Who Was St. Nicholas?

Who Was St. Nicholas?

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We know very few historical details about St. Nicholas’s life. Even the year of his death is uncertain, although both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have celebrated December 6—the date of his passing—for more than 1,000 years. Within a century of his death, the much-admired Nicholas had become the center of a series of folk legends. He was credited with stopping a violent storm to save doomed sailors, donating money to a father forced to sell his daughters into prostitution, and even restoring to life a trio of boys who had been dismembered by an unscrupulous butcher. Today, Nicholas is considered the patron saint of sailors, children, wolves and pawnbrokers, among others—as well as the inspiration for the figure of Santa Claus.

By the Middle Ages, Nicholas’ fame had spread to much of Europe, thanks in large part to the dissemination of parts of his skeleton to churches in Italy, where they were venerated as relics. St. Nicholas’ popularity eventually spread to northern Europe, where stories of the monk mingled with Teutonic folktales of elves and sky-chariots. In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas took on the Dutch-friendly spelling Sinterklaas. He was depicted as a tall, white-bearded man in red clerical robes who arrived every December 6 on a boat to leave gifts or coal-lumps at children’s homes.

Stories of Sinterklaas were likely brought to the New World by Dutch settlers in the Hudson River valley. In his satirical 1809 “History of New-York,” Washington Irving portrayed St. Nicholas as a portly Dutchman who flew the skies in a wagon, dropping gifts down chimneys. In 1823 another New Yorker, Clement Clarke Moore, penned the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” which traded the wagon for a sleigh drawn by “eight tiny reindeer.” Beginning during the Civil War, cartoonist Thomas Nast published the first of a series of popular depictions of a rotund and jolly St. Nicholas. In 1879 Nast was the first to suggest that St. Nicholas lived not in Turkey, Spain or Holland but at the North Pole.

READ MORE: How 25 Christmas Traditions Got Their Start

St. Nicholas Day

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St. Nicholas Day, feast day (December 6) of St. Nicholas, the 4th-century bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia and Greece, of a number of cities, and of sailors and children, among many other groups, and was noted for his generosity. Some countries celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 5.

Who is St. Nicholas?

The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara in Asia Minor. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

St. Nicholas giving dowry gold
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
St. Nicholas in prison
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas . Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios’ parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas’ feast day approached, Basilios’ mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios’ safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king’s golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.

St. Nicholas rescuing murdered children
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
St. Nicholas’ prayer calming seas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Another story tells of three theological students, traveling on their way to study in Athens. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, hiding their remains in a large pickling tub. It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, traveling along the same route, stopped at this very inn. In the night he dreamed of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper. As Nicholas prayed earnestly to God the three boys were restored to life and wholeness. In France the story is told of three small children, wandering in their play until lost, lured, and captured by an evil butcher. St. Nicholas appears and appeals to God to return them to life and to their families. And so St. Nicholas is the patron and protector of children.

St. Nicholas providing food during famine
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
St. Nicholas saving innocents
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Several stories tell of Nicholas and the sea. When he was young, Nicholas sought the holy by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus walked, he sought to more deeply experience Jesus’ life, passion, and resurrection. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers.

Other stories tell of Nicholas saving his people from famine, sparing the lives of those innocently accused, and much more. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is venerated in the East as wonder, or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of persons-children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers! He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need ( see list ).

St. Nicholas blessing ships
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
Saint Nicholas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Sailors, claiming St. Nicholas as patron, carried stories of his favor and protection far and wide. St. Nicholas chapels were built in many seaports. As his popularity spread during the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Apulia (Italy), Sicily, Greece, and Lorraine (France), and many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands (s ee list). Following his baptism, Grand Prince Vladimir I brought St. Nicholas’ stories and devotion to St. Nicholas to his homeland where Nicholas became the most beloved saint. Nicholas was so widely revered that thousands of churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.

St. Nicholas’ death
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
St. Nicholas bringing gifts
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Nicholas’ tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari succeeded in spiriting away the bones, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas’ crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe’s great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as “Saint in Bari.” To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari’s great Basilica di San Nicola.

Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.

Celebrating St. Nicholas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
Celebrating St. Nicholas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint’s horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.

Who is St. Nicholas? a word cloud developed from the text on this page
Click for larger image
Image created on Wordle.net

Illustrations by Elisabeth Ivanovsky from Saint Nicholas by Henri Gheon, Sheed and Ward, 1936.
Copyright © Elisabeth Ivanovsky, with kind permission for use by St. Nicholas Center only.

Thank you!

But how St. Nicholas came to North America and eventually became merged with Santa Claus is “deeply mysterious,” Flanders argues. There are two small references to Santa Claus in Rivington&rsquos New-York Gazetteer in the 1770s, one of which refers to “St. Nicholas, otherwise called Santa Claus.” That debunks the theory that the writer Washington Irving coined “Santa Claus,” because Irving was born in 1783. And then the name or word is impossible to find in print for a couple of decades.

What Irving does deserve credit for is promoting the “mythical Dutch past” of the benevolent St. Nicholas. In his early 19th century satirical history of New York, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, he claimed that celebrating the saint was an old Dutch tradition of early New Amsterdam. He positioned St. Nicholas as a symbol of a simpler, kinder way of life at odds with the growing, more bustling New York City in the early 1800s. His version of early New York history was definitely not accurate: he mentions a church named after St. Nicholas, when in reality New York didn’t get its first church with that name until the 20th century, and glosses over the fact that New Amsterdam’s Dutch Reformed Church actually banned saints from religious observance.

“When the book appeared, people knew it was satire, but that was quickly forgotten,” Flanders says, “and it began to be treated as history.”

So what really happened? If anyone brought the name Santa Claus to the Americas, Flanders says credit should probably go to the roughly 25,000 Swiss people who settled in large concentrations in New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. “They came from regions that marked St. Nicholas&rsquo day, and St. Nicholas in various dialects of Schweizerdeutsch, or Swiss-German, becomes either Samichlaus or Santi-Chlaus, both of which sound far more like Santa Claus than the latter, supposedly Dutch derivation from Sint Niklaas.”

The idea of St. Nicholas as the man who would come down a chimney to deliver presents is much easier to trace.

It was Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” &mdash which famously starts “‘Twas the night before Christmas” &mdash that painted that memorable picture. As the industrial revolution made consumer goods more affordable for all, popular depictions of that version of Santa Claus increased as well, along with the traditions of Christmas cards and Christmas trees. Later that century, Christmas became a federal holiday. “Christmas customs encouraged a sense of community and unity at a time when urbanization, industrialization and the memory of the recent Civil War had made many people feel more unsettled than ever,” historian Penny Restad explained to TIME last year.

But the lack of knowledge about St. Nicholas doesn’t necessarily put a damper on the holiday &mdash in fact, that’s part of what has allowed interpretations of him to flourish. This much is clear: St. Nicholas, now and throughout history, is whoever people want him to be.

