (Konsag) did.
Father Konšćak was undoubtedly the most recognized Croatian
missionary among the natives. He was born in 1703 in Varañdin.
In 1730 he sailed to Mexico. He was the first to prove that
California was not an island. They used his map of California
up until the middle of the nineteenth century. He traveled
hundreds of miles on horseback through unknown lands converting
the Indians and setting up new missions along the way. His
starting point was the Jesuit mission in San Ignacio, then
the most northern of the fifteen or so Jesuit missions. From
there he founded the Santa Gertrudis Mission in 1751, and
soon after that he planned a mission in San Francisco de Borja,
the place which he discovered in 1758. He never realized this
project as death claimed him in 1759 at the age of 56. His
friend, Father Retz, realized his dream in the year 1762.
Father Konšćak also founded a mining community called
San Antonio Reala. He built mines, roads, and floodgates which
were quite simple to him as he was a renowned mathematician
and engineer. In California's bay there lies a small island
called Consag Rocks which was named after him. Many historians
praised him by extolling his diligence, sacrifice and especially
his commendable approach toward the natives who converted
after hearing his words. Once the natives heard of his death,
many of them came as far as San Ignacio wailing and openly
crying because he was a dear spiritual father to them.
The most famous
Croatian missionary of the nineteenth century, was Rev. Joseph
Kundek (1809 - 1857), a diocesan priest, born in Ivanić
near Zagreb. He came to America through Leopoldinen Stiftung
in 1838. It took him forty-three days to travel from Europe
to New York. He worked with German immigrants in Jasper, Indiana
and he founded three new cities: Ferdinand, Celestine and
Fulda. He also established a new German parish in New Orleans.
He traveled back to Europe to outline the need for more priests
to work with the German immigrants. He was able to bring back
with him sixteen diocesan priests and two Benedictines. He
was the main organizer and helper of the Benedictines in the
establishment of the St. Meinrad Abbey. One of the priests
that came back with Rev. Kundek was Rev. Eduard Martinović,
a Croat, who also worked among the Germans. Few priests contributed
to the spread of Catholicism in America's Midwest as did Rev.
Kundek. German settlers spoke of him and carried his memory
for a long time to come. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary
of his death, a statue was erected honoring him and a street
was renamed after him. The Benedictine Dunstan McAndrews wrote
his doctorate dissertation on Rev. Kundek.
the end of the nineteenth century, Bishop Strossmayer sent
a priest to America who worked among the Croatians. Rev. Dobroslav
Božić (1861 - 1900) came to Allegheny, Pa (now Pittsburgh)
in 1894, and the first Croatian church was established in
the same city. The local bishop, many guests and thousands
of hardworking Croatians were gathered for this big celebration.
Because of the growing number of Croatians in and around Pittsburgh,
the successor of Božić, Rev. Franjo Glojnarić, decided
to build a larger and more beautiful church. It was built
on a hill called Bennett (now Millvale) near Pittsburgh and
it was consecrated in 1900. The next year the members of the
original Allegheny parish, with Fr. Bosiljko Bekovac as pastor,
also constructed a larger and very beautiful church. Both
churches were named St. Nicholas. Later both parishes established
parish schools. Rev. Božić then went to Steelton, Pa.
where he established another Croatian parish. He died at the
early age of 40. However, throughout that whole time, there
were not many Croatian priests available, nor are there even
today. Frequently arguments arose between priests and some
members of the congregation because of political views, envy,
illiteracy, or because the individuals had a hard time adjusting
to the new environment. However, and in spite of all these
problems, we have to give credit to all of these priests who
were pioneers of the religious work among Croatian immigrants
in America. They were not only religious and spiritual leaders
who built churches and church facilities, but they also built
schools and meeting halls where Croatians could socialize.
They had to act as social workers, console the grief stricken,
as well as publish many Croatian newspapers and bulletins
The first Croatian
Franciscan in America was Fr. Gaudencije Gorše, who
became pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Steelton after the death
of Rev. Božić in 1900. Strangely, in these early years,
Croatian parishes were not established in states where the
richest Croatian immigrants lived. For example, in California
there existed only one Croatian parish for many years and
the founder of this Croatian parish was Rev. Anton Žuvić
in Los Angeles in 1909. The church was completed by 1910.
Prior to Rev. Žuvić another priest named Rev. Anton Glumac
was there for a short time among the Croatians but he did
not have a chance to establish a parish. A Slovenian-Croatian
parish was established in San Francisco by a Slovenian priest
named Franjo Turk, but most Croatians were not satisfied with
parishes were being established at that time in the eastern
states, especially in Pennsylvania. Rev. Bosiljko Bekavac
worked with the Croatian people in Sharon, but was not able
to build a church because of arguments that arose between
the parishioners. In 1902 Rev. Mate Matina established a parish
in Rankin, while in 1901 Rev. M. Kajić established a
parish in Johnstown called St. Rok and had a church built
in 1905. In Cleveland, Ohio, Rev. Milan Sutlić established
a parish and had a church built in 1904. Rev. I. Dolinac in
1904 tried to establish a parish in New York without success,
but Fr. Irenej Petričak was successful in 1913. A Croatian
Eastern Rite Catholic parish was established in Cleveland
in 1901. Eastern Rite Catholics, whose ancestors were from
ðumberak, attended this parish, and the first pastors were
Rev. Hranilović and Rev. Severović. In 1903, the
first Slovenian-Croatian parish was established in Chicago.
The first priest was a Slovene named Rev. Janez Kranjec. In
1912, a separate Croatian parish, Sacred Heart, was established
and Rev. Ivan Stipanović came in 1913. A Croatian Eastern
Rite Catholic parish was established in Chicago in 1905. Fr.
Leon Mediƒ established St. Jerome's parish in Chicago in 1912.
Also in Illinois there is a Croatian parish in Joliet, which
was established by Rev. George Violić, in 1906. Msgr.
Martin D. Krmpotić in 1902 established a Croatian parish
in Kansas City, Kansas, and he was pastor there up until his
death in 1931. He is credited for bringing over Croatian and
Slovenian sisters who basically ran the Croatian parish schools.
The first sisters, Adorers of the Blood of Christ, came from
Banja Luka in 1906 to Kansas City. Franciscan sisters from
Maribor came to Kansas City in 1909. Later in 1926 the Daughters
of Divine Charity came to Rankin due to an invitation from
Rev. B. Bekavac.