Between 1870 and 1920 some 650,000 Slovak immigrants came to the United States. A largely Catholic population, they had 241 parishes by 1930. Today marks the death of an early leader of the Slovak community, Father Stephen Furdek (1855-1915), the first Slovak priest in America. Born in Slovakia, he volunteered for the Diocese of Cleveland, which had a growing Slovak and Czech population. When he was ordained in 1882, Cleveland had a few Czech parishes, but no Slovak. In 1885 he started Cleveland’s first Slovak parish, St. Ladislas. He started the St. Stephen Society, a fraternal benefits society that provided for accidents, sickness, and life insurance. In 1890 he organized the First Catholic Slovak Union to promote the community’s interests on a nationwide level. He founded and edited its journal, Jednota. In 1892 he helped organize another benefits society, the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association. A prolific author, Father Furdek wrote many books and pamphlets in Slovak, and created a textbook for Slovak students.
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