Sunday, June 22, 2008

Planning Commission to review plans for HUD housing at Holy Ghost Orthodox Church location

The controversial proposal for HUD housing for senior citizens at the Holy Ghost Orthodox Church location will be presented to the Planning Commission at Phoenixville Borough Hall on Thursday at 7 p.m.

This issue has been a subject on this blog several times since the proposal was made to parishoners and has generated much discussion on the need for more HUD housing in Phoenixville as well as the location chosen for another low income facility.

Because my family stands as a founding family of Holy Ghost Church, I have deep-seated emotions and opinions regarding the sale of what I and many others consider hallowed ground as well as historical property.

My Grandfather, Andrew Ferko, had the audacity, the courage, and the love for his Church to draw a heavy chain through the doors of Saint Michael Church in Mont Clare on April 21, 1937 and lock them before he left to work as a conductor on the railroad.

He, along with many other members chose to take a stand against a Papal Decree issued in 1929 which divided the parish and led to many years of internal unrest. The schism caused more than 500 members to leave Saint Michael and their departure founded Holy Ghost Orthodox Christian Church. The former Reeves mansion and the surrounding grounds were ultimately purchased by the parishoners for the new Church.*

Handed down to me, and in my possession, is a copy of a lease preserving the Holy Ghost Orthodox Catholic Church property and restricting the use for 99 years.

How can it be sold?

Personally, I can recall numerous times when my family discussed the foresight of our forefathers in drafting the lease between the Saint Nicholas Brotherhood and the Church. They were proud of the intent of their family members, and proud also of their dedication to Church work. I can recall how my Grandmother Mary Ferko, would go through the laborious process of starching hand-washed altar linens. She would put them, folded, into an old-time ice box in preparation for the next step. Using a sad iron taken from the hot surface of a wood fire kitchen stove, Grandmom, drenched with perspiration during the summer months, would iron, hour after hour, those altar linens and the priest's vestments.

I remember my Uncle Michael Vance practically lived at Holy Ghost Church doing maintanence of all kinds. He would cut the lawn, paint, trim trees, and repair just about anything. He did this all with astounding grace, and quiet devotion, even into his aged years.

I will never know the number of hours my aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and other family spent cooking and baking, cleaning and working. They, among all the other good people of the parish who gave of their daily lives, will have a special place in God's Kingdom.

They all sacrificed their time, gave willingly of their tithes, and worshiped at the Church they helped to build. Even though I was baptized and raised Roman Catholic, we all united for many joyous ocassions at Holy Ghost; Church services, weddings, baptisms, family gatherings, ethnic dance celebrations, and picnics as well as for the solemn funerals.

I played in the Reeves mansion. My cousins and I knew where the secret spring was located where slaves we were told, hid behind the wainscotting of the grand staircase. We marveled at the beautiful handpainted dry sink basins, the marble fireplaces, the imported Italian plaster work, and the intricate design of the floors. We climbed the spiral staircase to the cupola, had tea and cookies in the priest's family's apartment, dared each other to explore the dark, damp depths of the Underground Railroad tunnel to the Schuylkill River, and chased butterflies in the lush vegetation of the inviting coolness under exotic trees planted on the property. We never tired of hearing about the slaves who were bought to safety and freedom to the Reeves family, and how the family's doctor cared for them secretly. We learned that some slaves never recovered and how they were buried on Church ground.

My memories of Holy Ghost Church are these and many more, and bring back the fullness of childhood's happy and innocent days. My heart has always been with Holy Ghost Church.

Never did I ever think the Church property would ever be sold.


How this situation came to be after 70 years of safeguarding by the stalwart parishioners would definitely distress the deceased members of my family even much more than it distresses me.

I know of their pride in what they accomplished.

I know of their love and devotion to their Church.

I know, as founding fathers, they expected their decendents to honor the legacy of preservation.

They left a 99 year lease.

This is year 70 of the 99.

This is our watch.

And, I am ashamed.

*Paraphrased: pages 27-28 - Saint Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church Centennial book


Karen said...

Received via email.

Committee to Preserve Holy Ghost Church

Anonymous said...

In the tapes of the last council meeting, a representative of the board stated proxy voting was not allowed. I will provide a certified letter and tape of that meeting which proves otherwise. Due to health issues of a parishioner, his proxy vote was permitted in Feb 2002 and the ballots for him were prepared by myself at the request of Father John.
I will call to provide if necessary however it seems this is not the only item not revealed to council in truth.

