The Slovak Catholic Sokol of Passaic, NJ
Many of Slovak heritage in the United States are familiar with the Slovak Catholic Sokol. This organization was conceived to offer new immigrants in the United States an outlet for social and financial needs. It is to the credit of the founders of this Sokol that it has survived the test of time and is still in existence today. During the years of approximately 1875 to 1920 more than 600,000 Slovaks left their ancestral homeland. The reasons for their immigration were the same as many others who came to the shores of the United States. During the last part of the nineteenth century there were a few Slovak organizations that had been established but they did not offer the combination of financial and social (i.e. athletic) capabilities.
Sokols had begun in Prague during the early to middle nineteenth century to advance physical fitness among its members. Sokols were an important outlet especially for the youth but the pan-slavic overtones of these Sokols were at odds with the ruling Hapsburg Empire. Czech immigrants that arrived in the United States brought the idea of a Sokol with them. The first Czech Sokol to be established in the United States was in 1865 and located in St. Louis, Missouri. Not only the Czechs, but also the Slovaks and the Polish brought the idea of a Sokol with them as they immigrated. In 1896 a Slovak Sokol was established in Chicago and was at its inception a non-sectarian group. This was not the total Sokol many Slovaks had hoped for. The Slovaks wished to see their heritage cultivated along with the athletic traditions that had been prevalent with the Sokols in Europe.
The number of Slovak immigrants arriving in the diverse City of Passaic, New Jersey continued to rise steadily. Two Slovak immigrants on July 4, 1905 came together to offer a Sokol that would unite those of Slovak heritage. Many of the original founders of this Sokol came from the former county of Spis in Slovakia and therefore, had many ties to each other. The date of December 2, 1905 was chosen as the first convention of this Sokol. The Patron Saint of the Cathedral of the Diocese of Spis, St. Martin, was agreed upon to guide the new venture. The name given to this organization was “The Roman and Greek Catholic Gymnastic Slovak Union Sokol.” It is praiseworthy that these Slovak Roman Catholic founders willingly included their former neighbors from Europe who were of a different heritage and rite. Vast amounts of Greek Catholics at this time were not of Slovak heritage but, these founders included them with brotherly concern. The immigrants did not have any financial assistance available to them if they were to die. Insurance at this time was not fully available to immigrants as it is today. In those days, either you had the funds to bury someone or you did not. There were no social based programs very few financial institutions during this period would consider offering a loan to an immigrant. The Sokol would solve this problem for those of Slovak and other Slavic heritages.
During the first convention in 1905 the total assets of the Sokol were $5.65. This did not deter the hardworking immigrants and soon the Passaic Sokol grew to large proportions. More and more immigrants learned of this welcomed resource and they were relieved. Many immigrants benefited from the financial security and the numerous social outlets extended to them. In 1910 the number of members associated with the Passaic Sokol was 2,210. The amount of assets at this time was $3,493.69. In five short years the Passaic Sokol had increased beyond what had been thought possible. The Sokol also published its own newspaper so that those in the Slovak and Slavic community could read a newspaper and gain information in a language they could understand. The Passaic Sokol began printing their newspaper on April 15, 1911 which was titled “Katolicky Sokol.” This newspaper has been printed for the last 86 years and is still printed for the benefit of the membership. In 1933 a decision was made to change the original name of the Sokol to a shortened version of “Slovak Catholic Sokol” which remains to this day.
This Sokol has benefited many immigrant families, their children and even their grandchildren who continue to enroll as members. The hard work and vision of the dedicated founders of this Sokol is admirable. They assisted those of their own heritage, and, those not of their own heritage. Life for the immigrants during the early years of the twentieth century was difficult. Without an organization such as the Slovak Catholic Sokol many immigrants would have been left unaided to bury a relative. Also to be remembered was the social aspect of this Sokol. The Passaic Sokol sponsored many functions that offered the immigrants a place to gather, have fun, and socialize in the days of a lack of mass media and constant movement via car. To give an idea of what the immigrant’s needs were the following is offered. During the eighth convention of the Sokol the rates for death benefit of a basic policy was set at $250. Those wishing to gain more insurance for a death benefit could elevate their policy to the next levels of $500, $750, or $1,000. The death benefit for a child who had been a member as of 1910 was set at $300.
The Slovak Catholic Sokol has continued to be an advantage to those who join as members. In view of all this organization has done for the residents of the City of Passaic the Sokol has not been forgotten. Upon the Sokol 60th Anniversary the naming of an area called “Sokol Square” in downtown Passaic was conferred upon the Sokol. This was in recognition of all the benefits this Sokol has offered not only to the citizens of Passaic, but to the total membership. The Slovak Catholic Sokol has always been a blessing to those immigrants who needed assistance and social acceptance. The Sokol past has been prosperous due to the dedication and support of the membership and administration. An enormous amount of good has been accomplished during the Sokol long history in Passaic, New Jersey. The future for the Slovak Catholic Sokol in Passaic New Jersey has never looked brighter and this Sokol continues to offer services to those who cannot receive them in any other domain.