St Nicholas HIstory

St. Nicholas Church is a building that was originally one of three monasteries in Adare, all dating from the 13th through the 15th centuries. The monastery in what is now St. Nicholas was from the Augustinian order they were called the Black Friars, because the habits they wore were black. Therefore, the Augustinian abbey was also called the Black Abbey.

The plan of the former Augustinian Abbey in Adare, now St. Nicholas Church.

The other two monasteries housed the Trinitarian order and the Franciscans. The Trinitarian Abbey, or “White Abbey,” has been restored and is now Holy Trinity Abbey Church, the Roman Catholic parish church, in the centre of the village. The Franciscan Friary is in ruins and is in the golf course, near Desmond Castle.

The Augustinian monastery was founded about 1315 by John Fitzthomas Fitzgerald, the first Earl of Kildare. The community was probably fairly large, judging from the number of buildings that there were. Of the original buildings, what remains is a portion of the current church the cloisters, walkways that formed the centre of the monastic buildings and the refectory, or hall where the monks ate.

The monastery continued for about 200 years. Then, in the 1530s, Henry VIII of England destroyed monasteries in both England, Ireland, and Wales, and the Augustinian Abbey was dissolved. It is possible that the monks continued to stay on in the abbey after this, but were driven out sometime between 1567 and 1585. The Augustinians on O’Connell Street in Limerick are the descendants of the monks that originally were in Adare.

The church then sat in ruins for more than 200 years. In 1807, it was given to a small Church of Ireland congregation that existed in Adare. This congregation included descendants of some Palatine refugees from Germany, who had moved to the area in about 1708. Many of their descendants still worship today at St. Nicholas. In 1807, the congregation was worshipping at the old St. Nicholas parish church, near the old Franciscan Friary in what is now the golf course. An oak door from this old parish church was moved to the Augustinian Abbey and is still in use today as the door between the chancel and the vestry.

The restoration of the Abbey took place through the early 1800s, thanks to the Dunraven family successive Earls of Dunraven owned the Adare Manor and also restored the village of Adare.

The Church of Ireland congregation has been worshipping here at the old Augustinian Abbey, now called St. Nicholas Church, since the first refurbishment was completed in 1811. The old refectory, or eating hall, was for many years the home of St. Nicholas National School, founded in 1814 by Lady Caroline Dunraven. The School is now housed in a new building constructed in 2007. The school celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2014.

The congregation of St. Nicholas Church is celebrating its 700th anniversary in 2015. The primary event was a Festival of Faith & Flowers on 22–24 May 2015.


1. Stephen Mitchell, “Maximinus and the Christians in A.D. 312: A New Latin Inscription,” Journal of Roman Studies 78 (1988), pp. 105–24.

2. Julian Bennet, “Christianity in Lycia: From its Beginnings to the ‘Triumph of Orthodoxy,’” Adalya 18 (2015), p. 270.

3. This reconstruction along with other depictions of Nicholas can be found on the website of the St. Nicholas Center: www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/real-face.

4. Dr. Cioffari publishes his research in a newsletter called “St. Nicholas News.”

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on October 11, 2017.

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In 1870 Roswell Smith, cofounder of the magazine publishing company Scribner & Company, contacted Mary Mapes Dodge to inquire if she would be interested in working for a projected new children's magazine. [4] At the time Dodge was an associate editor of the weekly periodical Hearth and Home, [5] as well as the author of children's novels, including the best-seller Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates.

Dodge had specific ideas about what a children's magazine should and shouldn't be. She felt it must not be "a milk-and-water variety of the periodicals for adults. In fact, it needs to be stronger, truer, bolder, more uncompromising than the other. Most children. attend school. Their heads are strained and taxed with the day's lessons. They do not want to be bothered nor amused nor petted. They just want to have their own way over their own magazine." [6]

The first issue of St. Nicholas: Scribner's Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys was dated November, 1873. It had 48 pages and a press run of 40,000 copies. [5] Although St. Nicholas never reached the high circulation numbers of some other magazines (in the 1890s The Youth's Companion had 500,000 subscribers compared with St Nicholas's 100,000 in Christmas 1883 [7] ), within a few years it had acquired numerous competing children's periodicals. Magazines that merged with St. Nicholas were Our Young Folks and The Children's Hour in 1874, The Schoolday Magazine and The Little Corporal in 1875, and Wide Awake in 1878 . [5]

From the start, St. Nicholas was beautifully printed with illustrations from a consistent group of artists and wood engravers, such as Walter James Fenn, used by Scribner & Company's other magazine, Scribner's Monthly. [4]

In 1899 St. Nicholas League began. It was one of the magazine's most important departments, and had the motto of "Live to learn and learn to live." Each month contests were held for the best poems, stories, essays, drawings, photographs, and puzzles submitted by the magazine's young readers. Winners received gold badges, runners-up received silver badges, and "honor members", winners of both gold and silver badges, were sent cash prizes. [3] "There is no doubt about it," E.B. White wrote. "The fierce desire to write and paint that burns in our land today, the incredible amount of writing and painting that still goes on in the face of heavy odds, are directly traceable to St Nicholas." [8]

Many St. Nicholas League winners went on to achieve prominence. The most prolific poetry contest winner was Edna St. Vincent Millay, who had seven poems published in the League. E.B. White and Bennett Cerf won essay contests. William Faulkner made the honor roll for his drawings, and F. Scott Fitzgerald was honored for a photograph. [3]

Mary Mapes Dodge as editor Edit

From 1873 until 1881, Mary Mapes Dodge was involved with the day-to-day operations of all aspects of St. Nicholas. She created the magazine departments, wrote the monthly column Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and contributed many stories and poems.

In the first issue she explained why she chose St. Nicholas for the name of the magazine:

Is he not the boys' and girls' own Saint, the especial friend of young Americans. And what is more, isn't he the kindest, best, and jolliest old dear that ever was known. He has attended so many heart-warmings in his long, long day that he glows without knowing it, and, coming as he does, at a holy time, casts a light upon the children's faces that lasts from year to year. Never to dim this light, young friends, by word or token, to make it even brighter, when we can, in good, pleasant helpful ways, and to clear away clouds that sometimes shut it out, is our aim and prayer. [9]

In order to retain her juvenile readers for many years, Dodge created departments for different age groups. For Very Little Folks (1873–1897) was a page of simple stories printed in large type. The Puzzle Box contained riddles, math and word games. Young Contributors Department (begun in 1875) encouraged the writing skills of older children. The Agassiz Association was begun in 1885 to develop the awareness of nature, and the importance of conservation. [5] Hundreds of Agassiz chapters were organized across the nation, and reports of activities were printed in the department. [4]

Dodge knew many famous writers, and was able to persuade them to submit their work to her magazine. Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel Little Lord Fauntleroy first appeared as a St. Nicholas serial, beginning in the November 1885 issue. Her novella Sara Crewe appeared in the December 1887 issue. [10] Other novels to be serialized in St. Nicholas were Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins and Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer Abroad. Dodge asked Rudyard Kipling to do a fiction series, and he sent her the Jungle Book stories. [4]