The other would be that during this meeting, all were told they could not leave and then return. 5 people signed in, left and were called from breakfast up the road, at time of vote 60 minutes later, by Father John. This also is on the tapes which were made of the meeting for preparing minutes. The majority win was only by 4 votes and 1 abstain.

Based on above, the majority did not pass this sale !

Anonymous said...

Karen-I was at that meeting that voted to sell and I am so sorry I voted yes because I thought I was voting for a new social center and with all the people up there talking I was confused about everything. I wish I could take it back and I know I am not the only one because they have said so. There wasn't enough time to go over it all and I was away one of those 2 weeks it was advertised. If anyone of those people trying to stop the sale can read this please forgive me and God bless you for remembering your founding family.

Anonymous said...

In keeping up with the details of this tragic series of events, it is clear to me that these people were rushed, if not SNOWBALLED into this decision. Knowing this and how the majority really feel why does this continue to move forward?

I grew up in a small parish very much like this. We spent hours upon hours doing the same things listed in your post- cleaning the church, cutting grass, baking, ironing altar linens, etc etc etc. The sad fact is that todays parishioners are not committed to their churches anymore. They are busy carting their kids to soccer and karate, etc. The world has won them over. The church is not their family/community anymore. It is a place to meet the Sunday requirement.

Selling off church property (purchased by the sweat of someone else's brow) is so much easier than giving from your OWN pocket and your own time. "Time-talent-treasure" is a phrase of the past in many mainstream religions. You only find this ethic in new age or fundamentalist churches, not necessarily Christian. Is it a surprise THESE are the groups that are growing as ours die off?
This decision to sell predicts the beginning of the end for this parish IMHO. You can't tell me the clergy involved here don't know this

Anonymous said...

I 've been watching and reading these comments. I didn't think it mattered if I went to the meeting or not. I didn't think that they would really ever sell the church lands. Our ball field was what I figured they would go for. I say "STAND TALL" and protect the vision for our grandkids. I wish I could have done something when it mattered. I'm sorry I didn't have the balls to stand up and speak my mind. Wish there was something I could do. The Brotherhood on the other blog sounds like it can change this. What can I do to help?

Karen said...

Anonymous 7:54 a.m., thank you for the offer to view the letter and the tapes.

Karen said...

Anonymous 10:50 a.m., thank you for contacting me.

Please continue to keep this situation in your prayers.

Karen said...

Anonymous 11:38 a.m., I pray to God that the division within the Church doesn't mean the beginning of the end.

I am heartsick over the possibility.

Anonymous said...

How can I become a member of the committee? I want to help.

Karen said...

Anonymous 6:44 p.m., please contact me.

You may email me privately at my address:

As a matter of fact, I would urge anyone who would like to help to contact me and I will direct you to the Brotherhood of Saint Nicholas.

I can guarantee anonymity to anyone who has a desire to help.

Karen said...

Anonymous 8:13 p.m., please email me per the above post at

Anonymous said...

I was called by the church president in Feb and asked to attend this initial meeting and vote for the housing.

I only attended the church a little over a year and since then left.

I found it unsettling to be asked to vote a certain way for such a huge topic, with little history in the parish. Knowing many who belonged forever, understand their devastation at the clergy and leaderships role in the one sided railroaded offer in such a short time.

The church appealed to my family due to the property, choir and beautiful stained glass... The only thing left after they build as they explained will be half the stained glass and a shabby piece of property and diminished choir I fear. We pray God watches over you all and comes back to help with the force there pushing this through.

Joe said...


A very well written post and as indicated this subject has drawn on long beyond what was expected.

There is as noted considerable opposal to the sale of this property.

If I'm not able to attend the meeting Thursday someone, please advise Jim Evans and Mike Hott to excuse themselves entirely from both discussion and any possible vote on this mattter.

Jim Evans has an obvious conflict of interest and IF Mike Hott is leaving the planning commission, other than his vote what would there be to gain.

Thank You

Anonymous said...

As of April 15, 2008, Michael Hott is no longer on Planning Commission; on that date Council appointed Marcia Eldred to replace him.

Anonymous said...

"...I was called by the church president in Feb and asked to attend this initial meeting and vote for the housing..."

That in itself is wrong. So the deck was stacked ahead of time and the DISSENTERS are chasitised for their non Christian behavior?

