WOONSOCKET – Farmers and shepherds, tradesmen and teachers, the Macedonian-Romanians first heard the siren song of American-style opportunity in the late 1800s.
Like other European immigrant groups at the turn of the century, the newcomers from the Balkan region settled anywhere there were jobs. This boomtown of textile factories, a place that came to be known as the epicenter of the nation’s Industrial Revolution, was a natural magnet.
Hundreds of families settled along East School Street, bringing with them a solid work ethic and a host of unique cultural traditions, including their religion.
And so the first wave (but not the last) of ethnic Macedonians to arrive in the city over a century ago gave rise to St. John the Baptist Romanian Orthodox Church on Elbow Street, in the heart of the new enclave.
They envisioned the church as a temporary spot to hold their religious observations, but this weekend St. John’s will celebrate a remarkable milestone of staying power, marking the 100th anniversary of the flock that built the modest house of worship.
“To me this is a great example of how we as a church are staying true to our faith,” says Pastor Onisie Morar. “The truth we worship is the truth of the faith, and it will always be the truth.”
To help celebrate, the Romanian Episcopate’s equivalent of the Pope, and his deputy, will travel to Woonsocket from various points in their home base of Michigan this weekend.
The Most Rev. Nathanial Popp, Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, and the Right Rev. Irineu Duvlea, auxiliary bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate, will assist Father Morar in saying mass today and Sunday, followed by celebratory meals at area restaurants, folk dancing and other festivities.
Just as the church did on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, parishioners will also be given a special book that tells the story of the church’s history, illustrated with colorful photos from the church’s archives. The commemorative book was compiled by Anca Morar, the pastor’s wife.
Read more in our print edition.