Church Still Thrives Even After Decades-Long Fire Turns Area Into A Ghost Town

The Ukrainian church is now declared a pilgrimage site

Centralia in Pennsylvania was once a thriving, coal-mining town with over a thousand residents. But today, all that’s left are six people who call this town home. Yet, a quaint Ukrainian church with white walls and blue domes are still thriving here.

The town was once a close-knit community in the early days. John Mayernick Sr, who was born and raised in Centralia, says that it was the kind of town where everyone watched out for each other. But on May 27, 1962, the event that would eventually turn Centralia into a ghost town happened – a disastrous fire. Apparently, mine workers had set fire to a rubbish dump on a surface mine, which then spread to underground seams.

In attempts to stop the fire, over $7 million was used, but to no avail, since the state believes the fire could keep burning for over a hundred years. Then the next year, in 1983, a $42 million package was approved by the Congress for a relocation of residents.

And as to why the Ukrainian church not only functions but thrives today even in a town with just six residents, the answer is a strong and deep foundation. The close connection the people who lived here before the fire had with each other, as well as the connection to the town itself, is what is holding this church together to this day.

John says that everyone in his family was baptized in that church and went to communion there. Deceased family members are even buried there. This is the case for most families of Centralia, which is why they feel like it will always be “their church”.

At the time of the fire, five churches stood in Centralia, but they slowly started disappearing after the colossal disaster. This Ukrainian church almost fell too in 1986, but it was found that under the church was solid rock and not coal. This meant the church was safe and not in danger of being burned down.

The pastor of the church, Father Michael Hutsko says, “That’s so scriptural. “You are Peter and upon this rock I build my church,” referring to a verse in the Bible.

In November 2015, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Ukrainian Catholic Church’ head visited Centralia. He was so amazed by the church that he announced it as a pilgrimage site. Today, hundreds of people visit this iconic church in Centralia.

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