Centennial of the Miracle of St. Nicholas
December 19, 2007, the Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra according to the Julian Calendar, marked the 100th anniversary of the Darr Mine Disaster and the Miracle of St. Nicholas in Jacobs Creek, Pennsylvania. This was Pennsylvania’s worst mining disaster and one of the worst in the United States. When the Darr Mine exploded, 239 men and boys lost their lives. Only two escaped.
That day Carpatho-Rusyn miners gave up a day’s wage to attend a morning Divine Liturgy, as December 19 is the feast day of St. Nicholas, their patron saint. During the service they heard a terrible rumbling and the ground shook as gas and dust exploded in the mine. Recognizing disaster, everyone rushed to help rescue any survivors. However, only two men working near the mine entrance were still alive. The poisonous gas, called afterdamp, killed many who survived the explosion itself. Most of the victims were Hungarian and Italian immigrants; seventy-one Hungarians are buried in a mass grave in Olive Cemetery.
Religious fervor is due to sweep through the Youghiogheny Valley as never before as a consequence of the Darr disaster. Today was a holiday of the Greek Catholic Church, and as such it was observed by many of the men who usually work in the Darr mines. Usually about 400 men toil within the mine. On account of the religious holiday—it was the Feast of St. Nicholas—this number was nearly cut in half, and these, almost two hundred men, who were saved by religious devotion, will certainly be more devout than ever, after the extent of the mine’s horror is fully realized.
The men observing the feast day were spared. It is estimated that St. Nicholas prevented the loss of two to three hundred men and boys, some as young as ten. Had they been in the mine, another thousand women and children would have been widowed or orphaned. They would have faced financial ruin as there was little or no assistance from the coal companies nor government agencies (victims’ families in Monongah received funeral expenses and $150).
This was the second miracle of St. Nicholas and miners in 1907. Earlier on December 6, Nicholas’ feast day in the Gregorian Calendar, the worst mining disaster in United States history took place in Monongah, West Virginia. Nearly 400 men lost their lives that day. However, 60–100 Italian Roman Catholic and Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic miners were spared as they attended a Roman Catholic St. Nicholas feast day observance. American mines were more dangerous than European mines. Practices outlawed in Europe were still allowed in the US where minors were three to four times more likely to die on the job.
These two disasters did bring change. For the first time self-contained breathing apparatus was used in deep-mine rescue operations in the United States. Within six months the U.S. Geological Survey created the Mine Accidents Division, opening a station to research of mine rescue techniques. Mining fatalities began to drop the next year, never again did so many mine workers lose their lives. In response to the disasters the U.S. Bureau of Mines was established in 1910 to improve the health and safety of those working in the mines.
After the Darr Mine reopened in 1910, Carpatho-Rusyns on both sides of the Youghiogheny River built churches dedicated to Saint Nicholas in gratitude for his miraculous protection (the area had previously been served by the priest from St. Stephen’s in Leisenring). St. Nicholas Orthodox Church was established in Jacobs Creek and, on the other side of the river, St. Nicholas Byzantine (Greek Catholic) Church in Perryopolis. The Darr mine had entrances on both sides of the river.
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Jacobs Creek, was packed for the centennial service on December 19, 2007. The Akathist to St. Nicholas was celebrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown, joined by His Eminence Metropolitan Basil of the Byzantine Catholic Archdiocese of Pittsburgh, and other clergy.
The Akathist included two new hymns, (Troparion and Kondtakion), composed for the occasion and a special icon commemorating the event was blessed. It shows St. Nicholas covering all the miners—those saved and those lost—with his outstretched arms and protective stole.
Metropolitan Basil asked the congregation to not simply to honor the miraculous intervention of Saint Nicholas, but to emulate his virtues and faith. He challenged everyone to remember, and to become champions of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed.
A Panachida was sung following the Akathist for the 239 miners whose lives were lost in the disaster. Then the bell tolled for these 239 men and boys.
Mine Explosion Entombs 250 Men, the New York Times, Dec. 19, 1907
Darr Mine Disaster, video, WQED, Pittsburgh
December 1907 was most disastrous month in US coal history, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 28, 2007
1907 - 2007: The Darr Mine Disaster Commemoration, The American Hungarian Federation
Darr Mine Explosion, Van Meter, Pennsylvania, United States Mine Rescue Association
Adapted with permission from the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A.:
“Centennial of the Miracle of St. Nicholas,” St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Jacobs Creek
“Centennial of the Miracle of St. Nicholas” by Fr. Edward Pehanich, The Church Messenger