Ahhh...the joys of Organized Religion. I'm so glad I no longer subscribe to it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Did the 1st VP John Bilanin, get permission from the church to speak at the council meeting requesting the offer go back on the table ?

He spoke on tape about none of the prior month speakers having authority to speak. He later reported them to the Bishop and they all received letters questioning their Christianity and ordering that they were to honor the outcome of vote. Did anyone remove Mr Bilanin from the board for speaking without approval from the parish and/or Brotherhood?

Mr Bilanin may have a short memory but made a lot of "fact statements" that were not fact. Tapes of the Feb 2002 meeting discuss the proxy but he some how did not get that in the minutes. Also, somehow could not recall. As he said, it is pointless now on the proxy votes however, many thought they were voting for a new Social Center. Mark Samilenko, President, states on the tapes of the meeting, "This is not to vote for a new Social Center, but to sell property per proposal of Father Evens". Why do the two board people contradict each other on the tapes and how can this be in front of council or planning commission after the removal from the table?

A lot took place behind closed doors it seems.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karen said...

I was requested via email to edit the following post.

The requested change is made.

Anonymous said...
From Borough Council minutes April 15, 2008 - "Father Evans said he is withdrawing his request for a letter of support and stated we will not pursue the project. He said he thinks it was a good project for the community but the division at Holy Ghost Church he doesn’t want to be a part of nor does he want to place Council in that kind of division. He said he is not comfortable with pursuing the application under the conditions that exist. He said he doesn’t agree with everything that the people who oppose it have stated; however, he respects their right to state their opinion. He said the vote was so close and he
doesn’t think it is wise to pursue it for them or for us. He said he has something unrelated to this
that he would like participate in. He said he is a resident of the north side and when the high
bridge started coming down, the traffic from the north side funneled into a right turn only lane or a straight lane. He said it can take a half hour to 40 minutes to get across that intersection
because somebody at PennDot sent a paint crew to make right only, straight and left. He said the
left hand lane should be the lane that is only left and the right hand lane should be the lane that is straight or right hand turn. He said frequently only one car gets to proceed up Main Street
because of the way it is now."

June 24, 2008 9:37:00 PM EDT

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

I edited this comment for content because I didn't read it before posting.

Anonymous said...
Mr Evans should not be permitted to dress as a priest when making his many proposals, ordinance appeals for change and quotes on scripture as a developer. In his prior employment uniform which he has not practices in over 20 years, he manipulates people as a nun would a security guard.

June 25, 2008 7:49:00 AM EDT

Karen said...

I received an email for publication which mentioned a rumor.

The rumor is untrue, and with all due respect, I decline to publish the post.

The author is welcome to contact me.

incognito said...

After having been away from this wretched site, only to come back and find more crap and now another "committee" site set up (barf), I can feel nothing but sadness.

Sadness for those who, they feel, are trying to do what is best for the church and those who, even though they are totally allowed to disagree, cause so much strife.

Ah, where has the time gone?

First of all, since so many posters want the "Truth" to come out, then I suggest they start posting their names when they launch an attack or provide indisputable information. If you want the truth, then why don't you yourselves become partakers of the light that you want and make the first move to come out into the light and be the leaders you think you are.

Secondly, dear Karen, in all my years of growing up in HGC, before having to leave because of work related matters, I have never ever seen you or experienced your grandeur. You write a long soliloquy/diatribe about your precious memories of the founders, builders and benefactors and what it means to you - but you left long ago. You haven't been a parishioner or contributing member of the church in decades. Now, you 'champion a cause' for which you feel you are entitled to speak ad nauseum and all you do is exacerbate the wounds already present. BUT, this is America and I suspect you will continue to contribute to this emotivist drama.

Thirdly, those who fight - where are your solutions? I suspect the major disgruntled parishioner behind all of this hand-wringing and coup leading (new initials ND) has not seriously contributed time talent and treasure in a number of years and is merely concerned for her family's right to buried and child's ability to make First Confession (not Holy communion as the old Greek Catholics used to say). But, I digrees. Where are the solutions? Instead of talking in platitudes, give concrete examples. Instead of speaking with soaring rhetoric, show news ways to raise funds - not by opining but by standing up and taking the bull by the horns. Get off yo butt!

