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History Happenings: How a Greek Orthodox priest from Cedar Rapids helped save the day
Father Glavas was aboard a sinking ship in the Atlantic in 1915
By Jessica Cline and Rob Cline, - The History Center
Apr. 19, 2022 6:00 am
Tara Templeman, The History Center’s curator, introduced us to a harrowing story of mortal danger at sea and how a man of faith, who was returning to Cedar Rapids, helped his fellow passengers through the ordeal.
Templeman shared her research with us, and we begin with a passage from her telling of the tale in The History Center’s newsletter:
“Father Kallistratos Glavas boarded the SS Thessaloniki in Piraeus, Greece, on Nov. 16, 1915. He had returned to Greece briefly to get his affairs in order and bring his remaining belongings to Cedar Rapids, where he had been living with his brother, George, for about a year.
“Father Glavas came to Cedar Rapids before there was a Greek Orthodox parish to invite him, but this did not stop him from ministering to the spiritual needs of the Greek residents. This habit of ministering wherever he happened to be proved to be a blessing to the other passengers when the voyage across the Atlantic did not go as planned.”
“Did not go as planned” is something of an understatement.
The ship encountered a number of storms, and on Dec. 21, the wind and waves of a hurricane broke a porthole, leading to the flooding of the engine room. With the engine boilers extinguished, the ship drifted.
A second hurricane washed away the lifeboats. Food was in short supply, the drinking water was tainted, and panic began to set in.
Shockingly, two potential rescues were thwarted when captains of other ships refused to take on the Thessaloniki’s passengers and crew — the first because the ship was not actively sinking and the second because the passengers were not headed for the same port as their prospective saviors.
A third ship, the Patris, finally delivered the passengers and crew from danger — though they had to leave their belongings behind.
On the job
Throughout the ordeal, Father Glavas was faithfully performing the duties of his office.
Fellow passenger William William stated: “There was much trouble among the steerage passengers when they learned the ship was leaking, but a Greek priest, Kallistratos Glavas of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, went among them and stayed until they were transferred. He quieted them and held services much of the time.”
We borrow again from Templeman’s article:
“Father Glavas appeared in newspapers all over the nation for his near-constant prayers during the terrifying voyage. He was able to lead the passengers in hymns and prayers and even arrange for them to help the crew pump water out of the ship while the crew repaired leaks. The passengers felt that their prayers had been answered when the rescue ship arrived on Jan. 1.”
The Thessaloniki was abandoned at sea, still holding the belongings of the passengers and almost all of its cargo.
“Father Glavas lost the sacred objects he had returned to Greece to collect, valued at over $1,000 at the time. The only item he was able to bring with him was a gold cross.”
Father Glavas was a priest for 45 years and, in addition to serving in Cedar Rapids, worked in Chicago Heights, Ill., Detroit, and Toledo, Ohio. He retired at age 70 and, seven years later, his life of service came to a violent end in 1948.
At that time, the priest was living in an apartment on the South Side of Chicago. When the police arrived at his home following the report of a disturbance, they “followed a trail of blood from the front door of Mr. Glavas’ apartment to his bedroom, where he lay unconscious on the floor,” according to a newspaper report.
Police theorized Glavas had opened his front door in response to a knock and had been overwhelmed by a robber. “The room was in order, but no money was found on the premises or in the priest’s pockets,” the newspaper reported.
While the end of Father Glavas’ story is shocking, it is arguably in keeping with what we know of the man. We suspect he would have opened his apartment door in the hope that he could be of service to someone, just as he was of service to his impromptu flock at sea years before. His faith would have required nothing less.
Cedar Rapids high school senior Jessica Cline wins awards for historical research and presentation. Her dad, writer Rob Cline, does not. They write this monthly column for The History Center. Comments: HistoricalClines@gmail.com.