We do know English: Philadelphia’s Czechoslovak Presbyterian Church of Jan Hus, 1926-1967

Budd, Joseph
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University of Delaware
About 10,000 Slovak-speaking immigrants from Upper Hungary settled in the Philadelphia area between 1880 and 1920. They relied on hard work, thrift, and social networking rather than formal education to achieve social success. Ethnic Christian churches were established to enable them to worship and socialize in their native tongue, make sense of their lives in unfamiliar surroundings and forge an identity. Liturgies and practices were influenced by European events dating back to the Roman Empire. The Czechoslovak Presbyterian Church of Jan Hus, the last Slovak language church organized in Philadelphia, was formed by a group of people who broke away from their Roman Catholic parish in 1926. Their church was small, yet survived for 42 years. The assimilation of the church’s congregants into Philadelphia society is examined in this study. Philadelphia’s Slovak ethnic churches, in the early twentieth century, encouraged members to learn English, purchase homes and become U.S. citizens. As Slovak- Americans were assimilated into Philadelphia’s social structure, a goal of the churches was to help members preserve the Slovak language and old world traditions. After World War II, second and third generation Slovak-Americans intermarried and moved to distant neighborhoods where they joined local non-ethnic churches. Many of the founding church members passed away; others moved with their children. The social relevance of Philadelphia’s Slovak churches was no longer significant enough to attract them to the city. Consequently, the ethnic churches were forced to consolidate or close due to declining membership. Ironically, the demise of the ethnic churches was a direct result of the success of the founding members.