YOUR HELP REQUESTED: Remembering our professors

For many years, cantors who received comprehensive cantorial training in Europe were known in this country as “professors.” These men led church singing, taught religion classes, directed plays, and often organized church services when clergy were scarce. Over time, other particularly influential cantors were also called by the title, “Professor.”

In order to better preserve and foster our chant tradition, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute has been working with the Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh to collect information about these important leaders in our church. Now we are turning to you for assistance. We are particularly interested in the following cantors:

  • Peter Babey
  • Joseph Barron, and other cantors in the Barron family
  • Michael Demyan
  • Julius Dobra
  • John T. Dzurisin and Paul Dzurisin
  • Gabriel Flintosh
  • Andrew Hleba
  • John Horvath
  • Michael Hrebin, Sr.
  • George Hress
  • John Jaroscak
  • George I. Kacan
  • John Kahanick
  • Nicholas Kalvin
  • Basil Karol
  • John Katchen
  • Daniel J. Kavka
  • Peter Korpos
  • George Kostraba
  • Joseph Kotch
  • John Lessler
  • Stephen Levkulich
  • John Maceyko
  • John Mitchell
  • John Molnar
  • Andrew M. Morros (or Morris)
  • I. J. Palazey
  • George Parvenski
  • Andrew J. Parvensky, Sr.
  • George, John, Michael, and Stephen Pauley
  • John Petach
  • Andrew Petrin
  • Michael Petzko
  • Theodore, Joachim, and Anthony Ratzin
  • George Sabol
  • Basil Sarady
  • John Alexander Saxun
  • Emil Simodejka
  • Michael Stinich
  • Alex and George Suchan
  • “Prof. Suhunyak” (Pleasant City, OH)
  • Michael Vuksta
  • John Wischak
  • Paul Yatsko
  • Michael G. Zaretsky
  • Peter Zeleznock (Zelezznak) (Zelezniak)

The MCI can provide some basic information about each, usually from published obituaries. We are looking for information about where and when each of these individuals learned church music; where they served as cantors; documents, photographs or recordings, if any exist, and (most importantly) personal remembrances of their work as cantors. In the case of cantors who also composed or arranged church music, we would like to assemble either a complete or representative sample of their work.

The collected information will be used to document the history of our church singing, foster our plain chant and choral singing, and honor our cantor forebears.  It will also be shared with the parishes where these cantors served.  We are also investigating the possibility of a joint project with the Greek Catholic Union to make this information more widely available.

If you can contribute to this project in any way, please contact Deacon Jeffrey Mierzejewski at, or by calling (412) 735-1676. Watch the MCI website and Byzantine Catholic Seminary website for updates.

If you know of European-trained or influential cantors from before 1945 who are not on this list, please contact us as well! (A later list will concentrate on cantors from the post-World War II generation.)

19 thoughts on “YOUR HELP REQUESTED: Remembering our professors”

  1. Dear Deacon Jeff,

    I’m surprised you put my dad on the list even though he was not European born, but he was trained by his dad, who was. We have final exams the week of January 9 and I am in the process of moving to Taipei, three blocks from our church. I’ll get back to you later in January.

  2. Johanna – my working list is mostly drawn from diocesan newspapers and from interviews. In many cases, I don’t know if the person in question was European trained (not sure much worried about European BORN; some went back to Europe to go to cantor school), or very influential, or if parish just called their cantor “professor” because everyone else did. Your dad was certainly influential, for example. So by collecting some personal history, I am trying to get a better handle on those cantors that I _know_ were called professors.

    (On a side note: the issue is sort of like someone being called “Mister” in English. It could mean he is a military officer, an English gentleman not a knight, the oldest male present with given surname, an Italian football coach, or simply an adult male! )

  3. Professor Peter Korpos. St Johns Chrysostom, Greenfield Pgh PA 1940’s to 1960’s
    Michael Hrebin Sr. St Johns Cathedral Munhall PA ended in late 1960’s
    Gabriel Flintosh, McAdoo PA

  4. You are missing Professor John Kavka from the Pittston, PA parish. He was the father of Professor Daniel J Kavka. I believe he died sometime in the early 1960’s.

    1. I will add John Kavka. He wasn’t on the list, oddly enough, because none of the article mentioning him called him a professor : ) As I said to Johanna abovr, that is hit and miss, and there are a LOT of cantors on my entire roster.

