Parishioners at St. Michael Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church in Aurora are hoping to preserve the church they say is a focal point of the Romanian community that settled in the city more than a century ago.
During the summer, fundraising efforts began in earnest to raise the $200,000 that will be needed to repair the church’s roof and gutters which currently threaten the integrity of the building, church leaders said.
Secretary of the church council Karen Reeves, 62, said she is a lifelong resident of Aurora and has attended the church all her life.
“I was born and raised here and this was the first Romanian church established in Aurora,” Reeves said. “Today there are two. People from Romania began coming here in the spring of 1906 and needed their own church.”
Workers from Romania brought skills which included carpentry, and opened grocery stores and an ice cream parlor in Aurora, Reeves said, with many others working for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.
Many Romanians settled in the Pigeon Hill area of Aurora. The community quickly outgrew its first church and built a new one.
“We opened the first church in 1907 and later used it as a school when we built the second one,” Reeves said. “In 1926, it had 300 pupils and was staffed with seven nuns.”
The fundraising efforts for the church have included annual bake sales featuring “chifla” – a signature Romanian pastry made of a sweet dough filled with nuts and brown sugar that is baked and sliced afterwards like a jelly roll.
“We’ve been making this for years and we have a lot of cool ideas in the works,” Reeves said. “We have clothing drives ... and we’ve had luncheons and we’re planning to start Bingo.”
Church members spoke fondly about the church and the need to preserve it.
Former president of the church council Viola Moldovan, 91, of Aurora, regards herself as the longtime vocal leader of the congregation which today numbers less than 90 members.
“We’ve often had difficulties here and I guess this issue will depend on the parishioners we have left,” she said. “I’m not able to come here every week, but I may have to come here and crack the whip. I was baptized and attended school here and my parents were founding members and were married here. I want this to still be around after I’m gone."
Another church member, Darlene Ardelean, 82, of Aurora, said she herself is not Romanian but she married a man of Romanian background who was born nearby on Rural Street. She said the bake sales featuring the chifla pastry have been big money-makers in the past.
“My husband’s parents also helped found the original church and were married there and we have had some hard times over the years,” she said. “The bake sales have been big money-makers and we’ve raised as much as $10,000 to $11,000 baking various things including crescent cookies and apricot squares. People here are awesome bakers and I have all the recipes. I’m not Romanian, but I married one and I want to keep this going partially in memory of him.”
Church council president Attila Vig, 83, of Aurora, said he too was not Romanian having moved here from Hungary in 1956.
Like Ardelean, his desire to keep the church going is partly driven by his dedication to a spouse.
“My wife was born and raised here and I don’t want the church to fall apart,” he said. “I do a lot of electrical work here and it allows us to save some money. We do have some new people but they don’t come every Sunday and we only see them if there’s a party or a dinner. But I think we can raise the money by next year.”
On Nov. 16, the church plans to host a pulled pork dinner and invited Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, a fellow Romanian, to be the guest speaker.
In 2006, Lauzen won the Order of the Star of Romania Medal, Commander Rank for his efforts to promote a connection between people in Romania and here in the United States, church members said.
For more information on the church’s fundraising drive and the upcoming dinner, contact Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 630-201-7117.
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.