It was a European trip filled with faith, family, friends — and a first.
Greensburg Bishop Larry J. Kulick combined exploring his Slovak heritage with official duties during a trip this summer to numerous towns in Slovakia, including his ancestral village of Nova Bystrica.
While there, he experienced a vocational first: serving as celebrant and homilist during a televised national Mass celebrated on the Slovakian state holiday of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Nitra. That same day, Kulick met and spoke with Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova.
“I don’t know if I had the breadth and the scope of how big this pilgrimage was,” Kulick said. “It’s a huge deal. And then I found out it’s nationally televised. This was a beautiful, huge outdoor Mass. I gave a homily, beginning and ending the first and last paragraphs in Slovak. I did the main part in English and stressed my American experience of Slovak immigration, how the people in America in the Slovak parishes prayed for communism and atheism to end. My whole message was, you’re looking out to America; it’s the best. And I reminded them that they have to realize that some of the things they have are the treasures we’re now trying to recapture: family, culture and faith.”
COURTESY OF BISHOP LARRY KULICK
Bishop Larry Kulick delivers his homily during a nationally televised Mass in Nitra, Slovakia.
Back to his roots
Kulick took to social media to chronicle his Slovakian adventures, posting almost daily on his official Facebook page.
He grew up in Leechburg, the son of Myrna and Larry Kulick.
“I learned from the village historian that a study he did a few years ago showed that my hometown of Leechburg was the No. 1 town in the entire USA for people immigrating from Nova Bystrica to America,” Kulick said.
Pennsylvania has the largest Slovak American population, with more than 175,000 people of Slovak descent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In total, about 650,000 Slovaks emigrated to the U.S. between 1870 and 1924, until the U.S. government halted most immigration.
“St. Martha’s was founded as a Slovak parish in 1911, and, during that time period, immigrants flooded into the country,” Kulick said. “And particularly here, in Western Pennsylvania, so many of those immigrants came from Central and Eastern Europe.”
As a second grader, Kulick began serving as an altar boy at St. Martha’s alongside his late Slovak priest, the Rev. Rudolph Halvonik, who came to Leechburg when he was 12.
Highlights of Kulick’s trip included celebrating Mass in Nova Bystrica, the ancestral village of the Kovac and Kulick families; visiting the newest pilgrimage site in Zilina, where relics of St. Pope John Paul II and St. Faustina are housed; hiking to Strazov, the highest point in Zilina; visiting the ancient Benedictine monastery of St. Andrew Svorad; cooking alongside the Norbertine Sisters in the Diocese of Nitra; praying at the tomb of Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec, who was persecuted during the communist era; and paying homage to the late Cardinal Jozef Tomko at a museum in his honor at the headquarters of the Divine Word Missionaries in Slovakia.
Bishop William Judak hosted Kulick while he visited Nitra.
COURTESY OF BISHOP LARRY KULICK
Bishop Larry Kulick poses with relatives in his family ancestral village of Nova Bystrica.
Other towns and villages Kulick visited included Stara Lubova, Kasigarda and the village of Rajecka Lesna.
Kulick’s paternal relatives always stayed in contact with their Slovakian relatives.
“Aunt Pauline always kept in touch with the family. While many people lost track of relatives after the rise of communism, Aunt Pauline made several visits, and I always had a great desire to visit,” Kulick said.
On his trip, Kulick provided a Slovak relative with a picture of his great-grandmother’s sister — they never had a picture of her — and, in return, they provided Kulick with documentation of his great-grandparents going to Pittsburgh and selling the family property in Nova Bystrica for $150.
“They probably decided they weren’t going to go back (to Slovakia), and that was neat to see. They deeded over the property,” Kulick said.
Siblings Katarina Skorvankova and Tomas Kasak of Zilina were among dozens of relatives who spent two days visiting with Kulick.
They recalled several highlights of his visit, including a scenic destination.
“We had a small treat going up to Zastranie-Stranik hill, and he was really surprised to see the view of the district of Zilina mountains,” Skorvankova said.
During his family stay, Kulick was treated to a homemade traditional Slovak meal prepared by relatives that included salad, Slovak cheese, vegetables from the garden, meat, potatoes and kielbasa with homemade noodles, Kasak said.
Gardens are a staple in rural Slovakia.
“I learned a lot about his hobby of gardening and cars,” Skorvankova said. “He was surprised to see so many younger people gardening. I served some vegetables from my garden.”
Kasak noted that Kulick settled into his Slovak surroundings with ease.
“He told me he felt at home. He learned more about his roots, and he’s very proud of his people that moved to Pennsylvania.
“We’re very proud of him, and we’re happy we had the time with him. He’s a very interesting person. He’s really human, and he wants to take the time with family. He’s very real,” Kasak said.
This was Kulick’s seventh trip to Slovakia after an 18-year hiatus.
His first visit to Slovakia was in July 1993.
“It was my first opportunity to go on a vacation (since being ordained a priest), and I wanted to go to Slovakia,” Kulick said. “It was the first time I was ever on a plane and left the country. The joke always was, ‘I did a big trip for the first trip.’ ”
Kulick remains active in numerous national and local Slovak fraternal organizations.
He is a life member of the First Catholic Slovak Union and has served as chaplain for the group’s George Onda District for more than 25 years.
Friend Martin Hyross, 59, of Slovakia reconnected with the bishop last month when he extended an offer via email to assist Kulick during his travels.
“He called me that same day,” Hyross said.
The two friends originally met during a Slovak-themed wedding demonstration presented for tourists about 25 years ago in the small village of Krakovany.
For Hyross, reuniting with the bishop was a pleasant surprise.
“Bishops are a high rank, and, in Slovakia, you do not usually see them in real life,” said Hyross, who accompanied Kulick on an outing to visit Jan Sokol, the former archbishop of Trnava.
“It was great because, by coincidence, the archbishop and my mother were classmates — small world. My mom died about 13 years ago. For me, I was happy to see him, and the bishop’s visit was wonderful to see old friends as they got together, and I got to watch it,” Hyross said.
Hyross drove around with Kulick, visiting five bishops in two days.
“I was really holy that day. It was special,” said Hyross, who plans to visit Pittsburgh sometime soon, perhaps this fall..
Kulick recalled the warm welcome he received.
“The food is phenomenal and they always want to feed you — and give you shots (of liquor),” Kulick said.
Plum brandy is the shot most widely offered.
Kulick said he enjoyed the green-thumb vibe that was a consistent sight during his travels.
“They have a very active folk group to keep the culture going. The gardening club showed up in T-shirts. They must have heard I like gardening. Gardening is huge, with Slovaks’ garden in the back,” Kulick said.
Visiting Slovakian cemeteries, Kulick noted many of the surnames were familiar to him.
“In the cemetery, you can recognize so many familiar names from Leechburg and West Leechburg,” Kulick said.
Kulick often visits his hometown of Leechburg, saying it’s important for him to recognize the sacrifices that those people made while he was growing up.
“So that generation, and the next generation after, could have tremendous lives,” Kulick said. “I think there’s this sense of community that’s still very much there in Leechburg. It’s a sense of pride. They’re really trying and working hard.”
Source : triblive