St. Martha Parish chalice a sentimental presence for Bishop Kulick
By Cliff Gorski
GREENSBURG — Bishop Larry J. Kulick has many fond memories of growing up in Leechburg, particularly of his home parish, the former St. Martha Parish founded in 1911. It’s the church where he received all his sacraments and became an altar server in second grade. The Slovak parish is where the Bishop gave his first homily as a deacon and celebrated his first Mass as a priest. “I even heard my first confession at St. Martha,” Bishop Kulick said, recalling that he heard those confessions the Saturday after he was ordained.
In 1999, the Leechburg parishes of St. Martha, St. Catherine and Assumption, and its mission, St. Francis in Hyde Park, merged to form Christ the King Parish. In 2012, then-Father Kulick served as Episcopal Master of Ceremonies as a new church was built and consecrated by Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt. For nearly 75 years, there was a constant presence of Christ in all of the celebrations. It was what Bishop Kulick calls the “St. Martha chalice.”
The chalice, adorned with enamel medallions featuring the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Peter and St. Joseph, dates back to 1925, when it was presented by the young men and women of St. Martha parish upon the dedication of the second church building, a new larger brick church building. The parish was served by immigrant priests, many of whom could not afford their own chalice.
For Bishop Kulick, the St. Martha chalice has sentimental significance. “As an altar server starting in the second grade, it was always the chalice that was used at daily Mass, Sunday Mass, funerals and weddings. It was the chalice the priests always used,” Bishop Kulick said. “It was the chalice you brought to the altar. It
was the chalice you took away from the altar as an altar server.”
If burglars had been successful in the 1990s, the chalice may have been lost forever. St. Martha Parish was targeted during a rash of church burglaries in the Alle-Kiski Valley. Thieves managed to get into the sacristy, where they pried open the vesting cupboard. Their plan was foiled when a cleaning woman saw them and called police. As they were fleeing, they took a chalice they may have believed was valuable because of its red stone. In their haste to leave, they left behind the St. Martha chalice.
When he was planning his Ordination Mass for the priesthood, Bishop Kulick thought that the
St. Martha chalice would be of great significance since it played an important role in his life. However, the chalice belonged to the parish, so he chose one from the Diocesan archives; his parents had it restored for him as their gift.
Bishop Kulick always used the St. Martha chalice when he returned to the parish for family weddings, baptisms and funerals prior to becoming Bishop.“It was a part of my life and the lives of so many in the parish,” he said.
He asked to use the St. Martha chalice when he was ordained and installed as the sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg last year. The chalice was on the altar for this momentous occasion in Bishop Kulick’s life.
Shortly after his ordination and installation Mass, Bishop Kulick was invited to return to his home parish to celebrate Mass. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Mass was postponed. The Bishop and Benedictine Father James Loew, Pastor, decided that it would be meaningful for the Bishop to return for Mass on Christ the King Day, Nov. 21, the patronal feast day for the parish. “I was able to go back home, and we had a beautiful, solemn Mass,
and it was so nice to see so many people,” Bishop Kulick said.
He said he was not expecting what happened after Mass. Father James presented the Bishop with a new chalice box. Inside was the St. Martha chalice, fully restored, as a gift from the parish to the Bishop.
“I took out the box and placed it on the altar, and when I opened it up and saw what it was, I became speechless and so emotional,” Bishop Kulick said as a flood of memories washed over him. “I was choking up and I tried to talk because there couldn’t have been a more perfect gift and a more sentimental and historic gift that would mean so much to me. It’s attached to my life, and the life of my whole family and the life at St. Martha and family friends and parishioners who are now gone.”
After receiving the chalice, the Bishop made a promise to parishioners. “I told them I would accept the chalice on one condition: that I would be the custodian of it, and I will use it at the cathedral for our major Masses,” he said.
He also promised that in his will, he will ask that the chalice return to Leechburg to continue to serve future generations of priests and parishioners.