Within a few years, St. Nicholas increased in size to 96 pages, and reached a circulation of 70,000 subscribers. [5]

In 1881, the Scribner publishing house withdrew from ownership of its two magazines, and they were purchased by The Century Company. Scribner's Monthly became Century Magazine, and St. Nicholas: Scribner's Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys became St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks. The printing and art facilities of the prosperous new owner was made available to St. Nicholas, and the magazine continued to thrive. [4]

Dodge's eldest son, Harry, died in 1881. In her grief she relinquished much of her responsibilities to her assistant editor, William Fayal Clarke. Though no longer in control of all day-to-day operations, Dodge continued working at St. Nicholas until her death in 1905. [10]

William Fayal Clarke as editor Edit

William Fayal Clarke was twenty years old when, in 1874, he joined the staff of St. Nicholas. In 1878 he was promoted to associate editor. [4] Starting in 1881, he took on more responsibilities when, upon the death of her son, Mary Mapes Dodge limited her work load.

As editor, Clarke placed more emphasis on departments, perhaps because he lacked Dodge's close ties to famous authors. Departments devoted to short plays, science and philately (stamp collecting) were added to St. Nicholas. Circulation remained at about 70,000. [4]

In 1927, Clarke stepped down as editor. He retired in 1928, after 54 years with the magazine. Within a few years, St. Nicholas began a steady decline in circulation.

In November 1927 George F. Thomson, the former editor of Our Young Folks (a magazine taken over by St. Nicholas in 1874) became editor. He was replaced after two years, and a rapid turnover of editors began. [4]

In 1930 St. Nicholas was sold to American Education Press, and the magazine's full name was changed to St. Nicholas for Boys and Girls. In 1935 St. Nicholas was sold to Educational Publishing Corporation. [4]

Editors under the last two owners were Albert Gallatin Lanier (1930), May Lamberton Becker (1930–32), Eric J. Bender (1932–34), Chesla Sherlock (1935), [4] Vertie A. Coyne (1936–40), and Juliet Lit Sterne (1943). [5]

In 1940 the format was changed to a large-print picture-and-story-magazine, aimed at beginner readers. Slick paper was replaced with soft paper. The last issue was February 1940. [5] [11]

In 1943 St. Nicholas was brought back, in a format similar to early days. It failed after four issues. [5]

A popular service provided to St. Nicholas subscribers was that, for a small fee, six issues could be sent off to be bound into a hard-back volume, with crimson covers and a gold-stamped title. [12] These bound volumes are available through used book sellers.

Many anthologies of favorite St. Nicholas stories have been compiled. The two best-known collections were edited by Henry Steele Commager and published by Random House (the head of Random House, Bennett Cerf, had once been a St. Nicholas subscriber and contributor to the famous St. Nicholas League). The St. Nicholas Anthology came out in 1948, followed by The Second St. Nicholas Anthology in 1950. Treasury of Best-Loved Stories, Poems Games & Riddles from St. Nicholas Magazine, edited by Commager, was published in 1978 by Greenwich House. The first two volumes were reprinted by Greenwich House in 1982 and 1984. In addition, Burton Frye compiled A St. Nicholas Anthology: the Early Years for Meredith House in 1969.

In 2003 and again in 2004, William F. Buckley Jr. edited The National Review Treasury of Classic Children's Literature and The National Review Treasury of Classic Children's Literature: Volume Two, both with stories gathered from St. Nicholas.

A number of St. Nicholas issues can be downloaded free of charge. Sources shown in External Links are Project Gutenberg and A Tribute to St. Nicholas: A Magazine for Young Folks, which contains a menu of online links.

History of the Feast of Saint Nicholas

AS WE WAIT FOR GOD TO BECOME INCARNATE, we look to the whole body of Christ, past and present, for models of embodied faith. The commemoration of saints has been a part of Christian worship since the second century.

Today we remember Saint Nicholas, who was the Bishop of Myra in the province of Lycia during the fourth century. Very little is known about his life, but he is remembered as a man of great faith and compassion. He was also a fierce advocate for those who had been unjustly condemned. But he left behind no writings: the legends surrounding his life are all we have.

Nicholas is most well known in the West as the beloved patron saint of children and gift-giving. His connection to the American character of Santa Claus is faint, but it can be traced. According to tradition, Nicholas’ parents died when he was young, leaving him a large sum of money. With his inheritance, Nicholas practiced charity, helping those in need.

One legend in particular illustrates his generosity: a family in his community was desperate the father had lost all of his money and had been unable to find husbands for his three daughters. The daughters were in danger of being given over to prostitution or another form of degradation when, one night, Nicholas appeared at their home. He tossed three bags of gold into the open window (or down the chimney, in some versions)—thereby saving them from a terrible fate. This tale is probably the source of his eventual connection to the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas.

The custom of giving gifts on Saint Nicholas’ feast day probably originated in Europe among Protestants. The Reformation had led many Protestants to all but abandon the remembrance of the saints. But Saint Nicholas remained a popular figure, especially among children, who received gifts in his name on December 6. The custom spread with immigration to North America when Dutch children told their English-speaking friends about “Sinter Klaas,” the bishop in red vestments who brought them surprises on his feast day. The American mispronunciation—Santa Claus—eventually took on a life of its own. This jolly Saint Nick also delivered gifts through the chimney, but on Christmas rather than the saint’s day. He wore a red suit rather than liturgical vestments, though he still vaguely resembled the old depictions of Nicholas, which showed him with bald head and full beard.

Aside from the obvious disparities between Saint Nicholas and the secular Santa Claus, perhaps the most poignant difference between them can be seen in the nature of the gifts they give. While Santa has his bundle of toys, the gift that Saint Nicholas gives is nothing short of freedom from poverty and desperation. The life of Saint Nicholas is an example of faith made flesh in actions of true charity.

From God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, reflections by Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw © 2007 Greg Pennoyer, Paraclete Press. Used by permission.

Our Story

The birth of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church occurred during an era of great change in the United States and the city of Philadelphia. It was established in 1912, but its roots go back even further. Its early history unfolded at a time of unprecedented turmoil and controversy. The parish’s continued existence is a great testimony to the resilient faith and profound spirituality of the members of the congregation.

America was always a nation of immigrants, but when the people of Eastern and Southern Europe began arriving in unprecedented numbers in the late 1800’s, they were deemed less compatible and desirable than the earlier settlers. It was feared that their presence would likely damage American society, institutions, and culture. Italian immigrants were a large part of this new population and were often met with hostility.

The Catholic Church in Philadelphia also faced a challenge in addressing what one Bishop termed the “Italian Problem.” The new immigrants were undeniably poor, did not speak English, and carried spiritual beliefs and customs that were somewhat different from those of the largely Irish and German Catholics who held positions of authority in the archdiocese. In many ways they seemed out of place – their style of dress, their music, their zealous dedication to patron saints, and their peculiar emphasis on food as a critical part of their social and religious fabric.

