Around 1880, the first Slovaks arrived in Reading, PA. They came from Saris, Spis and Zemplin, areas in Czechoslovakia, and later from Trencin, Orava and Nitra, also in Czechoslovakia. During their first years in Reading, they attended Mass at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, and then at St. Mary’s parish. There were only a few families, but the number soon increased until in 1894, there were about forty families.
In December 1895, the Slovaks organized a parish through the efforts of the Slovak Society of St. John the Baptist, local branch 175. Father Abt was appointed to serve as pastor. With help and counsel of Monsignor Bornemann, rector of St. Paul’s Church, the Slavoks purchased an edifice belonging to the Greek Catholic Rite in Oakbrook. The parish was named “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.”
In 1905, Rev. Francis Horvath, rector of the parish, succeeded in purchasing property at the northeast corner of 6th and Laurel streets so that a church could be located near the homes of most of the parishioners. It was at that time that the parish name was changed to Saints Cyril and Methodius. On Sunday, July 5, 1914 dedication services were held at SS. Cyril and Methodius for the completion of the church.
In the lives of Slovak families, Christmas Eve is the most important night of the year when the most traditional families observe the beloved ‘”Vilia” or the holy supper of the Christmas Vigil. In the evening as the first star appears, the family gathers at the table which is richly set with special foods. For some, it is the custom to set the table cloth over clean straw. The father and mother come to the table with a lighted blessed candle, carrying holy water and honey. Before serving the meal, the mother uses a pine bough to sprinkle holy water on the table and members of the household. The meal always begins with oplatky (unleavened wafers) and honey which is served to everyone with good wishes. Traditional menus consist of mushroom soup, bobalky (poppy seed biscuits), fish, sauerkraut, beans, peas and assorted fruits and nuts. Slovaks are fortunate in preserving this custom at Christmas as an aid to a worthy reception of Holy Communion as well as a family spiritual communion. Following the home celebrations, young and old arrive at church for the solemn Mass of Christmas Eve.
In 1994, preparations were begun for the Centennial Celebration of Saints Cyril and Methodius parish. The Centennial Year of the parish was inaugurated on October 2, 1994. The midnight Mass of 1994 included the hymns “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice,” “Birthsong,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Still the Holiest Night” and “Cas Radosti veselosti.” As the darkened church was illuminated by the candles and Christmas tree lights, the choir presented a prelude of sacred music especially for Christmas Eve.
Below: Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, Christmas Eve, 1994.
In honor of the Centennial year, many Slovak Christmas carols were included as part of the musical selections. The music concluded with parishioner and soprano Annette Karahuta singing a moving acapella version of “Vstavajte pastieri, prevel’ku veselost” (Arise shepherds, harken to great joy!).
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).