Filed Under Museums

The Slovak Institute

The Slovak Institute is a library, archive and museum of Slovak books, newspapers, journals, photographs, paintings and other Slovak cultural items at St. Andrew Svorad Abbey located at 10510 Buckeye Road, on the southeast side of Cleveland. Founded in 1952, the major part of the Institute's library had its genesis in an extraordinary trip that four Slovak intellectuals from Matica Slovenska (pronounced "Mah-teet'-sa Slow-ven'-ska")--the Slovak Institute of Arts and Sciences, made to Cleveland in 1936.

Arriving in Cleveland on April 16, 1936, the four intellectuals (an historian, a writer, an artist, and a film director) brought with them almost 3,000 books which had been published in Slovakia since 1918--the year in which the first Czechoslovak Republic had been created. Jozef Ciger Hronsky, the writer and president of the delegation, later wrote about the purpose of the group's trip that year to Cleveland, as well as to other American cities which had large Slovak populations. Bringing these books, he wrote, was in part to thank Slovak-Americans for their support of the Slovak independence cause in World War I which had led to the creation of the first Czechoslovak Republic. However, he added, there was a second purpose to the trip. Matica Slovenska, which is Slovakia's national cultural organization, was concerned that, by 1936, many Slovak-Americans were losing their cultural ties to their ancestral homeland. It was hoped that this gift of books would help to re-establish those cultural ties between Slovak-Americans and Slovakia.

The four delegates from Matica Slovenska spent almost a month in Cleveland, attending banquets in their honor, enjoying the Great Lakes Exposition and capping off their visit by participating in a May 10, 1936 ceremony at the site of the Milan Stefanik statue at Wade Park, commemorating the seventeenth anniversary of the death of this World War I national hero of Slovakia. After the delegates departed from Cleveland, most of the 3,000 books that had formed the centerpiece of their visit to Cleveland eventually ended up in the library at St. Andrew Svorad Abbey. This was a logical place for them. Not only had the Abbey been founded by a Benedictine Order of Slovak priests in 1922, but the Abbey's grounds had also been home since 1927 to Benedictine High School, the first Catholic Slovak boy's high school established in the United States.

Not without a small amount of irony, at the end of World War II and following the takeover of the Czechoslovak government by the Communist party, the 3,000 books at the Abbey became the centerpiece of a new mission. In 1943, during the War, the Slovak League of America had donated funds to St. Andrew Svorad Abbey for the purpose of creating a Slovak museum in Cleveland. Once the war ended, the museum became a gathering place for Slovak refugees fleeing from communism and communist control of Czechoslovakia. In 1952, Abbot Theodore Kojis converted the museum at the abbey into the Slovak Institute, citing the importance of having a Slovak cultural organization in the United States to serve in the stead of Matica Slovenska, which by 1952 was under the control of the communist party in Slovakia.

For the next nearly four decade period-- from 1952 to 1989, the Slovak Institute in Cleveland fulfilled the mission of serving as a Matica Slovenska abroad, conducting various Slovak cultural activities here in Cleveland that had international impact, including publishing and surreptitiously shipping back to Slovakia books authored by post-World War II Slovak refugees living in exile in the United States.

With the end of communist party control in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and following the creation of an independent democratic Slovak state in 1993, the main purpose of the Slovak Institute--to serve as a Matica Slovenska abroad, ceased to exist. Accordingly, since 1993, and especially during the tenure of the Institute's current director-- from 2002 to the present, the Institute has instead focused on achieving other cultural goals, including strengthening the cultural ties between Slovakia and Slovak-Americans--a goal that had sparked Matica Slovenska's trip to the United States, and to Cleveland, in 1936. In addition to pursuing this goal, the Slovak Institute also continues to this day to preserve and maintain its extensive library of Slovak books, journals and archival materials for the benefit of the Slovak-American community, scholars, and the interested general pubic.