      Here, for example, is what I have on file for John Kavka:

      John Kavka
      Cantor-choir director of St. Michael’s, Pittston, PA “for the last 35 years” (BCW, 11/02/58)
      Honored for 45 years of service at St. Michael’s, Pittston, PA (ECL, 5/05/68)
      Death of his wife Anna (ECL, 7/20/69)
      Honored at St. Michael’s, Pittston, PA – his biography (BCW, 4/15/73)
      Retires as cantor of St. Michael’s, Pittston, PA, honored for 55 years of service to the parish as cantor and choir director (since April 28, 1923) (ECL, 4/23/78)
      Tribute (6/12/87)
      Died on December 9, 1989 (BCW, 1/21/90; biography), (ECL, 1/21/90; short biography)

      (Unless perhaps there is a John Kavka even earlier? You mentioned one who died in the early 1960’s.)

      I am happy to make this kind of info available to anyone who is willing to help write a biography of one of more of the cantors on this list.

  5. I was initially trained by Professor Parvensky. I have many of the Liturgical book he printed for our church in Monessen.

  6. I’ll get more accurate info from relatives still at the church, but one of the Pauleys, I believe it was Stephen Pauley, was at St. Mary of the Assumption church in Wilkes-Barre from the late 1950s through the 1970s. He also formed and directed the choir at the church. I was told that he learned to be a cantor from his father, who was the prior cantor at the church, probably while Father Chopey was pastor. Frofessor Pauley was also referred to as “Doc” Pauley, which supposedly was the Rusyn equivalent of “Prof”.

  7. I am in contact with both Professor Kalvin’s and Professor Zaretski’s daughters and will ask them about information regarding their dads and their work for the church.

  8. Please remember Andrew Rodak, who lived in the Cleveland area. He held certificates from both Mukachevo and Ungvar and often found himself “between” professors Kalvin and Zaretsky, (who both accused him of “stealing” their music) I once heard all three of them sing together; it sounded like a full choir. I can only imagine what they sounded like in their younger days. Professor Rodak was buried from Holy Ghost, Cleveland, so his death record should be available. Like Professor Kalvin, he may have been American-born, sent to Europe to study.

  9. Glory to Jesus Christ!!

    Emil Osif, Fred Pleban and Peter C. Fayock were cantors at St. Mary’s Byzantine in Hazleton

  10. My father was Prof. John T. Dzurisin and studied at St Procopicus College and studied music in Bridgeport, Connecticut and Wilkes-Barre, PA. You can contact me at your leisure if you need additional information.

  11. Professor John Molnar was my great uncle and lived in Elizabeth, N.J. He lead the congregation and choir at Sts. Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic in Elizabeth, N.J. for fifty years. Fr.Orstes Koman was the pastor then. I will get the exact dates for you.

    1. Joe – I am fairly sure that George Kmeck would go on the list of post-World War II cantors and choir directors that I mentioned later in the article. Does that sound right? I would like to get together with you some time and incorporate your material on Northeast cantors and choirmasters into the database!

  12. At St. Michael Church in Farrell, PA and now Hermitage, PA we were blessed to have “Professor” Stephen Sember as our cantor and choir director, in the 1950s through 1980s. As a high school teenager I was in the choir and fondly remember that he would play the music on his violin for us to hear during practice, and during the Liturgy he would use the tuning fork or pitch pipe to give us our pitches.

  13. I am in the beginning stages of looking into my Rusyn heritage. My father was Anthony Racin (Ratzin) cantor at St. Michael’s in Passaic, NJ. He was called Professor, as I recall. I was born there and attended the church until I was 12 (1954) when he died and my mother and I and three siblings moved to Perth Amboy to be near her parents. My uncle (father’s brother) was Joaquim and I remember visiting him and his family in Scranton. My grandfather was Theodore (whom I was named after). I never met him as he died before I was born in 1941. The photo of him with the rest of the family is one I recognize. Someone sent me a copy of that one and I have met all those in the photo. (though later when they were older; my aunts and uncles!) I have my father’s copy of the Prostopinije, and wonder if there is anyone who could translate the first two pages for me. Years ago, a Ukrainian friend looked over the text and said that my grandfather Theodore wrote that intro.
    I have lots of memories of church, food, holidays, etc. I did also join the Carpath0-Rusyn society online.

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