Reverend says, ‘I heard a call’
In this third column, I am speaking to the Rev. Jerry Mraz, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia and former pastor of Holy Trinity Slovak Church in Northampton.
With the advent of World War II, Jerry recalls, “My father still worked in my uncle’s dry cleaning shop in New York City. A friend told him a machine shop where he was employed needed workers for the war effort, but my father said he had no machine shop experience. After work, he went to the machine shop, watched and learned, with his friend’s help, to operate a lathe. This he did on his own time. By patience and fortitude, he learned the trade and worked there during World War II.”
After the war, he worked in the building trade, renovating buildings. Jerry attended and graduated from Seward Park High School and was now ready to pursue a career. What path would he follow?
After graduating from Seward Park High School, he decided to pursue a degree in electrical engineering at New York University but left after one year. I asked Jerry, “When did you decide to enter the ministry?”
Without hesitation, he said, “I heard a call to enter the ministry. My parents were active members of Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church in the city. I was active in the youth group.”
There he met Elizabeth Marecek, who became his wife.
Jerry transferred to Wagner Lutheran College in Staten Island, enrolling in the Slovak Zion Synod program. His daily trip to Wagner was by train, ferry and a mile walk to campus. While there, he married Betty, in 1956. The day after the wedding, he boarded a train for Chicago and enrolled in Maywood Lutheran Theological Seminary. For the first year, they lived in one room in the married couple’s dormitory.
After the birth of their daughter, Cathy Ann, they returned to New York to live with his parents. He was employed by an insurance company.
With determination, Jerry continued his studies at Hamma Divinity School in Springfield, Ohio, graduating in 1960. His ministry started in 1960 at Holy Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh. I asked Jerry about his salary.
With a gleam in his eye, he replied, “$4,000.”
On a personal note, this writer started his teaching career at Northampton High School in 1958 for the same salary. We were both happy to work in our new professions!
The Mraz family was now blessed with four children — Susan Elaine, John Adam, Karen Elizabeth and Cathy Ann.
The Mraz family were experts in balancing the family budget. They could give some budgetary advice to the federal government.
After six years in Pittsburgh, the family accepted a call at Firestone Lutheran Church in Akron, Ohio. In 1971, the cement borough called, and Jerry became pastor of Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church. The Rev. Mraz served the church and community for over 40 years, retiring in 2010.
In two weeks, we’ll talk about the church.