When an earlier and smaller wave of Italians had arrived in the 1850’s, Archbishop John Neumann showed great foresight in developing the concept of a “National Parish” – a church created specifically to minister to a particular ethnic group – hence the creation of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, the first Italian National Parish in the United States. But by the late 1800’s, the number of immigrants in South Philadelphia had grown so tremendously that Archbishop Patrick J. Ryan decided he needed significant help from Italian speaking priests. With the aid of his friend, Archbishop Sebastiano Martinelli, an Augustinian, he established a new parish - Our Lady of Good Counsel, at 8th and Christian Streets in 1898. The Augustinians agreed to send three priests from Italy to begin this mission and they were given a huge mandate – the pastoral care of all Italians in Philadelphia, except for members of the existing parish of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi. It was also agreed that ultimately, upon the passing of the longtime pastor Fr. Antonio Isoleri, even that parish would be turned over to the Augustinians.

People felt a great affinity for the new church and found a congenial home there. St. Mary Magdalen was long considered the “Genovese church”, made up of mostly Northern Italians who had arrived a half century earlier and were firmly planted in the United States. The new arrivals from Southern Italy and Sicily clearly needed a place to call their own and during its 35 years of existence, Buon Consiglio thrived, recording an amazing 10,000 marriages and 75,000 baptisms.

Unlike the archdiocesan priests who sought to have Italians assimilate, the Italian Augustinians encouraged and enabled the congregation to retain its original culture and personal identity. They became champions of ethnic pride and religious fervor. Pastor Angelo Caruso gave impassioned sermons in Italian urging the faithful to preserve their traditions. But by consistently delivering this message, he was implicitly challenging archdiocesan authority and soon this semi-autonomous colony of Catholics would be seen as a threat to church leaders. In a relatively short time, the Italian population in Philadelphia grew from an estimated 30,000 to more than 150,000, and began to rise in stature, education and economic status. As this occurred, the Archdiocese became increasingly uncomfortable with having ceded such a burgeoning population to a specific order of foreign priests.

Soon the congregation of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish became overwhelming and an additional church building was sought, specifically for those settling below Washington Avenue. In early 1912, a suitable property became available. The Salem Evangelical Church at 9th & Watkins had been offered for sale to a Jewish congregation, but the deal fell through and the Augustinians were able to obtain it for only $14,500, with the blessing of Archbishop Edmond Prendergast. On April 4th, an article in the Evening Bulletin lamented that “due to great changes in the character of the population in that neighborhood, the congregation of the Protestant church has dwindled”, noting that the fleeing residents were being replaced by the new Italian Catholics.

The Augustinians sought a distinctive name for the church, and after some deliberation, it was dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, a 13th Century Augustinian, who was the first canonized saint of the Order and is venerated as the patron of the faithful departed. Father Giovanni Cerruti was put in charge at the age of 32.

On Sunday April 14, 1912 the church of St. Nicholas of Tolentine was officially dedicated with a lovely ceremony held at 3:00 PM. There was great joy among the people, as Italian religious and beneficial societies with brass bands and banners joined the celebration amidst a profusion of Italian and American flags and the children of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church singing hymns.

Sadly, the joyous mood changed that evening as word spread of an event that overshadowed the establishment of the new church – the luxury liner the Titanic struck an iceberg only hours after the ceremony ended, and by the next morning it sunk, claiming over 1,500 lives. The Archdiocesan archives hold a page of clippings from the week of April 14, 1912 with both a press release announcing the establishment of St. Nicholas of Tolentine and a copy of a letter from Archbishop Prendergast appealing for prayers for the victims of the disaster.

During its early years, St. Nicholas of Tolentine continued to serve as a mission church of Our Lady of Good Council, but its growth was vigorous nonetheless. During its first year, membership grew to 2,500 people and it established a Sunday school for the immigrant children – Scuola Domenicale di San Nicolo.

Father Alfonso Baldassare carried on the work of Fr. Cerutti when the young priest became ill in 1914 and tragically died a few years later at the age of 39. Fr. Baldassare proved to be a major figure in the history of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, serving for 12 years. His ambitious leadership helped the church develop and become a significant presence in South Philadelphia. With growth came a need for a larger church, and Father Baldassarre responded. In 1916, the original chapel was demolished and work began on a new building. Masses took place in a house at 1720 South Ninth Street, in which the first floor had been converted into a long hall. With no church to be had, wedding photos were taken in studios with a church image superimposed in the background.

Father Baldassare’s desire to build an important edifice led him to select an award winning Italian architect, Nicholas Seraccino, who had studied in Naples and maintained an office on Broadway in New York City. Seraccino had recently completed two structures in Manhattan - The Church of the Sacred Hearts of Mary and Jesus, which bears a striking resemblance to St. Nicholas, and his masterpiece – the church of St. Jean Bapiste which stands at 72nd and Lexington in the upper east side and is considered the most significant catholic church building in New York, other than St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Serracino’s elegant and simple neo-classic design for St. Nicholas was quickly realized and the new church opened in one year.

The next major task was to address the need for a school. Fr. Baldassare’s 1922 Annual Report listed 1,006 baptisms and 185 weddings in a single year, so it was clear that a proper school was required. Cardinal Dennis Dougherty recognized this and wrote an impassioned letter to the pastor urging him to proceed with the project, exclaiming that “the Italian children run the risk of falling into the hands of Protestant proselytizers.”

Fr. Baldassare developed plans that called for the purchase of land on the site of St. Mary’s Cemetery at 10th & Moore Streets, but was told by the diocesan Consultors that Canon Law forbade construction that would disturb graves. Ironically, 30 years later, the same laws were overridden to accommodate the building of St. Maria Goretti High School. Nonetheless, a smaller lot at 9th and Pierce was chosen and the new school opened in September of 1925, staffed by the Missionary Sisters of St. Francis who would remain there for 26 years.

As St. Nicholas of Tolentine thrived, all was not well among the leaders of neighboring churches and the policy makers within the diocese. As early as 1926, the pastor of St. Mary Magdalen complained to Cardinal Dougherty that the Augustinians were keeping him in a state of “constant agitation” by their incursions into his parochial territory. Fr. Pambianco was now leading St. Nicholas and was known for his eloquent speaking, strong personality and expressive pen. A series of contentious letters illustrate the growing controversy surrounding the reach of Augustinian authority that was wielded from Good Counsel and St. Nicholas. The issue would not go away, even when Fr. Pambianco departed Philadelphia after being accused of writing a poem that was not complimentary of the Cardinal.