Images

Founding of the Slovak Institute In 1952, Abbot Theodore Kojis (shown in the center of the photograph above) founded the Slovak Institute at St. Andrew Svorad Abbey in Cleveland. The Institute was primarily organized to be a Matica Slovenska abroad and provide a place for Slovak authors, historians and other intellectuals, who had fled communist Czechoslovakia, to continue their literary and cultural work here in America. Also shown in this photograph (from left to right) are the other five original members of the Institute: Fr. Andrew Pier (who later became the Institute's third Director), Dr. Karl Strmen, Dr. Frantisek Hrusovsky (the Institute's first Director), Dr. Joseph Cincek (one of the four 1936 delegates to Cleveland), and Fr. Mikolas Sprinc. Source: Slovak Institute
Early Home of the Slovak Institute The Slovak Institute's collection of books and other cultural materials from Slovakia were originally kept on the fourth floor of this building this located on the grounds of St. Andrew Svorad Abbey near Buckeye Road and MLK Boulevard on the southeast side of Cleveland. The building had originally served as an orphanage for girls operated by the Sisters of Notre Dame. The Benedictine Order of Cleveland which established the Abbey in 1922 moved to the site in 1929. The building was razed in circa 1962. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
Books bound for America In the spring of 1936, a delegation from Matica Slovenska (The Slovak Institute of Arts and Sciences) traveled to a number of cities in America which had large Slovak immigrant populations. They brought with them thousands of books in crates (shown above) to, in part, strengthen the cultural ties in America between Slovak-Americans and their homeland in Slovakia. The Cleveland Slovak community received 3,000 of these books from the delegation. These books today form the core of the collection of books at the Slovak Institute. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
Slovak cultural delegates visit Cleveland On April 16, 1936, four delegates from Matica Slovenska (The Slovak Institute of Arts and Sciences), and two of their wives, arrived in Cleveland, where they spent almost a month touring the Slovak "colony" here and enjoying the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition which was already underway at the time of their arrival in Cleveland. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections
A Modest Beginning While the Slovak Institute was not officially founded until 1952, in the years immediately following the end of World War II, as this Cleveland Press article from April 7, 1950, reveals, the priests at St. Andrew Svorad Abbey were already reaching out to Slovak refugees from communist Czechoslovakia and providing them with support at the Slovak "museum" held on the Abbey grounds. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwarts Library. Special Collections
Konstantin Culen - Second Director In this 1958 photo, the Slovak Institute's second Director, Konstantin Culen, a journalist turned historian, and a post-World War II refugee from Slovakia, is shown working on a Father Murgas display at the Institute. Father Murgas was an early and important leader of the Slovak-American community in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, as well as a noted pioneer in America in the field of wireless communications. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
Promoting Freedom of Press and Religion For most of the four decades of communist rule in Czechoslovakia (1948-1989), the Slovak Institute was an important publisher of books about Slovak history and culture written by Slovak refugees from that country, many living here in Cleveland. Books like the one featured in the above article from the December 25, 1960 edition of the Plain Dealer were printed here in America and then smuggled into communist Czechoslovakia in a number of ways--often by American friends and relatives visiting the country. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections
Mayor Perk visits the Institute In this undated photograph from the 1970s, Cleveland Mayor Ralph Perk, who promoted Cleveland's numerous ethnic nationalities while he served as mayor, enjoys a laugh at the Slovak Institute with Fr. Andrew Pier, the Institute's third and long-time Director. Fr. Pier, a second generation Slovak-American, served as Director from 1959 until 2001. Also shown in the photo is Andrew F. Hudak, who succeeded Fr. Pier in 2002 as the Institute's fourth Director. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
St. Andrew Svorad Abbey The Slovak Institute is housed in St. Andrew Svorad Abbey (shown above), which is located on grounds near the intersection of Buckeye Road and MLK Boulevard in Cleveland. Also on the grounds is Benedictine High School, which was founded in 1927 as the first Slovak Catholic boy's high school in the United States. Image courtesy of St. Andrew Svorad Abbey
The Slovak Institute Today With the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the late twentieth century, the Slovak Institute today serves a somewhat different purpose and role in the Slovak-American community than it previously had. The Institute continues to support translations of important Slovak books in its library collection and has microfilmed many of its archival materials. It also maintains ties with scholars in both the United States and Slovakia. The Institute's extensive collections remain accessible to the Slovak-American community, to scholars, and to the general public. Image courtesy of Jim Dubelko

Location

10510 Buckeye Rd, Cleveland, OH 44104

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “The Slovak Institute,” Cleveland Historical, accessed November 29, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/609.