Honoring My Cousin, Father Eugene Pappas

There’s nothing that compares to a Brooklyn, New York gala — live band, gourmet food, beautiful venue — everything needed for a first-class celebration. On December 2, my cousin, The Very Reverend Father Eugene Pappas, Archimandrite, was honored at an elaborate and festive gala held in commemoration of his 50 years of service as a Greek Orthodox priest, and 35 years as priest at Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn. To say that I was delighted to be there is an understatement; this was an event to be long-remembered and I was thrilled to be part of it.

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Father Eugene Pappas

Nicholas Leon Pappas (Father Eugene) is the son of Pauline Drivas and Leon Pappas (Papagiannakos). He and his siblings, Konstandinos and Georgeanne, were born and raised in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn, in the center of a thriving Greek-American community. Although he studied law, Father Eugene had deep desires to become a priest. The family name “Papagiannakos” indicates that in the past, a man in the Giannakos family became a priest (παππάς – papa) — thus, forever changing the surname to indicate this honor. Father Eugene told me that he felt, from childhood, that he was destined to be a priest and to carry on the tradition initiated by our ancestor. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1965.

Father Eugene began his ministry in South Korea as the First Foreign Missionary of the Holy Archdiocese of Archbishop Iakovos. In 1969, he opened an orphanage and worked in a boys’ home. His service in South Korea helped pave the way for the Orthodox Christian Mission Center of the USA. Along with South Korea, Father Eugene served in many foreign posts including Japan, the Philippines, Switzerland and Greece. Upon returning to the United States, he became pastor in the faith community where he was baptized, raised and educated.

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Father Eugene preaching the gospel at Three Hierarchs Church, Brooklyn, NY

Father Eugene’s service is not confined to either religious causes or his parish. He is a renowned civic activist and public speaker and is esteemed by civic and faith leaders of all political affiliations and religions. As scholar educator, he has taught Orthodox Theology in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn/Queens, and a special commemoration was held for him by the Catholic community. He is lauded for his leadership and participation in public causes and numerous community initiatives. The walls of his office are lined with plaques, degrees, and honorary citations.

As a man of the times, Father Eugene uses today’s media to exhort and educate audiences far beyond Brooklyn. For the past 18 years, he has hosted a radio program, “Matters of Conscience” on COSMOS FM every Saturday from 1 to 2 P.M.

Father Eugene broadcasting at Cosmos-FM studios. His radio program, Matters of Conscience, has aired for 18 years.

Father Eugene broadcasting at Cosmos-FM studios. His radio program, Matters of Conscience, has aired for 18 years.

He also has a presence on YouTube. This interview gives a brief perspective of his influence in the community:

Despite a schedule that would wilt an ordinary man his age, Father Eugene takes time for the individual. During a recent visit to his office, he paused our discussion to minister to a stranger who walked in off the street and asked for a blessing. His love of family has broadened to a passion for learning about his family history. We have shared many stories, photos, and discussions of our ancestry–much to our mutual delight.

This Saturday, I will be Father Eugene’s guest on Cosmos FM, and we will be discussing Hellenic genealogy–the rewards, the challenges, and how to get started. The radio show will be broadcast at this link, beginning at 1:10 PM Eastern time:  http://www.cosmosfm.org/podcast/.

Along with the many religious and civic dignitaries who have honored this man, I add my voice–thank you, Father, for your faith, your service, and the honor you have brought to our Papagiannakos/Pappas family.

A few photos from Father Eugene’s 50th Gala Celebration.

Father Eugene and his family, Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene and his family, Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Georgeanne Conis, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Father Eugene Pappas; Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Georgeanne Conis, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Father Eugene Pappas; Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene and his siblings: Konstandinos (Dino) and Georgeanne Pappas Conis; Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene and his siblings: Konstandinos (Dino) and Georgeanne Pappas Conis; Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene receives a gift from the parishioners of Three Hierarchs Church -- a trip to anyplace in the world he wants to go! Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene receives a gift from the parishioners of Three Hierarchs Church — a trip to anyplace in the world he wants to go! Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

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Papou’s House in Sheepshead Bay

I love going to the home of my Kostakos grandparents in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Sitting on a very rare double-wide lot, it was spacious and airy inside with beautifully manicured lawns and gardens surrounding it. I have happy childhood memories of exploring all of its nooks and crannies with my cousins.

Last weekend as we were scanning my grandparents’ photos, we came across this rare treasure: a picture of my grandfather, John, standing proudly at the side of his house.

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Looking at a similar view of house today (below), I honestly think it has lost some of its grandeur. The original color was a Williamsburg blue with hardwood siding which lent an air of aristocracy, not evident in the gold cedar shake shingles pictured below.

