Near the 4th of July in 1960, I camped with a few neighborhood friends and plenty of firecrackers inside the remains of an old stone structure atop a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. Although we had walked and sledded past it countless times, I had no idea of the history of the ruins where we pitched our tents. In the fanciful play of a nearly ten-year-old boy, the ruins resembled the Alamo. We defended it by tossing firecrackers at imaginary invaders scaling the walls (and sometimes at each other). That is, until our quiet Monkey Run neighborhood tired of the noisy barrage late at night. Steve Oslica came out of his house and store on the other side of the public road at the foot of the hill and politely sent us home. We rolled up our sleeping bags, folded our tents, and trudged home, disappointed that our spirited display of firecracker patriotism and gallant defense of the Alamo were not better appreciated.
Mr. Oslica’s wife, Mary Margaret Kitsock, was part of a Ukrainian immigrant community drawn to Ilasco in the early 1900s by jobs at the Atlas Portland Cement plant south of Hannibal, Missouri. In fact, her family owned Kitsock Hill, where we camped inside the ruins of a church closely connected to her family’s history in the Monkey Run section of Ilasco. Until the church was built in 1919, her parents (Nicholas M. and Christina Kitsock) and other Ukrainians depended on priests from St. Louis to come by train for marriages, baptisms, funerals, and divine liturgies in the Byzantine or Greek Catholic Uniate tradition. They recognized the Roman papacy’s authority, but continued Greek liturgies, rituals, and practices, including the use of married clergy. When St. Louis priests were not available, Ukrainians held services in each other’s home. Mildred Kitsock King, Mary’s younger sister, later recalled: “My fondest memory of my mother is of her telling us Bible stories and kneeling. . . praying in the Ukranian language.” (Mildred Kitsock King to Gregg Andrews, March 20, 1993)
Under the jurisdiction of the Byzantine-Ukrainian Rite Catholic Bishop of Philadelphia, the St. Peter’s church in Monkey Run was built with funds provided by the Greek Catholic Union, a fraternal society in Philadelphia. Atop the steeple and bronze cupola, a Greek cross with three horizontal bars stood out above the “Onion Bulb” dome overlooking the Mississippi River with a message of rebirth and eternal life. The Kitsock family leased hillside land to the church in Monkey Run, but due to a declining demand for labor at the cement plant, the church closed in 1924. The shrinking Ukrainian community could no longer support it financially. Ralls County authorities temporarily used the stone basement of the church for a public grade school. Until the building was torn down in 1938, river travelers and motorists who gazed up at the “Onion Bulb” dome on the bluffs were left to wonder about the origins of such a unique church in a small Mississippi River town in rural Missouri. Only the stone foundation remains today to remind us of the role of Ukrainian immigrants in the industrial and cultural history of the area (Gregg Andrews, City of Dust: A Cement Company Town in the Land of Tom Sawyer, University of Missouri Press, 1996, p. 145).
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