You speak of a capital campaign – but one man is not sufficient enough to fund it. That’s the responsibility of an entire parish. Don’t blame one person for not setting it up – you should have been doing these things since the inception of this social center under the previous administration. Instead of spending money to fix up a stupid cottage for potential rental income – you should have let it go the way of the mansion.

Fourthly, how dare one poster criticize the baking women who staged their own protest of the actions of a few to derail this whole project by not committing to the Dogwood Fair? Who the he** do you think you are? They love their church and don't you forget it. You sour people had your moment of protest at the Borough Council Meeting and they had theirs. It just so turned out that their protest really hit you hard - because it shows your personal weakness. Don't you ever defame them and take shots at them - they've been working for things at that church a lot longer than you I suspect.

Additionally, this whole St. Nicholas Brotherhood contraption? Forget it and get over it. It has not existed in decades. It has not elected officers and has not collected dues. It is defunct and is nothing more than a red herring. Stop trying to use some vestige of the past to cloud the issue. That’s a move for desperate people – throw as much water on the fire as you think (and hope) necessary to smother it.

History! History! History! If the borough Historical society cared so much for the history of this property (long before this thing ever happened) they would never have let the Reeves Mansion go the way of the wrecking ball. But that was their fault – they left the church with no choice. You’re forefathers would have expected you to take what they gave you and build upon it, make it better. And sometimes that progress must mean that something is sacrificed. If it’s a little bit grass, then yes, perhaps that’s what it needs to be. Besides, you have a ball field!

I will post more, no doubt, but for now, I'm sure this will spark enough of a fire to consume lots of digital space.

In case my login did not work, my username is INCOGNITO. (it's beat anonymous - which is so overused and childish.)

Karen said...

Quoting Incognito:

"Secondly, dear Karen, in all my years of growing up in HGC, before having to leave because of work related matters, I have never ever seen you or experienced your grandeur.

You haven't been a parishioner or contributing member of the church in decades."

Quoting from my original post:

"Even though I was baptized and raised Roman Catholic...."

Incognito, I never have been a member of Holy Ghost Church.

I do, however, faithfully support the Church during their holiday bazzars and food sales.

Anonymous said...

Ingognito, You have been way out of the loop as the current board mmembers (other then the two pushed off) renovated the the cottage with money from building fund... ask you mom she was on the board !

"Instead of spending money to fix up a stupid cottage for potential rental income – you should have let it go the way of the mansion".

Times have changed and you are not privy as to who has tried and given what as that is all confidential. There has not been one major fund raiser that goes to the general fund in many many years.

Anonymous said...

If Incognito is correct and the baking ladies of the church decided to hold a "protest" by not committing to the Dogwood Festival, then they are receiving very poor public relations advice that is not going to help them achieve their goals.

As the issue of what will happen at the church was all over Phoenixville at the Dogwood Festival, this was the ideal moment, if the baking ladies believed that the HUD housing plan was in their best interest, to fully staff their table at the Dogwood Festival -- by fulling staff, I mean that they sell their food and they have specific people available to talk to customers and explain their position.

If you want the community to support your idea or if you are alarmed about what ideas are being spread about your organiztion, you must engage with the community and "sell" your own ideas.

The current Holy Ghost administration's reactions by withdrawing in silence and threatening those who disagree with them is doomed to simply cause more discord and probably will cause more harm than achievement of anyone's ideas and goals.

Personally, I think depending on Mr. Evans, a developer, to solve a church's financial and building issues is problematic at best -- he's much smarter at this development game than anyone at the church -- and I strongly suspect that the church will receive much less than it thinks it will.

However, if the Holy Ghost administration really wants this project to go through, they must "sell" it both to their members and the greater community. Huffed silence, threats and casting aspirstions on other persons only gets "the opposition's" back up which makes for more bad publicity which makes everyone else suspect that unethical, behind-the-scences behavoir is going on by said administration. And if a church is suspected of acting unethically, why should anyone in the community support their project?

Anonymous said...

5Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 6And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. 7Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. 10This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

Final Greetings
11Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
12Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13All the saints send their greetings.

14May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:1 Deut. 19:15

Anonymous said...

to incognito;how quickly you forget that the peace and tranquility of the hallowed church grounds gave you sanctuary every time you ran away from home.......and now you defame and ridicule the very people that prayed for you and rejoiced in your happiness and triumphs and even recently cried along with you in your losses and difficulties. The next blog you write should be asking for their forgiveness and offerings of help to heal the deep wounds and division that this current church board has created,rather than fanning the flames. Or is that part of your current job description...adding fuel to the fires??Shame on you.

incognito said...

since my submission was not posted before, I am re-submitting.