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

We calculated that Papou and Yiayia bought their home in 1950. We all agreed with my cousin, John, who said, “it was the most beautiful house I had ever walked into.” This home had amenities not seen in the average residence. On the first floor was a large living room enhanced with a three-dimensional fresco of three horses hanging over the fireplace. The fresco was raised, and it looked as if the horses were jumping out of the wall, headed right towards you. There was a dining room with a butler’s pantry, a breakfast room, a big beautiful kitchen, and as seen on the right above, a sun porch. There was even a wine cellar in the basement. The second floor had three bedrooms – a master bedroom and two smaller ones. John said, “the one thing I couldn’t get over was that the sink and toilet were in separate rooms from the tub,” a most unusual feature in the 1950’s.

Cousin Marianne remembered that there were crawl spaces all over the house; in the attic and even in bedroom closets. One day, she found a stash of Colorforms and Gulliver’s Travels cutouts as she was exploring.

The house sat on an unheard-of double lot situated three blocks from the Sheepshead Bay waterfront. As other homes were encircled in concrete, Papou’s house was surrounded by green, manicured lawns and flower gardens. We cousins sprinted around the property playing all types of games, not realizing as youngsters what a rare treat that was in the city.

John recalled hearing that our grandfather paid $25,000 for the house in 1950, bargaining the owner down from his asking price of $30,000. Looking ahead to the time when the big house would inevitably be too much to care for, Papou built a two-family brick house on the property in 1963. Eventually, this became the home of his daughter, Alice, who cared for both of her parents throughout their lives. My cousin, John, now lives in the apartment upstairs and he watches over Alice who lives on the first level. It is the home where we gathered last weekend for our scanfest.

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Sheepshead Bay house with 2-story home on property, 2016

This house is my grandfather’s testament of attaining the American dream. As an illiterate 17-year-old orphaned immigrant from a village outside Sparta, Papou traveled on a ship alone, coming to the new world to join his older brother, Vasileios. Papou went from push-cart vendor to Coney Island kiosk owner, to proprietor of a successful seafood restaurant in Williamsburg and owner of many properties in Brooklyn and Long Island. His is a legacy that brings continued pride and inspiration to his many loving descendants.

 

Collecting Cousins

On November 7, I went to Orlando, Florida to teach 4 classes at the Central Florida Genealogy Conference. Although my classes were well attended, the one on “Researching Your Greek Ancestry” attracted two people. Nevertheless, I was happy to be able to give them individualized help in the areas they need to research.

Carol Petranek, teaching at the Central Florida Genealogy Conference

Carol Petranek, teaching at the Central Florida Genealogy Conference

While in Florida, I took full advantage of connecting with new cousins. On Friday evening, I met Maria Lambrakos Skordilis and her son, Peter, for dinner in Ybor City (downtown Tampa). Peter, Sophia and I are DNA cousins, and according to GEDmatch Peter and I are about 4.6 generations from our “most recent common ancestor” (MCRA); Sophia and I are 4.8.

Sophia Skordilis, her son, Peter and Carol Petranek. Tampa, Florida, November 2015

Sophia Skordilis, her son, Peter and Carol Petranek. Tampa, Florida, November 2015

We share Brooklyn, New York roots: Peter and I were both baptized at St. Constantine & Helen Church, which is also where Sophia was married. We recognized many Greek Brooklynite names, but as hard as we tried, we couldn’t determine our common ancestor. Sophia’s pedigree includes the surnames Lambrakos, Papastratis, Stratakos, Lambrianakos and Doukas. These families are from Gorani, about  6 miles south or a 1/2 hour drive from Sparta and Agios Ioannis. I’m thinking that Sophia and I are related through my maternal line, as she looks as if she could be a twin to one of my cousins. Even our waitress commented that there is a strong resemblance between us!

Agios Ioannis, Sparta to Gorani

Agios Ioannis, Sparta to Gorani

On Saturday evening after the conference, I visited with George Topalidis whom I had met at our Hellenic Genealogy Conference in Salt Lake City on September 26. We were discussing plans for a similar conference in Tarpon Springs, Florida next fall.

George and Eva Capous Topalidis, Carol Petranek; Orlando, Florida, November 2015

George and Eva Capous Topalidis, Carol Petranek; Orlando, Florida, November 2015

Was I ever surprised to learn that George’s wife, Eva, and I also share Brooklyn connections! Her family is from Anavriti, the village next to Agios Ioannis (honestly, I think everyone in Brooklyn has ties to Anavriti!) Her father’s family is Capous; her mother’s line is Chrisomalis. We started comparing notes and I learned that her Chrisomalis family married into my grandmother Aridas’ family, and that she is thus a cousin to one of my 2nd cousins. Huh? What are the chances???

On Sunday morning, I had brunch with my 2nd cousin, Jim Stavracos and his lovely wife, Maria. This was the first time we met. Jim’s grandmother, Antonia Kostakos Stavracos, is the sister of my paternal grandfather, John Andrew Kostakos. Of course, Jim and I are Brooklyn-born although both of us left the city as young children. He grew up in Baltimore and I grew up in New Jersey, then Maryland.