By the early 1930s, the Archdiocese recognized that the time had come to reexamine its strategy of ministering to Italian speaking Catholics and to reign in the authority of the Italian priests. Cardinal Dougherty determined that the agreement granting exclusive pastoral care to the Augustinians had been made without the proper consent of the Consultors and should be abrogated. Further, it was decided that Our Lady of Good Counsel parish should close and its Italian speaking parishioners be dispersed to other nearby churches. In the Cardinal's design, the parish which had become highly symbolic of semi-autonomous ethnic identity, had to disappear. It was therefore ordered that the Italian priests and the canonical foundation of Good Counsel would formally be transferred to St. Nicholas of Tolentine. The decree was reluctantly accepted by the Augustinians.

The Archdiocese announced these plans on May 3, 1933 amid great dismay, protest, and rebellion by many in the Italian community. A huge public demonstration exploded on the streets of South Philadelphia, and by nightfall, a crowd of 1,500 people converged on the church. The crowd prevented the pastor, Fr. Marini, and his assistants from leaving the rectory, ultimately holding the pastor under house arrest for months. As the protests continued, national and international help was sought. A delegation met in Washington, D.C. with the Italian Ambassador to the U.S., while others sent a cablegram to Pope Pius XI begging for his intervention. Despite these actions, Cardinal Dougherty stood firm, and Our Lady of Good Counsel was closed. The action left a permanent scar on the local community and severely damaged their view of the Cardinal. When he arrived for Confirmation ceremonies at a nearby parish later that year, police were called to guard him from possible harm.

With all of this upheaval and sadness, many took comfort and pride in the expansion of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, finally declared an independent parish in 1932. In the next 2 years, membership grew from 900 families with 4,800 individuals, to 2,300 families and nearly 12,000 people. In the new parish, the people found a refuge from the storm of assimilation. It was a place where they could maintain the traditions they brought from their native land, particularly a dedication to their patron saints. Societies were established for dozens of Italian Saints, each with a suitable statue, banner and feast day. These societies and their corresponding processions were a significant demonstration of faith for the people, and along with the distinguished organizations of the Sodality and the Holy Name, gave the parishioners a strong sense of place.

In 1933, Fr. Claudio Fabrizi was appointed pastor of what was now an official parish, and his long tenure and strong leadership steered the church into the modern era. During his 22 years at St. Nicholas, Fr. Fabrizi achieved much success. He liquidated an existing debt of more than $200,000 early in his tenure while the Depression raged on, he expanded and updated the school building, built a new convent, and in 1951 secured the Religious Teachers Filippini to replace the Missionary Sisters of St. Francis. The Fillipinis brought a great passion for education to the school. The first group of sisters to arrive included many who would become revered and beloved figures in the parish. The Fillipinis have remained a vital presence at St. Nicholas for over 60 years and their reputation for providing quality education is a great source of pride.

Fr. Fabrizi and his assistants of that era are well remembered and admired to this day by senior members of the parish. Names such as Fr. Anthony Cirami, Fr. John Positano, Fr. Ambrose Colorita, Fr. Joseph Toscani, and two future pastors - Peter Toscani and Louis Diorio, remind many of the great stewardship that St. Nicholas was blessed with over the years. The guidance of these priests helped the congregation cope with the difficult times of the 1930s and 40s. During times of war the church provided solace and inspiration to keep the faith. Some parish priests served as chaplains in the armed forces, such as Fr. Cirami in World War II and a young Fr. Joe Gatinella in the Korean Conflict. When World War II was coming to a close, a memorable Communion Breakfast was held to pray for 25 young men from St. Nicholas who died in the war. Their fathers were in attendance and were awarded gold certificates. Fr. Positano celebrated the Mass, and in honor of the fallen soldiers, led over 300 parishioners in procession to the Adelphia Hotel on Chestnut Street for the breakfast.

Fr. John was a popular figure and an accomplished musician who led a band prior to becoming a priest. After his ordination, he continued to play his clarinet at parish gatherings. His musical endeavors ranged from leading a St. Nicholas of Tolentine big band to sitting in with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

The decade of the 1960s was a time of great change in the country and in the Catholic Church. Fr. Angelo Allegrini was appointed to lead the parish through these years and he served as pastor from 1961 to 1971. The decrees of the Second Vatican Council dramatically altered the day-to-day practices of the faithful. As Latin was replaced with the vernacular at Mass, St. Nicholas began to conduct services in English and Italian, and maintains a Sunday Italian Mass to this day.

The parish always placed a high priority on providing meaningful and beautiful liturgies, and has been blessed with the dedication of many talented priests and lay people. Fr. Stephen Bordi and Fr. Adolfo Toccafondi were notable in the area of church music. Fr. Bordi was an accomplished organist and artist, and Fr. Adolph composed a great deal of music that continues to be performed. Today, the parish choir and cantors provide inspirational music at the Masses and steadfast readers enthusiastically proclaim the word.

To accommodate the wide range of changes dictated by Vatican II, Fr. Allegrini decided that the church should be modernized, and in January 1964 he undertook a major renovation at a cost of over $180,000. Many parishioners still remember attending Mass at the Savoia Theatre on Broad Street during the reconstruction. A few years later, the nation’s baby boom produced such a large number of children in the parish that a new school was needed for additional classrooms. It opened on 1968 and Archbishop John Cardinal Krol came to bless the new building in a memorable ceremony.

During Fr. Allegrini’s tenure and that of his successor, Fr. Joseph Gattinella, who returned to St. Nicholas as pastor in 1972, activities in the parish continued to thrive as many organizations remained active and the parish school became even more vibrant. During the 1960s and 70s some faithful priests from an earlier era returned as assistants, familiar faces like Fr. Diorio and Fr. Pete were joined by Fr. Eugene from Italy and Fr. Kerr from Malta. Another important part of the parish fabric during this time was Boy Scout Troop 248. Many dedicated parishioners worked with the scouts and developed a proud tradition.

In 1977 a young parishioner named Nicholas Martorano was ordained into the Augustinian order. Fr. Nick initially served the Augustinians at their prep school in Vineland, NJ but ultimately returned as pastor of St. Nicholas in 1984. As a native son, Father Martorano recognized the unique asset that his parish possessed – the strong commitment, enthusiastic spirit and deep faith of its members. During his long tenure, he has embodied this resilience and determination and has kept the parish on a firm footing. He has been an enthusiastic leader through difficult times, enlivening the parish liturgies and the celebration of the sacraments, providing innovative religious and social programs, and enhancing the reputation of the school.

In 1987, on the occasion of St. Nicholas of Tolentine’s 75th anniversary, Fr. Nick reinstituted a parish procession. The annual event has grown over the past 25 years into a renowned day-long festival that celebrates church traditions and authentic Italian culture – in many ways reflecting the very history of the parish itself and proudly displaying it for all to see.

So what is a national parish when it is no longer an immigrant church? Should it pass away once its people have assimilated into their new world? Should it distance itself from its past when the congregation is transformed to include fourth generation Italian Americans united with a myriad of other proud ethnic groups and races?

