Thursday, July 16, 2009

Holy Ghost Church - Feud sparks lawsuit over church land

Feud sparks lawsuit over church land

Thursday, July 16, 2009

By Evan Brandt,


Will the real St. Nicholas Brotherhood please stand up? A lawsuit filed in Chester County Court of Common Pleas Monday tackles that issue head on, making the case that an effort to raise money for Holy Ghost Church has lead to the usurpation of the rights of an entity created to hold title to property the church is seeking to sell.

The suit details a decades-long story in which allegations of threats of excommunication, actual excommunication and forced resignations have been most recently levied.

The suit is the latest chapter in a story that pits two groups, both of which claim to be the rightful board of the St. Nicholas Brotherhood of Phoenixville, against each other for control of a parcel of land at Starr and Bridge streets on which a controversial federally subsidized housing development for senior citizens has been proposed.

The suit itself seeks a "permanent injunction" against six people who, in 2008, "purported, on behalf of the Brotherhood, to elect themselves as directors and officers of" the brotherhood and subsequently entered into an agreement to sell 1.9 acres of a nearly 20-acre parcel.

According to the suit, that parcel was sold to the brotherhood in 1938 at below

market value by the Reeves family, substantial owners of Phoenix Steel and those who entered into the agreement had no legal right to do so.

The parcel was sold to the brotherhood so it would own the property and then lease it to the church for 99 years, which it did in 1941, according to the suit.

It is upon this 1.9-acre parcel that St. Peter's Housing Development Corp. has proposed building an 81-unit four-story senior housing project funded by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency.

The project was the subject of a heated debate at a June 11 meeting of the Phoenixville Planning Commission which recommended the project to Borough Council by a 4-2 vote.

The project is the subject of conditional use hearing before Phoenixville Borough Council scheduled for July 28. Last year, council changed the zoning on the parcel to allow for the project, contradicting the recommendation of the planning commission.

Among the concerns raised by the planning commission, and on which it urged council to satisfy itself, was the issue of ownership of the parcel and whether it has been legally put under contract with the developer.

As was predicted by the planners, it is that very issue which is at the hear of the civil suit, filed July 13 in the county court house in West Chester.

A call Wednesday to the West Chester law firm of James C. McErlane and Scot R. Withers, whose name appears on the suit as counsel, was not returned.

It was not immediately evident who is representing the church in this matter, but in a previous legal actions, the church was represented by Plymouth Meeting attorney Mark C. Clemm, who declined to take a call from The Mercury Wednesday seeking comment.

Clemm has also appeared before the planning commission in regards to the senior housing development proposal.

The civil suit was filed on behalf of three women who assert they are now the board of directors of the St. Nicholas Brotherhood of Phoenixville, having been duly elected by Joseph A. Orosz, the only surviving member of the original group that incorporated the brotherhood in 1938.

They are MaryAnne Bradford, Helen Langner and Amy Carney, all of whom are related to some or all of the following original (now deceased) Brotherhood board members; John Rudick, Andrew Getzey, Michael Pufko, Andrew Pufko Jr., Michael Kuchma and John Kuchma, according to the suit.

In the suit, the three ask the court to prevent further action as the brotherhood's board by John Bilanin of Gilbertsville, John Ely of Schwenksville, Mark Samilenko of Sanatoga, Jeanne Bass of Phoenixville and Michael Kost of King of Prussia.

Those are the Holy Ghost Church members, the suit alleges, who sometime before December, 2008 illegitimately formed a new brotherhood board and began to usurp the rights of the original organization, which the suit insists still exists.

Orosz, as the last survivor of the orginal 36 "incorporators" of the brotherhood, represents the organization, the suit alleges, and he objected to the church's plans to sell part of the property for the senior housing project. By 1946, Orosz was listed as being among the members of the brotherhood's board of directors.

At the time, the suit says, the officers of the brotherhood and the officers of the church were identical.

The modern issues began on March 30, 2008 when the church held a special meeting of the congregation "for the principal purpose of soliciting a vote of the Holy Ghost Church's parishioners" on whether to sell a portion of the property, according to the papers.