Carol Petranek, Jim and Maria Stavracos. Orlando, Florida; November 2015

Carol Petranek, Jim and Maria Stavracos. Orlando, Florida; November 2015

I had found Antonia’s death certificate and her husband, Peter’s naturalization records which I brought to Jim. He filled me in on many family stories and shared photographs. He said he has a photo of Antonia holding a shotgun, standing in front of the family home in Greece. I sure hope he can find that one!

I am so excited to meet these new family members and look forward to collecting more cousins!

On another note…last Monday evening, I gave a presentation at the Carroll County, Maryland Genealogy Society and met a woman named Antigoni Lefteris (Eleftheriou) Ladd. Her family is from Trikala, a city in north central Greece. They emigrated and settled in the town of Westminister in western Maryland.

Antigoni Leftheris Ladd, Carol Petranek; Westminster, Maryland; November 2015. Antigoni is the editor of The Greek Families of Westminster, Maryland.

Antigoni Leftheris Ladd, Carol Petranek; Westminster, Maryland; November 2015. Antigoni is the editor of The Greek Families of Westminster, Maryland.

In April 2013, Antigoni became involved in an initiative begun by Westminster’s physician, Dr. Dean Griffin, to collect and preserve the stories of local Greek families. From these first-person narratives, photos and news articles, a community history evolved and is now preserved in the fascinating book, Honoring Our Heritage, The Greek Families of Westminster, Maryland. The following families comprise the heart of the book: Amprazes, Sirinakis, Haralampoulos, Koretos, Bourexis, Lefteris, Letras, Nickolas (Nikolaou), Pappas (Batayiannis), Samios, Sharkey (Chakou).

Antigoni became the editor of this project, and it was her persistence and dedicated effort that culminated its publication in August 2015. I love this book! It is so inspiring and heartwarming to see the stories of these Greek families memorialized and preserved for the generations to come.

More of us need to follow Antigoni’s example. With each generation, we slip further away from our immigrant ancestors. Their stories will be lost to future generations if we don’t write what we know and collect what we can find. That is a tragedy which we can prevent — but only if we choose to act.

 

Shifting Gears

My last post about our family reunion caused me to reconsider my perspective on family history research. I write a monthly genealogy column, “Turning Hearts” for Meridian Magazine online, and used my last post as the basis for an article published October 18, 2013, which is reproduced below.

Last weekend, my “East Coast” cousins gathered for a joyous occasion – the baptism of the newest member of our family, Megan Ryan, at St. Andrews Catholic Church in Westwood, New Jersey. We are the grandchildren of Louis Pappas (Ilias Papagiannakos) and Angelina Eftaxias Pappas.

Family gatherings were central to the lives of our grandparents. As immigrants from Sparta in the early 1900’s, they settled in Hoboken, New Jersey. They traveled regularly to Brooklyn, New York, to be with family and friends from their homeland. These associations  brought them a sense of comfort and security in their new and very different country.

Our parents – Catherine, Bertha, William, and Nicholas – also treasured “family time.” All four families lived in neighboring towns in northern New Jersey. We cousins grew up together until the scattering began. Job opportunities took our fathers to Long Island, California, and Maryland. Only Uncle Bill remained in Westwood. There were occasional visits, but as cousins married and children arrived, we spun into differing orbits.

Except for Aunt Pauline, Bill’s wife who just turned 90, our parents have passed into a new realm of family relationships in the spirit world, unencumbered by worldly travails and earthly distances. This has engendered a new realization into all of us: We are now our parents’ generation; we are the ones to keep family traditions and maintain family ties. Our first reunion in July 2012 reinforced our longings to be together. The more we meet, the more precious these events become. We miss our  four “West Coast” cousins in California, the children of Nick, and we hope to be together with them soon.

Our renewed cousin reunions have changed my perspective on family history work. I have spent untold hours reading obscure documents from Greece with the hopes of finding one of my surnames. Although I now have a spreadsheet with several hundred names, I can’t go back far enough to find a common ancestor and to determine how these people are related to me (I know they are, as they hail from my grandparents’ ancestral villages). At times I become frustrated and am tempted to “throw in the towel” and wait for the Millenium to continue my research. But in my heart, I know that is not right. I must do what I can with what I have.

Our cousins reunions have caused me to pause and reconsider that I should reallocate some of my time from searching for the dead to reconnecting with the living. There are photos of my living relatives to be obtained and attached to our online tree. There are stories to gather from my cousins, so our collective family memories can be memorialized for future generations. There is research to be done on our parents’ cousins who came to the U.S., but whom we never had the opportunity to meet.

Shifting gears is not easy, as I am driven to probe deeper into my pedigree line. But it is essential to do so:  someday, our children will be us. If we do not capture our own family stories – and those of our parents and grandparents – we will leave them an empty legacy.