While comparable parishes have almost entirely disappeared or been transformed beyond any recognition of their origins, St. Nicholas has not only survived, but has thrived as a beacon in South Philadelphia, striking the right tone – a strong desire to evolve and move forward in the face of modern challenges, while staying true to the faith, and ever mindful of its distinctive ethnic roots. The motto of the parish’s centennial in 2012, “Faith, Family and Tradition”, was drawn from its own specific ancestry, but the sentiment speaks to all Christian people – serve the Lord in every aspect of your life – internally and externally, at home and in the world outside, in word and in deed, reverently and boisterously, in spirit and in song, and whenever possible – with food!

- Published in 2012 on the occasion of the parish 100th Anniversary


St. Nicholas School was a private nonsectarian girls' school founded in 1910 and located in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. The school was named to honor St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, but had no religious affiliation. Patronized by many of Seattle's leading families, St. Nicholas School strove to provide its students with an education that would both prepare them to pursue higher education and equip them to proceed comfortably into Seattle's upper class society. St. Nicholas School graduated its last class in 1971, and thereafter merged with the previously all-male Lakeside School (founded in 1919), making that school coeducational.

Early History

Eda Buddecke (1858-1926) was the school's first headmistress, assisted by her sister, Fanny Buddecke (1854-1938). The Buddeckes, who had been raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and subsequently taught in Virginia and Maryland before moving to Seattle, founded the school at the behest of a group of Seattle parents who wanted their daughters to have the benefit of a first-class nonsectarian college-preparatory education. St. Nicholas was intended to offer Seattle girls an East Coast education, without the need to leave their homes to get it. The school's motto was "Nihil est virtute amabilus," or "Do noble things, not dream them all day long." The school's namesake, St. Nicholas, was a bishop in what is now Turkey during the fourth century. St. Nicholas was said to favor girls who lacked dowries and to help them arrange suitable marriages by leaving them bags of gold.

A 1960 Seattle Times article about the school's 50th anniversary mentions in passing that a longtime secretary, Pauline Bolster (1887-1975), recalled that the school "actually began in the ballrooms of the George F. Fischer home, and then the R. D. Merrill home" before the Buddecke sisters became involved ("St. Nicholas Will Mark. ").

In early January 1910, Eda Buddecke purchased the property at 712 Broadway N (now E) between E Roy and E Aloha streets in Seattle's tony North Capitol Hill neighborhood. She paid former owners George B. Cole (ca. 1861-1943), Lily A. Cole (ca. 1861-1944), and Mary C. Finch (ca. 1853-1936) $7,600. Seattle architect Charles Bebb (1856-1942) designed a two-story school building consisting of two floors of classrooms, later topped by a third floor gymnasium. The school's nine teachers welcomed its first pupils (83 of them) on September 29, 1910. Student government at the school was organized in 1914.

In 1917, the Buddecke sisters sold St. Nicholas to a group of parents -- members of Seattle's leading families, including the Blethen, Bloedel, Henry, Merrill, Padelford, and Stimson families. The school was incorporated at this time, and Edith Dabney (ca. 1882-1967), a teacher at the school since its inception, became headmistress. In 1919, the school became affiliated with a boarding facility at 520 Boylston Avenue N (now E), while remaining primarily a day school. The boarding option was discontinued after two years.

St. Nicholas School was the first of several strongly female-centric institutions that would eventually define the two-block radius around the school. In 1921, Nellie Cornish (1876-1956) moved her Cornish School, which offered lessons in art, music, dance, and theater, into a new building at 710 E Roy.

In 1925, the Woman's Century Club constructed a brick clubhouse at 807 E Roy Street, and the Rainier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution built their chapter house at 800 E Roy Street. Like St. Nicholas School, these organizations served and were supported by the wealthy families living nearby.

St. Nicholas Girls

Emphasis at St. Nicholas was placed on academics, but also on proper behavior, and on giving back to the community. Lambda Theta Upsilon, a service sorority to which all students belonged, was founded in 1919 and provided a framework for charitable activities benefiting the Seattle community. St. Nicholas students were also trained to appreciate cultural activities and to organize and manage a gracious home environment. For St. Nicholas girls, rolling bandages for the Red Cross and raising funds for Children's Orthopedic Hospital went hand in hand with learning to host teas and formal dinner parties. These lessons were firmly reinforced at home.

The 1922 St. Nicholas Pen Points, a combination yearbook and literary publication, includes a page addressed "To Mothers of Girls" that sums up the school's objectives: "It is the ideal and purpose of the St. Nicholas School for Girls to develop the inherent possibilities for growth in the girls whom the school is privileged to guide through their impressionable years. To develop strength and sincerity of character, to prepare girls to acquire through the later years of college an understanding of life and its responsibilities that they may become capable home makers and mothers, and intelligent citizens -- these are our objectives" (p. 3).

Especially in the school's early decades, St. Nicholas students were the daughters of the men who led Seattle's business community and the women who led, funded, and facilitated the city's cultural and benevolent aspects. Young women educated at St. Nicholas were encouraged to actively give back to their community, to use their wealth for good rather than rely on it for privilege. Over the school's 61-year history, St. Nicholas graduates consistently distinguished themselves as leaders, both in the professional world and as tireless community volunteers.

A New Location

On March 15, 1926, St. Nicholas moved into a newly built and much larger facility at 1501 10th Avenue E. The new school was designed by Charles Bebb and his architectural partner, Carl Gould (1873-1939). (The original school building became an apartment house, and was later demolished. The site now [2014] houses a mixed-use business and residential complex whose tenants include Roy Street Coffee & Tea and FedEx Office.) The new facility allowed the school to expand to 200 students, with 16 full-time and four part-time teachers.

Course catalogs in the 1920s stress the location's accessibility via streetcar, as well as the building's gracious appointments: "The school is modern and beautiful in every detail. From its large west windows there is an unobstructed view of Lake Union, Puget Sound, the Canal, and the Olympic Mountains. On the first floor are the offices, kindergarten, library, reception and conference rooms, dining room and kitchen, and class rooms for the Lower School. The study and class rooms for the Junior and Senior High School are on the second floor. These include a room for Household Arts, and three unusually large and well-arranged science laboratories" (Saint Nicholas School Course Catalog 1926-1927, p. 14).

St. Nicholas initially served grades K-12. Male students were accepted for Kindergarten only (at some periods during the school's early years, until fourth grade). French was taught beginning in First Grade. Latin studies commenced in Eighth Grade. During High School, girls chose to follow either the General Course (not designed to prepare the student for college) or the College Preparatory Course. The University of Washington accepted graduates of this course of studies who also had St. Nicholas's recommendation without examination. Many St. Nicholas graduates were accepted into women's colleges such as Wellesley, Vassar, Smith, and Bryn Mawr, and the school's curriculum supported studies designed to prepare St. Nick's girls for the college entrance board examinations these schools required.