Since the wildfires in California have died down, and I have settled in a little from my own journeys across the fruited plain, I thought I would return to this wretched site to see if cooler heads have prevailed after my last posting.. Much to my amazement, there was great consternation coupled with the wailing and nashing of teeth.

Allow me to answer the myriad of you ‘anonymous’ types, who without fail, have still not clearly established your base.

To you Karen, in response on June 26 – as I correctly stated, you have never been a parishioner and never contributed to this parish. I never meant to imply that you ever were – just trying to establish a little history. If you feel that buying a nut roll or a dozen cookies gives you the right to pontificate in papal style by hosting this cyberspace get together, then your sense of contribution is seriously in error.

To you, my dear sweet anonymous on June 26 at 7:04AM (don’t you people sleep?), I am fully aware that the cottage was renovated with money from the building fund – I was making the point that it never should have been done in the first place. You might wanna re-read that before you go off all self-righteous again. Yes, times have changed and I am not privy as to who has tried and given what – but I’m pretty sure you don’t have a clue, except for maybe a few ideas, yourself. But, since that statement of yours was so vague, I’m guessing it was not related to the cottage issue based on the general fund suggestion later on in the sentence. Oh, two members were not pushed off the board. One resigned of her own volition – don’t try and spin that one.

And you, dear, eloquent anonymous of June 26 at 9:06AM, I know I’m right about the baking ladies. That’s why I said that. But you are incorrect, their job is to bake -- not work as PR reps for the work of the parish. They don’t have to justify their wants and dreams to the general public by handing out flyers and holding town meetings. It’s a food sale, not Meet the Press. As for the HGC Administration, they are not casting aspirsitions (aspersions?) – they are dealing with a problem that should be dealt with in-house as best as possible. I suspect some of (OK, most) the people who have been the recipients of negative results brought it on themselves. The only reason all of these church related matters are public is because those who disagree and those who feel that they have the mindset of the Orthodox Church have brought it out into the public. That is the most detrimental action of all of this. Coupled with the fact that this blog does not help matters (or that other, rather elementary, site) has made this worse than it needs to be. Don’t blame the Board or the Priest of the Church. They never went out for blood in the public arena – they were the recipients of aspirsitions (and whatever fancy words you’d like to use here) – they now have to deal with a bigger mess which did not have to be made. You blame those malcontents and whiners who went and started throwing mud first. They brought this on themselves. Wow, that was a lot.

To anonymous quoter of the Bible on June 26 at 3:54PM. Yes, Jesus is right. Why do you take credit for his work? It IS interesting that you pick Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church though. Some similarities in the way the people were acting – so I bow to your ‘prowess’.

And finally, you, blessed St. Anonymous of June 29 at 9:04PM. I never ran away from home – where did that come from? So it leads me to believe you are more worried about me than the case at hand. I’m not ridiculing people for their past actions on my behalf – I’m ridiculing the lunacy that exists with the current situation. The lunacy that people think they need to involve people who have no business in all of this. The idiocracy that rather than try to work through things as a church in the way Christ would want – that people start character assassinations, innuendo, misdirection, smoke and mirrors, claims of historical inaccuracy to try and slow things down, and so on. That’s what I’m ridiculing. Rather than try to swell up emotion and wag the finger of a “helicopter parent”, I suggest you, in your omniscience, look into your crystal ball and ask how YOU might be the vehicle of forgiveness. How ridiculous a statement was that for you to make?

I have not forgotten my past at all – but I also remember to be realistic and pragmatic. I always ask for forgiveness – more than you can possibly know and if it should so happen that someone produces the smoking gun here or the identity of the second gunman on the grassy knoll or the missing Watergate tapes I’ll be the first to stand up and then bow low.

There, I think that’s all. God bless us, every one.

Karen said...

Sorry, Incognito.

I don't know how I missed posting your original.

Anonymous said...

hmmmmmmmmmmmmm my ancestors are from Czechoslovakia, does that mean I can decide what Slovakia and/or The Czech Republic can do with THEIR land???
When was the last time any of you attended that church or helped the elderly devoted women with any of their fundraising efforts? I say if you're not an ACTIVE and a member in good standing with the church then, stay out of it!!! It's their land they can open a pig farm if they want.