The Bird's Nest 9

Through it Birdtowners judged each other, weighed important decisions both personal and collective, and interpreted larger events. Ultimately, it helped produce a Birdtown identity and an esprit de corps out of the diversity of religious, ethnic, and class backgrounds. Finally these seemingly simple daily interactions laid the base for the larger organizations-the churches, schools, lodges, and businesses that we often take to be the neighborhood itself.

 

Forming the institutions

Initially the first villagers commuted to the parish where they had previously lived to attend church services. When this proved too difficult they held informal prayer meetings in the home of a co-religionist. Such meetings led to the formation of a lodge; members of each denomination set out to raise money to build a neighborhood church. Despite limited resources, small population and an even smaller number of congregants in each group, they soon succeeded: by 1905, villagers had founded four core churches, and by 1906 all had constructed their first buildings. Ultimately eight churches formed in the immediate neighborhood in addition to several outside the area.

Religious institutions mirrored the neighborhood's religious and ethnic diversity. Slovaks founded three Lutheran, one Roman Catholic, and a Calvinist Presbyterian church; with Carpatho-Rusyn and Ukrainian neighbors, they organized three Orthodox churches, while Poles started their own Roman Catholic parish.

As churches grew, informal neighborhood groupings began to tighten along denominational lines; the extensive religious, organizational and social activities of each church focused members' interactions on each other as it restricted those with members of other churches. Villagers came to identify Birdtown in terms of their own institutions; as one long-time member of Sts. Cyril and Methodius recently recalled, "it was just like a little village, and the pillar was St. Cyril."

By establishing their own churches, villagers exercised considerable control over their direction. Although immigrants sought freedom and economic opportunity in the New World, they did not intend to reject their past. Initially many sought to maintain traditional institutions, values and ways of life; the founding of churches reflected this concern as did the continued use of native languages and education programs on ethnic history and culture. At Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church, Slovak served as the exclusive language for services until World -War II, and even now most churches continue to have at least one service in the native language of its founders.

Churches visually dominate the area and provide much of its distinctiveness. Over the years parishioners made incredible sacrifices to raise funds sufficient to erect the large, impressive

Interior of SS. Cyril and
Methodius Church.
Photograph courtesy of
SS. Cyril and Methodius
Church,

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Last Updated May 24, 2000


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