The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 15, 2011

Church leader loses battle with cancer

Arlene Johns
ajohns@tribdem.com

— The spiritual leader of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A. died Sunday after a hard-fought battle with cancer.

Metropolitan Nicholas Smisko had celebrated his 75th birthday in February at Christ the Saviour Cathedral on Garfield Street. It was his last opportunity to be in the cathedral where he had spent so much of his ministry.

Although his prognosis was not good, he had remained hopeful throughout difficult cancer treatments. But on March 3 he was told by his doctor that he should get his affairs in order.

“The only dry eyes in that room were those of the metropolitan,” recalled Connie Miloro, who attended the doctor’s visit along with her husband, the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Frank P. Miloro, diocesan chancellor of the cathedral.

The metropolitan’s last few days were spent in Windber Hospice, where relatives, seminarians and church leaders surrounded his bed.

The grieving faithful read scripture and sang favorite church hymns – often in Slavonic.

Although unconscious most of the time, the beloved church leader revived himself long enough to receive Communion.

One of the visitors to his bedside was Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Adamec.

It was indicative of the kind of leader the metropolitan was.

Father Miloro said Metropolitan Nicholas had an ecumenical approach, often working with the other local bishops – Bishop Adamec as well as Lutheran Bishop Gregory Pyle.

“He did not look negatively on any other Christian church,” Father Miloro said. “The church at large was very, very important to him.”

A statement on the passing of Metropolitan Nicholas was sent by the Rev. Donald B. Green, the executive director of the Council of Christian Associates, of which the metropolitan was a member.

“By his words and actions he strove to heal the breaches within our Christian family,” the Rev. Green wrote.

The metropolitan was born Feb. 23, 1936, the son of the late Anna and Andrew Smisko. After graduating from Perth Amboy High School in New Jersey, he entered Christ the Saviour Seminary in Johnstown to study for the priesthood.

He graduated and was ordained in 1959. His first pastorate was at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Windber, where he served until 1962.

He studied at Patriarchal Theological Academy in Constantinople and traveled extensively through Europe and the Middle East.

Upon returning to the United States, he resumed his studies at the University of Youngstown, Ohio, and at Pitt-Johnstown.

He served at several parishes in the Johnstown area before relocating to New York City to pastor there.

In 1983, he was consecrated as bishop and, in 1985, was installed as the ruling bishop of the church in Johnstown. He was elevated to the rank of metropolitan in 1997.

Despite his important title, Father Miloro said Metropolitan Nicholas was approachable.

“He extended himself to everybody and that included the most common of the common people.”

He was also known for his generosity.

“He assisted seminary students often when they didn’t have enough money to live,” Father Miloro said. 

“He very quietly and without any fanfare would help them with food or anything he could do.”

For many years, the metropolitan provided an Easter meal for many who had no other place to go.

“That was just his nature,” Father Miloro said.

In 1997, the metropolitan oversaw the consolidation of diocesan administrative offices into a new chancery office complex constructed next to the cathedral in the city’s West End.

With churches located throughout the country, the office complex could have been erected anywhere, but the metropolitan wanted to make a statement.

“Moving or relocating the headquarters to a larger area would be just like surrendering to me,” he told a newspaper reporter.

“That’s why we chose to stay. I pray it’s an inspiration to all the good people here.”