Beginning about 1914, St. Nicholas students were required to wear a uniform consisting of a white middy blouse, black tie, navy blue skirt, and navy blue sweater, all available for purchase at Frederick & Nelson. Some period photographs of St. Nick's students during the school's early decades document that the girls also sometimes wore white skirts, probably during warmer weather or for formal occasions. Low-heeled shoes and plain woolen, cotton, or lisle (tightly-woven polished cotton) stockings completed the look. Colored hair bands and elaborate hair ribbons were prohibited, and jewelry was restricted to a watch. For gym classes, black serge bloomers, a plain white middy blouse, black tie and stockings, and high white tennis or gymnasium shoes were de rigueur. In addition to their physical training at school, the 1925-1926 course catalog specified, "the girls are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity for swimming at the Y.W.C.A. pool and riding at one of Seattle's riding academies" (p. 23).

The name of the school's yearbook varied during the school's early years, finally settling as Cantoria from 1926 onward. Sports were compulsory, with basketball a particular favorite. Dancing was added to the physical education program in the 1930s. Some gym classes were also devoted to practicing poise: walking smoothly, maintaining sufficiently straight posture to balance a book on one's head, sinking gracefully into chairs, sitting with ankles crossed neatly and knees together.

1930s and 1940s

In 1930, St. Nicholas gained a major neighbor when St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral was constructed just southwest of the school. Over time St. Mark's facilities would be pressed into service for formal St. Nicholas including graduation, but no formal relationship existed between the two entities, and the school remained nonsectarian.

Dire economic conditions took their toll on St. Nicholas's enrollment numbers during the late 1930s and early 1940s. During World War II, St. Mark's Cathedral (which had been foreclosed upon in 1941, and was closed for worship until 1944) was occupied by a United States Army military instillation. Windows at St. Nicholas were taped to prevent flying glass in the event of a bomb explosion, bomb drills were held, and school lunch supplies were purchased using ration books. The 1943 Cantoria (which was shorter than usual due to wartime paper shortages) detailed student war effort activities:

"The first weeks of school found the Seniors resuming their Tuesday War Stamp Sales of last year. The Juniors contributed a service to the war effort by completing on hundred hand knitted squares for a Red Cross Afghan. They also collected over two hundred recent phonograph records which were turned over to the committee distributing records to the soldiers throughout the nation. The Sophomores sponsored a book drive for the servicemen. . Cookie drives were held once a month to help make U.S.O's and similar organizations seem more like home to servicemen" (1943 Cantoria, np).

Mid-Century Misses

In 1955, a west wing was added to the existing building. Maximum enrollment rose to 260. St. Nick's girls still wore essentially the same uniform that had been used since the 1920s, albeit with a slightly less voluminous gym ensemble.

After much student pressure, St. Nicholas began occasionally hosting an exchange luncheon with students from the all-male Lakeside School, and in 1956, St. Nicholas and Lakeside held a joint mixer (an informal party). This was a coup: Lakeside and the all-girl Bush School had already been mixing on weekends while St. Nick's girls sought school permission to do the same.

During the late 1950s, St. Nicholas students continued to push boundaries. The site of women smoking in public had lost its previous social taboo, and students began lighting up on campus. Headmistress Edith T. Rowe (1923-2009) and the St. Nicholas board banned the practice on campus, making it cause for suspension. Students responded by stepping off campus and onto Cathedral grounds for their smoke breaks, forcing Rowe to extend the ban and recommend that girls suspended twice for smoking face expulsion.

Changing Times

Enrollment at St. Nicholas fell during the 1960s as the school struggled to reconcile its history and traditions with the educational and social desires of modern young women. By 1965, enrollment had dropped to 229. The school hired a public relations consultant, increased teacher salaries, and beefed up science laboratories. But St. Nicholas -- like other single-sex educational facilities, and many prep schools in general -- was increasingly out of step with the rapidly changing times.

St. Nicholas students continued to push for a school that felt more relevant, chipping away at old traditions. Students tussled with faculty over issues such as chapel assemblies vs. comparative religions studies, rules governing the wearing of jewelry, and updating the school uniform. Seniors eventually gained permission to smoke in the dining room during the last lunch period of the day, and students who secured permission from their parents and the administration were allowed to leave campus for lunch. These changes -- welcomed by students -- disturbed many of their parents and some of the school's alumnae.

In 1967, St. Nicholas student Karin Williams was permitted to enroll in an advanced physics class at the all-male Lakeside School. St. Nicholas offered only three years of science, and Williams wanted four.

In 1968, Headmistress Rowe -- to many, a symbol of the old conservative order -- resigned, and was replaced by Frank MacKeith, the school's first male faculty member. MacKeith expanded the school's language program and added more advanced science courses. By his second year in the headmaster's position, the student uniform had been updated: skirts were shorter and had several style options, and a more fitted white blouse replaced the old middy blouse. MacKeith told The Seattle Times, "It is one thing to be a finishing school and something else to be academically aware. We will try to follow a course somewhere between" ("The Male Influence…"). The school also expanded opportunities for independent studies and enhanced the scholarship program.

Merger With Lakeside School

MacKeith resigned in 1970, as did five of the school's 24 teachers. Low enrollment meant budget shortfalls, despite a recent tuition hike. St. Nicholas's board of directors struggled to find a way to keep the school afloat, hiring former Lakeside School Director of Admissions and Scholarship David Davis as headmaster. Davis immediately instituted radical change. His first act as headmaster was to make wearing the school uniform optional.

"I think it's hypocritical to talk to students about rights and then tell them they must dress alike," David told The Seattle Times. "Say three girls in a class show up barefoot, and their teacher tells me it's distracting. Then the teacher and I will discuss it with the girls. We'll listen to the girls' side -- they may have their serious reasons. And we'll listen" ("Rules for students. "). The all-female Bush School also abolished school uniforms in 1970. Lakeside School (all male) abolished dress code in 1968. By 1970, Lakeside students were permitted to grow beards. At St. Nicholas School Davis also planned to eliminate letter grades, hire new teachers, bring in community mentors to work with students, encourage students to be more involved with the life of the city, and make the school co-educational.

Some parents supported these changes, but many parents objected to them vociferously. Strain and personal problems undermined Davis's ability to function as headmaster, and he was granted leave in November 1970. At the time, merger talks with Lakeside School, a formerly all-boys school founded in Seattle in 1919, were already underway. In December, both Lakeside and St. Nicholas boards of directors had approved the merger. Davis resigned, and Lakeside headmaster Arthur Delancey "Dan" Ayrault Jr. (1935-1990) was appointed acting head of St. Nicholas until the actual merger occurred in September 1971.

St. Nicholas graduated its last class on June 10, 1971. The final Cantoria summed up a moment that was both hopeful and bittersweet: "Something new, Nothing old, Something true, Something bold. No spirit of the past can hold you back from the BRAVE NEW WORLD" (35).

