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Donora church history recorded for posterity

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 5:07 a.m.

How do you tell the 110-year history of a major religious, ethnic and social symbol in a 52-page book?

"It was a whirlwind but worthwhile project based on the reaction received," said Ruth Ann Yatsko, a lifelong member of the book's subject, St. Dominic's Roman Catholic Church at Sixth St. and Thompson Ave. in Donora. "While a book about all of the Catholic parishes in Donora never got off the back burner, once St. Dominic was closed, interest quickly grew in preserving the church's heritage."

The result of that commitment is "Saint Dominic - A Cornerstone of Community," which sells for $15.

Yatsko, who retired in March 2000 after a 40-year career as a reporter and copy editor at The Valley Independent in Monessen, and others at St. Dominic, credit Donora native Joseph P. Rudinec, an acclaimed photographer, and Karen Kelly Hill, a veteran public relations professional and president of CopyWrite Ink of Boardman, Ohio, for coming up with the idea to create the book.

"When Joe was told by his sister, Anna Marie Bedner of Donora, that the church was going to be closed, he made arrangements to take pictures for his family and himself after a weekday Mass," Yatsko said. "People asked if they could get copies of his photos. When he showed his pictures to Karen, she was fascinated by the imagery and beauty of the church and thus the idea of preserving this was born.

"After they made the decision to do the book, they thought it would be nice to have some history in it. Joe's sister asked me if I could help. I had a history that I have done for other publications, updated it and forwarded it to Joe and Karen and they moved ahead.

"We are fortunate to have the beauty of our church captured by a professional with the credentials of Joe and grateful for the desire and expertise of Karen, editor and publisher, to keep alive our memories," Yatsko said.

Rudinec, whose company, Rudinec & Associates, is based in North Lima, Ohio, offered similar appreciation for what he called a "collaborative effort."

"Ruth did the written history of St. Dominic's that appears in the book and it was a tremendous help to Karen and me," he said. "Veronica Salat assisted with the research on the beautiful statues and stained glass windows at the church and with translation of the Slovak and orders for the book, and Pete Worhatch provided invaluable help in working with me to do the photographs."

Hill also had gratitude for the "people of St. Dominic's parish for contributing to this book," which details the "rich and proud history of ... as well as the iconic beauty of the worship space in the church."

"Without Ruth Ann's tireless dedication to recording the parish's accomplishments and always championing the cause, this book would not have been possible," Hill, who did the layout and design of the publication, said. "And Joe's photography beautifully represents his boyhood church and its stunning architectural and religious features."

Slovak church

In her history of the church, Yatsko writes that many Slovaks were among the pioneers who flocked to Donora at its birth at the turn of the last century. As early as January 1901, they joined together to establish the first Catholic organization in the community, a Slovak fraternal and beneficial society under the patronage of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. It became affiliated with the First Catholic Slovak Union of America in February, becoming Branch 369 of that organization.

"The desire for these faithful Catholics to have services in their own language brought about the birth of St. Dominic Parish in 1902," Yatsko said. "Prior to its actual organization, several meetings were held to discuss formation of a parish for those of Slovak heritage."

The book follows those origins through the ensuing years of growth and celebration of St. Dominic's and the announcement by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh in July 2011 that the church would be closed.

That decision, announced by Bishop David A. Zubik, left Donora with only one Catholic worship site, St. Philip Neri under the name of Our Lady of the Valley Church on Second Street extension.

Highlights of the book include but are not limited to:

• Rudinec's beautiful color photos of the interior and exterior of the church including an aerial shot showing the parish complex as the focal point of the neighborhood. These pictures include the sacristy, stained glass windows, statues and icons that symbolize the deep faith and history of the parish.

• Archive photos of the original church, priests and nuns who served the parish and a variety of activities.

• References to St. Dominic Grade School and the St. Dominic Social Center, which for many years was the site of dances, receptions, banquets, fish fries and bake sales and other programs for parishioners and the community.

• Such historical reminders that the first baptism of the parish was administered on August 22, 1902 to Catherine Bartakovic, daughter of Alexander and Mildred Bartakovic, and on September 20 the first wedding was performed there, uniting John Skiba and Nary Gelapko.

• While St. Phillip Neri was building its school, space for their classes was provided at St. Dominic's.

• A brief biography of the church's namesake, St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (known as the Dominicans).

"St. Dominic's truly holds a special place in the history of Donora and the Mon Valley," Hill said. "It was such an integral part of the fabric of the community that other ethnic Catholic immigrant groups including the Irish and Polish held regularly scheduled masses at St. Dominic until their churches were built.

"Faith has been the cornerstone on which many communities have been built in the United States," Hill said. "In fact, the very idea for our country was based on the tenets of freedom from religious persecution and the promise of a better life. As such, we have been, and continue to be, a place where people seek to relocate; such was the case with Donora. St. Dominic certainly epitomizes those ideals with its proud history."

Yatsko said the closing of St. Dominic's "left a void in our hearts and souls but it is inspiring to have so many poignant memories of a God-given gift that will forever remain close to us."

The book is on sale at Donora Union Pharmacy, the Donora Smog Museum and the Monessen Heritage Museum. For information or to purchase the book, call 330-726-2572 or e-mail rudinec@rudinec.com .

Native son proud of roots

It's not that far from North Lima, Ohio to Donora -- a journey of just over 100 miles in less than two hours.

Joseph P. Rudinec, a native of Donora, always looks forward to returning to his hometown that way, whether it's for business or pleasure.

"It's an easy ride, all interstate highway most of the way," said Rudinec, who directed photography for a book, "Saint Dominic - A Cornerstone of Community," about one of Donora most venerable landmarks and symbols of faith. "I still have family in Donora and try to get back as often as possible."

And when he does, Rudinec carries a ledger that emphasizes long and successful careers in photography, engineering, education and software and database development.

A 1965 graduate of Monongahela Valley Catholic High, Rudinec holds a master's degree in mechanical engineering and is a registered professional engineer. He instructed at Youngstown State University for 11 years and hold patents relating to the fluid power industry.

His company, Rudinec & Associates, founded in 1975, is based in North Lima, Ohio and has provided services for local, national and international corporations.

His photography has been featured in myriad industry/trade publications worldwide, and his works have been exhibited at numerous galleries and venues including the British Museum of Natural History.

As a result of this diversity, Rudinec, the son of the late Joseph A. and Anna Karch Rudinec, said, software development and database management have become a core business with programs ranging from collection management software, online database management, behavior based safety programs, production management and business analysis.

All of those activities notwithstanding, Rudinec, 64, enjoys the opportunities to return to Donora.

"Donora will always be my hometown and is the center of some of the best years of my life," he said. "I've long been impressed with the tenacity of the community despite the economic downturns and especially with the development of Palmer Park and the sites along the river. The St. Dominic project was the best of two worlds - that is, to help spread the word about a true community treasure and another chance to visit friends and family and the wonderful people of Donora who always make you feel welcome."

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