St. Louis is one of the major cities in the United States to have attracted a significant number of Macedonian Romanian immigrants in the first half of this century. While the majority of our people settled on the East coast — predominantly in New York City, Bridgeport (Connecticut) and Woonsocket (Rhode Island) — many were also lured to the “Gateway to the West” when they learned of employment opportunities in the St. Louis area.
The first Macedonian Romanian from Koritsa, Albania known to have settled in St. Louis was Ion Croetoriu, who became a United States citizen on October 17, 1898. My own grandfather, Zisa Balamaci, arrived in the United States in 1907 and lived in St. Louis for several years before moving on to California in search of the ideal place in which to make his fortune. The glitter of the Golden West attracted many young and ambitious men to California but the road west from Ellis Island and New York crossed through St. Louis. Papu and many of his friends and relatives who spoke little or no English were fortunate to find an abundance of work in the meat-packing, leather goods and railroad industries of St. Louis.
Prior to the formation of the St. Thomas Romanian Orthodox Church, many of the Macedonian Romanians attended the Albanian and Greek churches. The Romanian church was founded by members of both Romanian and Macedonian Romanian fraternal societies, which themselves had been founded starting in 1903. Most of the Romanians came from Transylvania, the Banat, and Bucovina, while the Aromanians came from what is now southern Albania, northern Greece, and southwestern Yugoslavia.
Services were initially held in the Serbian church in 1935, and then at the “Romanian Home” purchased on Missouri Avenue. The church moved to South Compton Avenue in 1954 and then to its present location at 6501 Nottingham Avenue in 1959. The first parish priest was the Rev. Fr. Coriolan Isacu, who served from 1935 to 1967; Rev. Fr. Dimitrie Vincent is the current pastor, having served since 1982.
One of the leaders of the St. Thomas parish was Thomas J. Caciavelly, a Society Farsarotul member who passed away on December 12, 1990. He was the first Aromanian to serve on the board of the National American Romanian Orthodox Youth (AROY), and he was a pillar of the inter-Orthodox community in St. Louis. Tom Caciavelly was a fascinating human being — he played professional baseball in the 1940s with the St. Louis Browns and the Brooklyn Dodgers. An injury forced him out of sports and into business, where he found great success as the owner of a Ford dealership until his retirement in 1987. I know I speak for the entire membership of the Society Farsarotul in saying that Tom will be dearly missed.
I am grateful to the following individuals who provided information for this article: Father Dimitrie Vincent; Dincu Nastu; Leo Chiacu; and Marvin Moehle, Jr.