That vote was planned by the defendants, who are the officers and directors of the church, according to the suit.

At that meeting, Bradford produced a copy of the church's lease with the brotherhood, arguing the church did not own the property and therefore could not sell any portion of it. Church leaders called the lease "bogus," according to the suit.

The parishioners voted to attempt the property sale by a "narrow majority," the suit said.

Last July, the church filed papers in an attempt to get title of the land in order to "usurp the power of the brotherhood, because the sole director/trustee of the Brotherhood, Joseph A. Orosz, opposed the sale," the suit reads.

But on Halloween of last year, Judge Edward Griffith denied the church's request, according to the chronology laid out in the suit.

The church leadership responded by "electing themselves as directors and officers of the brotherhood" and subsequently entering into the agreement of sale, according to the suit.

A Dec. 8, 2008 meeting was held at the church during which the church directors identified themselves as the board of the directors of the brotherhood and "passed resolutions reaffirming and confirming" that the church board and brotherhood board "have been, are and shall be the same," according to the suit.

But on March 5, 2009, Griffith dismissed a complaint by the church which argued the two entities — the church and the brotherhood — were one and the same.

Throughout this turmoil, the suit alleges those who opposed the church's course were intimidated for their opposition.

It notes that in February, "in an attempt to silence Mr. Orosz," the church rescinded his status as a "trustee for life" of the church.

The suit also alleges that in letters dated May 13, 2008, the church threatened six parishioners "with excommunication in retribution for their opposition" to the attempt to sell the property.

The same motive was behind the forced resignation of Joan E. Detwiler from the church board as well as the removal from the church board of Susan Flavin, according to the suit.

Her opposition earned parishioner Nancy Dempsey a Sept. 3, 2008 letter excommunicating her from the church "in retribution for her opposition" for the 2008 actions "and in an attempt to silence her," according to the suit.

Despite the objections and court decisions, the church has continued to act on behalf of the brotherhood, illegally entering into a utility easement, holding meetings as the brotherhood and adopting by-laws and even allowing earth moving to occur on the site, according to the suit.

The church has "ignored" Orosz, according to the suit, who on May 19, as "the sole living original incorporator of the brotherhood and the sole living director/trustee" held a meeting and elected Bradford to fill his post.

Orosz then resigned.

His motivation, according to the suit, was to make it clear "he no longer wished to make decisions for the Brotherhood as a result of the Holy Ghost Church's implicit threats to excommunicate Mr. Orosz and deny Mr. Orosz burial rights."

On July 1, Bradford held an "organizational meeting of the Brotherhood," nominating and electing Carney as a director. Langner was also nominated and elected as a director, and Bradford named president.

The board's first action was to authorize the lawsuit.

What impact, if any, the action will have on the July 28 conditional use hearing before borough council remains unclear.


Anonymous said...

Um, last time I checked, the Joe Orosz living now was not an original incorporator of the SNB, that was his father (he was a child at the time - so he never could have held an office or entered in a contract, etc.). So the lawsuit is baseless! This is just sad for the parish. A few malcontents have suckered and old man into believing their lies - God help them all.

Anonymous said...

You idiot. He was a legal adult age. Good try though!

Apparently you are not a founding family member who has the charter and names. Go to your local court house and get the records.

Shame on you.

Those who filed suit intially should be refused communion for dividing the parish and not following the teachings of "honoring the founders and benefactors wishes" as prayed each Sunday.

Karen said...

Anonymous 12:19 p.m., Mr. Orosz is 94 years old.

Joe Orosz WAS and STILL is an original founding member of the St. Nicholas Brotherhood of Phoenixville.

Please, get your facts straight.

Anyone who repeats outright lies, who dois not have all the facts, who is in denial, or who doesn't even bother to read the documents provided in the lawsuit are those who are in need of God's grace, Anonymous.

Please remember dissention, controversy, division, lying or anything negative is not of God.

