Marijana - Religious Influence
Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church
Religion was very important to the Slavic immigrants. As the new ethnic communities developed their lives continued to be centered around the Church. The Croatians were for the most part Roman Catholic. St. John the Baptist Croatian Church played a principal role in the lives of the Strawberry Hill families. Marijana features the church in many of her paintings.
The Croatian community built St. John the Baptist Church on the Hill just west of the area called the Bottoms. The first services were held there in 1902 in the basement which was roofed to provide a temporary facility. The first permanent pastor, Father Krmpotic, arrived from Croatia that same year. St. John's soon became the spiritual, social, and educational center of the residents of Strawberry Hill.
Once the church was completed, the basement was converted to a temporary school. By 1907, however, the members had raised enough money to open their own school. This was the first Croatian Catholic school in the United States. The staff consisted of four Sisters of St. Francis who came from Croatia. A new school building was built in 1929.
Midnight Mass at Saint John the Baptist Croatian Church
Croatian Christmas carols are still sung on Christmas Eve at Midnight Mass. All religious and social activities center around the Church.
There were two confessionals in St. John's church.One for confessions in English and one for confessing in the Croatian language.
I would help Sister Praxeda set up the Nativity inside the Church. There were always Christmas trees and poinsettias on the altar.
Sisters Going to Church
The Sisters are walking to church on a rainy day.
St. John the Baptist School
Going to School
Walking to school. St. John's was the first Croatian Catholic school built in the United States. In 1929 a new school was built on the site. (1929 school pictured.)
Sisters Going to School
Sisters Velmira, Pulcharia, Jospehine, and Praxeda crossing the bridge from the orphanage to school.
Making Costumes for the School Play
The Sisters made costumes for the school plays. I'm being fitted for a rose costume. We sang:
"Roses, roses, red and white,
nodding in the morning light.
Breathing fragrance in the air,
shedding beauty everywhere.
Roses, roses, red and white."
Sister Praxeda taught kindergarten for fifty years at St. John the Baptist school on Strawberry Hill.
Marijana painted Sister Praxeda as a large person to show the influence she had on the children of Strawberry Hill.
Nuns Returning from Shopping
The Nuns never went anywhere alone. They went two together.
Saint John's Orphanage
In 1918 a flu epidemic hit the Strawberry Hill community. Many children were left alone or with only one parent to care for them. That parent had to work during the day to support the family.The Sisters of Saint John's, with the assistance of the parishioners, purchased the large home next to the church. They turned this into an orphanage so they could care for the children.
Christmas Gifts for the Orphans
During the Christmas season people brought gifts of food to the orphans. I painted angels bringing Christmas foods. In the foreground Saint Nicholas (Sveti Nikola) brings toys to put in the good children's shoes, his helper brings coal and onions to put in the bad children's shoes.
Stages of Life
Throughout all stages of a person's life the church was present, from birth and baptism, until death and burial.
Visiting the Newborn
The midwife would come to the house to take care of the mother and baby. She would take the live chicken that the friend has brought and kill the chicken. Out of the eggs she would make the noodles for the soup. The mother would eat the chicken and noodle soup with crackers and the bottle of wine.
This is the neighbor with the gifts for the mother and newborn child.
Another important time in a person's life--the wedding. Weddings on Strawberry Hill were very large because the whole community was invited.
Going to Wedding Reception at Fifth Street Hall
Large wedding receptions were held at Fifth Street Hall on the Hill. Everyone was invited. The relatives have arrived and the tamburitza orchestra is coming.
The reception would be held at the Croatian Hall. There were always a group of people singing songs from the old country. Everyone joined in the traditional dance, the Kolo. The tamburitza orchestra played polkas. Midway through the celebration the wedding party gathered behind a table, the people formed a donation (darovanje) line. They would kiss the bride, congratulate the groom, and drink a shot of plum brandy (slijvovica). Then they placed their donation in front of the bride, kissed the bride again and received a piece of wedding cake.
Our Old Neighbor Is Dying
Mother would visit all the neighbors. She took me with her at happy times and sad times.
Widows Coming from Church
The old widows stop to talk, coming from church, carrying their rosary and prayer books. In church I would see them praying with their rosaries and their Croatian prayer books. You could hear them praying in Croatian.
Like the Croatian women in the Old Country. the women dressed in black after their husbands had died.
(Select each painting to see a larger view. The words in italics are directly from Marijana.)