By Michael Roman, GCU Honorary Editor
Oh, most gracious St. Nicholas ....as we express our gratitude to you for keeping a beneficent guardianship over us and our organization, we sincerely implore you... .to continue your aid while protecting us and the Greek Catholic Union from all enemies and unfriendly persons. "
Ninety years have passed since these pleading words appeared in the December 13, 1894 issue of the "Amerikansky Russky Viestnik" in a prayer titled: "A Prayerful Plea to Saint Nicholas."
They were composed by Paul J. Zatkovich, one of the GCU founders and the first editor, after much meditation, deliberation and careful analysis of the threatening circumstances in which the infant fraternal insurance organization then found itself.
The "Sojedinenije", as it was then called, was barely growing — in fact, just breathing as some of the orginal members were leaving to enroll in or form other fraternal societies. Also a few recently-formed Slavic organizations, some of the same religion, at that time falsely accused the Greek Catholic Union of being anti-Catholic.
Such circumstances prompted Paul J. Zatkovich to compose a moving plea to the Patron Saint of our organization, who, as history shows, did intercede before the Throne of God in behalf of the Greek Catholic Union. God's blessings, coming through the intercession of St. Nicholas, have made our organization the largest and strongest Carpatho-Rusin fraternal in America.
Who was Paul J. Zatkovich who played such an influential role in the Greek Catholic Union for more than two decades?
The first GCU Editor was born in 1852 in Uzhorod (then in Uhorska Rus') where his father, George Zatkovich, an unordained graduate of theological studies, served as a professor in the Cantors' School. One of Paul's brothers, Rev. George J. Zatkovich, 1855-1920, was a prominent Carpatho-Rusin writer who authored many historical books in the religious, nationalistic and cultural categories.
Paul Zatkovich received his education in the Royal Gymnasium at Uzhorod and in Vel. Varadin where he completed a course in notarial studies, and then served as a notary public for fifteen years in various towns and villages of "Uhorska Rus'." In the meantime, he married lrma Zlockij and their marital union was blessed with six children.
His patriotic love for the Carpatho-Rusins whom he wanted to uplift brought about enmity from government officials and a certain degree of persecution. Like the other Carpatho-Rusins, the Paul J. Zatkoviches had to endure economic hardships. Thus, in 1891 he and his family came to America to escape persecution and hardships.
One year later, in 1892, Paul J. Zatkovich, together with the other founders, was at the birth of the Greek Catholic Union in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where he was chosen as the first editor of the "Amerikansky Russky Viestnik, " as the official publication of the Greek Catholic Union was called until 1953.
He served as the Editor of the "Amerikansky Russky Viestnik" for twenty-two years, from 1892 to 1914, one of the most difficult periods in the history of our organization. It was, indeed, a period full of growing pains.
It was he who placed on the masthead of the A.R.V., the slogan: "Let there be light!" And "light" he did give to the membership of the Greek Catholic Union.
At the outset of his editorship, Paul J. Zatkovich, who is the Patron of GCCJ District Eight, was forced to wield his pen against religious and nationalistic encroachments upon the Rusin Greek Catholics who constituted an overwhelming majority of the then infant fraternal life insurance society. At times his pen was sharp as a sword and caused trouble for him and the Greek Catholic Union. But in the final analysis, he did succeed because during his editorial career the organization, after a fumbling start, grew in leaps and bounds through his constant encouraging pleas to present members to enroll new members.
The first GCCJ editor gave "light" to the members by urging them to build new and beautiful Greek Catholic churches and schools; to become as soon as possible naturalized citizens; to encourage their children to take advantage of the educational opportunities in America.
He was also very instrumental in the establishment of the Juvenile and Gymnastic Branches of the Greek Catholic Union, in 1906 and in 1910, respectively.
Paul J. Zatkovich knew success, but he also experienced his share of disappointments. Perhaps the greatest of these came in 1914 when he was not reelected at the Convention held in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Thus he lived the last two years as a saddened and broken-hearted man.
Paul J. Zatkovich, one of the founders of the Greek Catholic Union, died on October 8, 1916 in Brooklyn, NY, and funeral services were held in Minersville, PA, with interment in Pottsville, PA.
The first GCU Editor's two sons played a prominent role in the history of the Rusin Greek Catholics. They were: the late Rev. Theophil Zatkovich, who served as Chancellor of the Pittsburgh Greek Rite Diocese, and the late Gregory ("Jerry") Zatkovich, who was a prominent attorney and who was the first Governor of Subcarpathian Ruthenia. The latter also served as Legal Advisor of the GCU.
The writer believes the best way to conclude this brief article about the first GCU editor is to quote a sentence from the obituary written by his biographer in 1916: "The Greek Catholic Union, the Juuenile Branch, and the Gymnastic Branch are the monuments to their founder, the great Paul Jureuich Zatkouich. "
Title page - Greek Catholic Union 1903 Kalendar, Slavonic edition, edited by Paul J. Zatkouich. (From the GCU Archives Collection).
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