And, those good people of the original St. Nicholas Brotherhood are doing good work by honoring and upholding the intentions of the founders and the law, and as such are doing God's work.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 12:19PM;how dare you insult Mr. Orosz with your vicious lies and inuendoes. He is an honorable man, fought in the war to preserve your right to live free and yes, indeed, he was born in 1918 and was one of the first charter members of the St. Nicholas Brotherhood.

Anonymous said...

Anyone from the church knows that Mr. Joseph Orosz II is the last survivor of the authentic Saint Nicholas Brotherhood.

Every year when we blessed the graves he is the one who knows where everyone is and which side is to start first.

Every year, when the Labor Day or Memorial Day bulletin are typed up, he is the one Father John goes to for guidance on who were the founding members to list for being Veterans or Founders etc.

Every anniversary of the parish, his name is listed as the only surviving person from this group along with the many actual bloodline to the descendants.

NOT ONE OF THE DEFENDATS PORTRAYING THEMSELVES AS SNB are related by birthrite to the founders of this parish. It does matter!

Anonymous said...

Looks like Anonymous 12:19 is checking facts in "The Book of Stuff I Made Up Because The Facts Don't Suit Me".

Anonymous said...

I think we gave the Borough enough evidence that this was a sham land sale and that the owners of record were not the ones representing the seller in the approval process. They chose not to listen to me and other members of the Planning Commission.

----George Martynick

Anonymous said...

And yet another "atta boy" to George Martynick; one of the few who apparently does not feel intimidated by these individuals.

As a former member of HGOC, I received numerous calls today regarding this - some from other churches, some from the public. ALL were of the opinion that this is a tragedy of the highest order, and that the wolves in sheep's clothing are slowly but surely being revealed. I am just most grateful that my children are no longer being exposed to such blatant disregard for God's law in the name of greed and the almighty dollar

Anonymous said...

...and yet this poor guy gets threatened with excommunication and refused burial rights by the same person? Disgusting. I don't belong there and to tell you the truth if it was the last church on earth I wouldn't even consider it.
I hope this man is victorious in his fight for what is obviously RIGHT! Greed and lust of power drives some of the players here, and that is not God.

"Every year when we blessed the graves he is the one who knows where everyone is and which side is to start first.

Every year, when the Labor Day or Memorial Day bulletin are typed up, he is the one Father John goes to for guidance on who were the founding members to list for being Veterans or Founders etc.

Every anniversary of the parish, his name is listed as the only surviving person from this group along with..."

Anonymous said...

Um 12:19

last time you checked what exactly.
Are you someone who is not aware that there are three generations of Mr. Joseph Orosz. The father, a signer as well, his son who is the last living signer and then Joseph III who is in his 50's who you may be thinking of...

You must be a convert or spouse of one of the defendants to have written such a statement.

Regardless, this example of ignornace to fact is why this mess started in the first place. People with your knowledge are the same lot that insisted the lease was bogus, made up and invalid.

Seems the courts find your understanding inaccurate as well as the majority of the church who have been staying home or praying elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

Leave Mr. Orosz alone!! He is a loving and wonderful man. He and his wife have lived their lives for the church and their family. They have done everything for the church and to hear people say anything negative about them is just disheartning.

Anonymous said...

Each comment I read hear that is written by someone who obviously knows Mr. Orosz and his family and their dedication to the church, makes the acts, perhaps crimes that have been committed against them even more heinous. If the church itself won't take action, perhaps the justice system will.

Anonymous said...

I don't know Mr Oroz. I am a Greek Catholic from that church 'over there' and I want him to know I have nothing but the utmost respect for him in this struggle. I am too young to know firsthand the painful stories of the past, but reading the painful story of what is happening to him now brings tears to my eyes. I know we share a common communion of saints that is much older than he and very much older than I. I believe our common ancestors will come to his aid and protect his church from these wolves. Mr Oroz- stand up for what you believe in. Your parish doesn't have to bury your body if they choose not to. Your soul will be with God. God protect you and grant you many years!