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Metropolitan Nicholas had special place in heart for the poor

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As a boy growing up in Perth Amboy, N.J., Nicholas R. Smisko played priest in his parents' attic, using sheets for robes, his mother's goblet for a chalice, bread for Communion, and his father's wine.

"If a pet cat or dog in the neighborhood died, he would bless that dog or cat and have a funeral Mass for it," recalled his brother Michael Smisko of Waretown, N.J. "He was preparing to be a priest."

He not only became a priest, he became Metropolitan Nicholas, the spiritual leader of the 10,000-member American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA. He died Sunday, March 13, 2011, in Windber Hospice in Somerset County after a long battle with cancer. He was 75.

Metropolitan Nicholas was born Feb. 23, 1936, to the late Anna and Andrew Smisko. His mother rolled White Owl cigars, and his father was among the workers who unloaded boats from Chile and refined ore into copper ingots.

There was never any doubt as to what Metropolitan Nicholas would be when he grew up. His brothers and the neighborhood children would attend his attic services, with one serving as his altar boy.

"He was truly a priest among priests," said his sister-in-law, Mary Ann Smisko of Waretown.

Metropolitan Nicholas entered Christ the Saviour Seminary in Johnstown and was ordained a priest Jan. 11, 1959. He was pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Windber and studied abroad in Istanbul, Europe and the Holy Land.

After several promotions, he was chosen the third ruling hierarch of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese on April 19, 1985. He was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan by His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on Nov. 24, 1997.

"You could call him a people's bishop," said the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Frank Miloro, chancellor of the diocese and pastor of Christ the Saviour. "He was interested in everybody -- from people in high rank to the common man.

"He would help the poor, the underprivileged, most of the time -- if not all the time -- without fanfare, giving people money, food."

Miloro of Johnstown, is a friend and colleague of the Metropolitan and served as his altar boy in Windber.

He said Metropolitan Nicholas years ago began hosting an Easter dinner for community leaders in his home. Eventually, he opened the dinners to those who had nowhere else to go for Easter and they outnumbered the civic leaders. The event had to be moved to the Holiday Inn in Johnstown.

"He was very committed to the ecumenical journey, especially as he tried to keep his Carpathian ethnic traditions alive and bring healing to his Orthodox diocese and the Byzantine (archdiocese)," said the Rev. Donald B. Green, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania.

Besides his brother and sister-in-law, survivors include a brother, George of Perth Amboy, another sister-in-law and two nieces.

The remains of Metropolitan Nicholas will be received at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Christ the Saviour Cathedral and will lie in state until Sunday evening. Miloro will celebrate the Panachida at 7 p.m. Wednesday and the Parastas at 7 p.m. Thursday.

For later funeral arrangements, visit .

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