Beginnings, progress and presence.
The beginnings of Slovaks in Australia are reaching back to the years 1945 – 1950 after Word War II.
The Slovak migrants (mostly political ) of that time did not bring along any material assets, just their religion and their Slovak language. Religion was very important to them. They considered this as a means of keeping their personal and national identity . It was not easy, as at the time there was no Slovak religious leader appointed to Australia, who would have assisted with their settling into the new environment that was to be their new home.
Help came from the Church of St. Francis in Surry Hills, where the parish priest was Mons. J. Freeman (who later became the Cardinal of Sydney) who had an assisting priest from America – Slovak speaking fr. Kusnierik , who when he was able to, served mass in their language.
This church became a spiritual centre for Slovak migrants when by the end of 1950 a regular monthly service was secured by a Czech Redemptorist father S. Mika, C.S.S.R, who served mass monthly most of the year 1951.
In the meantime steps were taken by the newly founded Association of Australian Slovaks (1950) to secure the service of a Slovak priest on a more stable basis. It was prompted b y the fact that the majority of its members were Catholics and the presence of a Catholic priest would result in satisfaction of their spiritual needs. They approached Cardinal Gilroy – then Archbishop of Sydney for assignment of a Slovak priest for the Slovak faithful in the archdiocese.
The Cardinal was sympathetic to the petition. As result - a Jesuit priest was appointed in Rome to serve the Slovaks in Australia as their chaplain.
The Community hired a small Jesuit church of St. Francis Xavier in Lavender Bay (North Sydney). This little church and adjoining school hall became a favourite centre of Sydney Slovaks. Every Saturday night young people gathered for choir practice, dances and games in relatively unfavourable conditions (dispersion), they organised their cultural – national life. In this connection we also ought to mention numerous groups of young men and girls in Slovak national costumes, who partici-pated in the procession during the National Eucharistic Congress in Sydney.
All of this was organised by their priest fr. S. Sencik. He relied mostly on the members of the Australian Slovaks Association . His motto was – “ We must keep everything good our Country of birth gave us and accept everything that is good in this country .”
He was responsible for social work in that organisation and worked as the editor of the monthly “Slovak Shield”. He only stayed 2 years in Sydney before he was sent on to Melbourne (again for 2 years). During his stay in Melbourne he only seldom visited Sydney. He left Australia in autumn 1957.
Towards the end of 1956 a Salesian father Tibor Strnisko arrived to take on his priestly duties for the small flock of Slovak migrants dispersed over the Australian continent. For the next 13 years he was the only Slovak Catholic priest on this continent. He was continuously on the move.
His field of activities was reduced after arrival of the 1968 post August immigrants (invasion by the armies of Warsaw Pact) to Melbourne only.
For the growing numbers of new immigrants Divine Word Missionaries in Rome, appointed fr. Jan Krasnansky, S VD. To Sydney. When this missionary arrived in the last days of 1970, he met three generations of Slovak immigrants (1929, 1945, 1968).
Not long after his arrival he founded a new organisation “Fraternity of Cyril & Methodius” (1972) and began publishing a newsletter called “Voice of Australia” .
The idea to obtain or build a centre for Slovak religious and cultural presentation in Sydney took form during his tenure. Unfortunately he was not able to bring this to realisation as he did not have the financial support or enough time as his tenure ended in 1975. His organisation has ceased to exist, funds collected were returned to the donors.
Another missionary fr. Emil Cernaj SVD arrived in the same year, appointed by the General Superior of Divine Word Missionaries and he, the same as his predecessor, realised that renting churches that were owned by other nationalities did not assist the unification of the Slovak community . He took it on as his personal mandate to be the instrumental factor in procuring a religious and cultural centre for the Slovaks in Sydney. To undertake such goal after the failure of fr. Krasnansky SVD and with the same people was very courageous. He had to start from square one, since previous financial donations were no longer available for this plan.
It took six years of struggle – collecting financial donations and loans from members of the community in Australia and from the American Slovaks until end of 1981, when father Cernaj after a conference and agreement of the community bought the object at 30 Vaughan Street, Lidcombe.
It consisted of an old church, old fibro hall as well as an old fibro home.
The Slovak Catholic Community never received any financial assistance for this action either from the Australian or Slovak church, or from any government.
This was the summarisation of fr. Cernaj SVD : “ Our church and centre are the result of sacrifice of every one of us. Elderly widows were donating their last savings, new immigrants were contributing despite not owning a roof over their heads. It was only the sacrifice of a small ethnic group, that brought this glorious result. We own it outright.”
Upon purchase the ownership (due to legal advice ) was set up in accordance with Australian Law, the same as other ethnic groups did – in the form of trusteeship.
At the end of January 1982 at a meeting of the Slovak community in Epping, presided by the then Bishop for ethnic communities O.J. Heaps who agreed with actions of father Cernaj. This meeting also approved the Statute of the Slovak Catholic Community of St. Cyril and Methodius by which the Community is governed for the last 30 years.
For centuries it was a tradition that the Slovak clergy was inspirational, not only in religious teaching and spiritual leadership, but also directly involved in preserving our language and cultural heritage.
We were fortunate to be guided by such priests (mainly fr. Cernaj) in our new home – Australia.
Father Victor Stevko, SVD joined us from Indonesia when Fr. Cernaj retired. He continued in the same manner as his predecessor.
Unfortunately, by the year 2008, it was quite obvious that fr. Stevko was no longer able to serve the community due to his declining health. This prompted the community to search for assistance from a Slovak speaking priest fr. Peter Krigovsky, who was active in the Wagga Wagga diocese. We contacted his bishop requesting that fr. Krigovsky be transferred to a Sydney parish in order to be available part time for the needs of the Slovak Catholic Community.
In 2009 and fr. Krigovsky moved to Sydney and assumed the position of chaplain for the Slovak community .His contract with our Community expired in June 2012.
Father Henry Adler is presently attending to the religious needs of the Slovak Community .
The Holy Mass in the Slovak language is held each Sunday at 10.15 a.m.