A century of faith
In this fourth column, we are speaking to the Rev. Jerry Mraz, a native of Czechoslovakia, who was the last full-time pastor at Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church in Northampton.
The church was organized in 1905, an era when many ethnic churches were formed by immigrants in the Lehigh Valley. Holy Trinity’s roots were laid by dedicated Slovaks, who constructed the church on land formerly owned by John Smith, a wealthy local property owner.
A group of volunteers dug out the basement with shovels and picks and chose stones for the church foundation. Cement was procured from the Atlas Portland Cement Company to bind the stone; later, cement was used to mold the concrete blocks for the church structure. Many members were employed at local cement plants.
Ninety percent of the original church membership were local cement workers and their families.
In 2005, the church observed its 100th anniversary. A banquet to celebrate the anniversary was held at the former Northampton Community Center. Seventeen pastors have served the church. The first pastor was H.J. Kuder. The pastor in 2005 was Rev. Mraz.
During the Depression, a Philadelphia stained-glass company installed all the beautiful windows for $3,000. The company did this because they did not want to lay off its employees.
One former pastor, J. Albert Billy, was called to serve the nation in 1943 as a naval chaplain.
Unfortunately, as with many houses of worship, Holy Trinity has seen a decrease in membership, but a determined group of members continue the mission of the church, which has been an integral segment of the community for over a century. The oldest current members are Ellen Uherchick, Elaine Hewko and June Mishko.
Rev. Mraz has always been known as Jerry and has always been visible in the community. His resume can fill a phone book — from pastor to police chaplain, ambulance corps, Exchange Club, United Way and Chamber of Commerce. He has received numerous awards, including the Exchange Club Golden Deeds Award. The reverend has also conducted religious services at local hospitals and nursing homes.
He broadcasted over the Government’s Radio Free Europe Network with weekly Slovak-language worship services when Eastern Europe was under the control of Russia during the days of the Cold War. He also helped organize a Lions Club in Nitra, Slovakia.
A personal friend, Jerry has a kind word for everyone. Sadly, he is one of the few pastors who can speak the Slovak language. The language, like Pennsylvania German, Polish and others, is fading from the culture. A family man, he is extremely proud of his family and has been a faithful servant of the church and his community.
Thank you, Rev. Mraz, for your cooperation in writing this series. I really enjoyed our discussions!
More in two weeks.