St. Nicholas School Headmistresses and Headmasters

Marietta Abernathy, 1920-1921

Virginia E. Smith, 1952-1958

David Davis, September-December 1970

St.Nicholas School (Charles Bebb, 1910), 712 Broadway N (now E), Seattle, ca. 1918

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School lower grades, Seattle, 1917

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School students walk west on Roy Street, Seattle, ca. 1918

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School students, Seattle, ca. 1919

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School picnic, Seattle, ca. 1920s

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School Class of 1922, Seattle, 1922

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School basketball players, Seattle, 1922

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School advertisement, Seattle, August 23, 1925

Courtesy The Seattle Times

St. Nicholas School botany class, Seattle, 1926

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School (Bebb & Gould, 1926), Seattle, 1926

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School home economics class, Seattle, 1935

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School students, Seattle, 1951

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

Debutant Christmas Ball attendees including St. Nicholas School students, Seattle, 1959

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School seniors pose in a bathtub, Seattle, 1969

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School students, 1970

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School Cantoria yearbook staff members, Seattle, 1971

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

St. Nicholas School, Seattle, 1971

Courtesy Jane Carlson Williams '60 Archives, Lakeside School

Former St. Nicholas School (now part of St. Mark's), Seattle, September 1, 2012

History of Our Church

St. Nicholas Parish had its start in June of 1958, when the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Fr. William Levkulic at the Newman High School classrooms in Fontana, CA. Fr. Levkulic and the determined faithful members of St. Nicholas met for the next six months at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fontana.

A seven room house and garage on an acre and one-half of land was purchased on Athol and Oleander Avenues. On Christmas Day, 1958 the First Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the living room of the house. Much hard work was put into expanding the living room chapel into a larger church and converting the garage into a social hall. Fr. Levkulic and the parishioners worked hard to to complete the landscaping around the church.

In June of 1963 Most Rev. Nicholas T. Elko D.D. rededicated and blessed the newly enlarged church with its new bell tower, vestibule, electronic bell system, larger altar area and vesting sacristy.

Fr. Levkulic was transferred back East in December of 1963, but the parishioners of St. Nicholas always remembered how instrumental Fr. Levkulic was in the building of the physical and spiritual needs of the parish.

Fr. Joseph Ridella was appointed the second pastor of St. Nicholas in January of 1964. During his time as pastor many projects were completed at the parish. A four acre lot was purchased for investment purposes. A three bedroom home was moved on to the church grounds, completely renovated and was used as the church office and rectory. After many years of hard work and many sacrifices, the Mortgage Burning Celebration was held on January 31, 1971. Bishop Emil J. Mihalik of the Eparchy of Parma concelebrated the Divine Liturgy of Thanksgiving with the priests of our West Coast Deanery. Fr. Ridella was transferred to Parma, Ohio in 1975. Through Fr. Ridella&rsquos direction many fund raisers such as fiestas, bake and kolbasi sales helped to create the new social hall with a stage, class rooms and a larger kitchen.

Fr. Victor Herbeth came to St. Nicholas at the end of 1975. During his tenure as pastor the parish became a tithing parish and remodeling occurred in the social hall and rectory. Under Fr. Victor&rsquos leadership the parish became actively involved in helping others. Among the charitable works initiated were: The building of a school in Mexico for children who had no school, providing food and clothing on a monthly basis to the town of Colonias in the state of Baja California in Mexico and the parish instituted a charity fund to help those in need in St. Nicholas Parish.

In April of 1981 Fr. John Kovach was appointed as the 4th pastor of St. Nicholas. In December of 1981 an announcement was made that the Byzantine Catholic parishes in the Western third of the United States would become a new eparchy, named the Eparchy of Van Nuys with St. Mary Church of Van Nuys being named the cathedral parish for the new eparchy. St. Nicholas parish now had a new bishop, the newly appointed Most. Rev. Thomas V. Dolinay.

Fr. Kovach continued the charitable work done by St. Nicholas Parish and increased the knowledge of the faithful about their Byzantine Catholic worship and spirituality.

In November of 1983 Fr. Kovach was transferred to Spokane, WA and the parish was in need of a priest. Bishop Dolinay contacted the pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fontana, Rev. Melvin Rebarczyk C.R. (Congregation of the Resurrection). Fr. Rebarczyk was a bi-ritual priest and had helped out at other Byzantine parishes before. Fr. Rebarczyk agreed to accept the assignment to be the pastor at St. Nicholas. He continued to be pastor at St. Joseph&rsquos and gave of his time to administer to the faithful at St. Nicholas.

In May of 1989 the newly ordained Fr. Kurt Burnette became the pastor at St. Nicholas. During his tenure as pastor Fr. Burnette made physical improvements on the property and commissioned local iconographer Mary Gerardo to write new icons for the 4 major icons on the icon screen in church.

In January of 1998 Fr. Burnette was transferred to Portland, Oregon. During Fr. Burnette&rsquos pastorate we welcomed our new bishop, Bishop George Kuzma.

In January of 1998 Fr. John Bernardi was named administrator of St. Nicholas Parish. Fr. Bernardi was a married priest who had converted from the Orthodox faith. Fr. Bernardi remained at the parish until April of 1999 until health concerns necessitated a move.

In April of 1999, the proto-syncellus of the Eparchy of Van Nuys, Rt. Rev. Wesley Izer, S.D.B was appointed administrator of the parish. Fr. Izer traveled every weekend from Phoenix to administer to the needs of the faithful of St. Nicholas. His dedication along with the hard work of several parishioners helped to stabilize the parish. Fr. Izer continued commuting to Fontana every weekend until February of 2000 when Fr. Joseph Hutsko was appointed administrator. Several years after Fr. Hutsko&rsquos arrival the parish welcomed Most Rev. William Skurla as our new bishop.

Fr. Hutsko was the administrator of St. Nicholas from his arrival until August of 2015. During Fr. Hutsko&rsquos tenure, St. Nicholas Parish hosted the regional St. Nicholas Day Celebration each year with the faithful and clergy of the local Byzantine Catholic parishes participating. Several physical improvements such as new roofs on the church and hall, refurbishing of the parish hall and the installation of icons for the deacon doors and a new Mystical Supper icon and new festal icons on the screen have been made possible by the financial support and working of fund raisers by the parishioners.

In August of 2015 Fr. Hutsko was transferred to Saint Stephen&rsquos Cathedral in Phoenix Arizona. Father Matthew Alejo succeeded him as administrator and served the parish until his departure in October 2016.

Fr. Stephen Washko, pastor of Annunciation Parrish in Anaheim, CA, served the parish until Fr. Stephen Casmus was named administrator in February of 2017.

The population size of St. Nicholas Parish in Fontana has decreased since the glory years of the mid-1970&rsquos. One thing that has not decreased though is the dedication and support of those who remain at St. Nicholas Parish. Parishioners travel great distances from both San Bernardino and Riverside counties to worship in the Byzantine Catholic faith. Through God&rsquos Blessings, worship, prayer and hard work St. Nicholas in Fontana remains to serve the Byzantine Catholic faithful of the Inland Empire of Southern California.

Watch the video: Who Was Saint Nicholas? National Geographic