Protopresbyter Joseph P. Kreta, 84, retired, fell asleep in the Lord on the evening of February 2, 2012, surrounded by his beloved wife, Matushka Marie, and the members of his family.
Father Joseph is well known for his pioneering efforts in the Diocese of Alaska, where he established Saint Herman’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kodiak, AK.
He was born on May 15, 1927 in Clifton, NJ, the son of the Mitred Archpriest Peter and Matushka Anna Kreta. Much of his childhood was spent in McKeesport, PA, where he was active in the life of the parish to which his father had been assigned. After his graduation from high school, at the age of 17, he entered the US Navy during the later stages of World War II and served on numerous ships throughout the Pacific. He learned electronics and communications skills, and could have pursued a career in these fields. Instead, as one account of his life reads, “while on his ship out in the Aleutian Chain, Joseph looked at the wonder of that land and thought, if only for a moment, what it would be like to serve the Church in Alaska. The call was clear, and in September 1948, he enrolled in Saint Tikhon’s Seminary.”
On August 5, 1951, he married the former Marie Gambal of Old Forge, PA. Having completed his seminary studies, he petitioned to be ordained and sent to a small parish in Juneau, AK. On May 30, 1952, he was ordained to the diaconate; the following day, he was ordained to the priesthood at Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral, New York, NY, to which he was assigned to celebrate the English language services in the cathedral’s Saint Innocent Chapel. During this time, Father Joseph and Matushka Marie became the parents of their first son, Peter. Four years later, they became parents of twins, John and Stephen.
Shortly thereafter, Father Joseph was given a blessing to establish Saint John Chrysostom Mission, Queens, NY. On September 14, 1958, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy which he celebrated under a tent, he “reached down, lifted some dirt, and promised that soon a church would be built on the property.” After several years of meeting in a rented storefront under the “L” trains, the church was built, and the east coast’s first all-English language parish was given life. Three years later, Father Joseph and Matushka Marie became the parents of a daughter, Maria.
In 1971, a commission of four priests as formed to travel to Alaska to determine the situation of the “Mother Diocese” of the Church in North America, which was experiencing severe financial difficulties. According to one account of his life, “apparently Father Joseph never got the word that this journey was optional, as he was the only one to make the trip,” during which “he learned as much about the diocese as he could. On a trip to Spruce Island, he tried to show some New York bravado, and attempted a trip up the mountain to plant a cross. He had asked Saint Herman to allow him to experience the island as Saint Herman did. After a night in the fog, hugging a tree, and an encounter with a bear, he was found by the villagers and returned home, humbled and cold, yet undaunted. He would get another try.”
In May 1972, the Holy Synod of Bishops elected to send Father Joseph and his family to Alaska for one year, assigning him as temporary administrator of the Diocese of Alaska and rector of Sitka’s historic Archangel Michael Cathedral. What was to have been a one year assignment lasted for three decades. According to one account of his life, “if you ask Father Joseph what he accomplished for the diocese in Alaska, he would tell you, ‘nothing – it was all Saint Herman.’ Keeping this in mind, let’s briefly mention some of the blessings that Saint Herman provided during the years that Father Joseph and his family were in Alaska.”
In 1972, there were only a dozen or so priests in Alaska, serving nearly 100 far-flung parishes, some of which had not seen a priest in many years. The following year, Father Joseph and his family moved to Kenai, where he was instrumental in establishing Saint Herman’s Pastoral School. As the school’s founding dean, he was instrumental in training over 65 priests, deacons, readers, and Church School teachers to serve the faithful of Alaska. At the time of Father Joseph’s retirement, Saint Herman’s offered a four-year program leading to an accredited Bachelor’s Degree in Sacred Theology. The annual enrollment ranged between 12 and 17 students.
In 1973, His Grace, Bishop Gregory [Afonsky] was assigned to oversee the Diocese of Alaska. He appointed Father Joseph to serve as diocesan chancellor. The same year, he was assigned rector of Kodiak Island’s Holy Resurrection Church, in which the relics of Saint Herman are enshrined. Eventually, the Saint Herman’s Seminary was relocated to Kodiak, and Father Joseph quickly worked to construct buildings for student housing, classrooms, a refectory, and a small chapel.
During Father Joseph’s tenure as seminary dean, the Saint Innocent Veniaminov Research Institute was established on the campus to celebrate and preserve the rich history of the Alaskan Church. And, in 1993, Saint Herman’s Chapel was built as a replica of the original church built in 1795 – one year after the arrival of Saint Herman and his seven missionary companions.
In an effort to ascertain the exact number of churches in the state, Archbishop Gregory and Father Joseph sought to visit and document each parish they could find – and in at least one case, they discovered one church only because they spotted it from the airplane in which they were traveling en route to an even more remote village! According to one account of his life, “they asked the pilot to land, and held services in the parish – all but forgotten for some 40 years!” They discovered that, while many of the churches were very old, they retained their original beauty. Through their efforts, 51 churches were nominated to – and 29 were soon listed in – the National Register of Historical Landmarks.
Father Joseph received numerous awards and commendations in recognition of his tireless efforts, including the Alaska Governor’s Award in 1982 and the Alaska Historic Society’s Evangeline Atwood Award in 1994. He also received numerous ecclesiastical awards and commendations. In 1990, the Holy Synod of Bishops elevated Father Joseph to the rarely bestowed rank of Protopresbyter.
Amidst his other duties, Father Joseph served as an elected member of the Orthodox Church in America’s Metropolitan Council; a member of the Board of Trustees of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, South Canaan, PA; dean of the New York City Deanery; and chair of the OCA Statute Committee. He also served as treasurer of the Eastern Orthodox Commission on Scouting, member of the New York-New Jersey Diocesan Council, and member of the OCA Canonical Commission. He retired from active ministry in 1995.
Father Joseph was preceded in death by his eldest son, Archpriest Peter Kreta. In addition to his beloved wife, Matushka Marie, he is survived by two sons, Archpriest John [Matushka Evelyn] and his twin brother Stephen [Angela]; his daughter Maria; his daughter-in-law, Matushka Marilyn Kreta [the late Father Peter]; his sister Maryann Sola [Dell]; 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
On Monday, February 6, visitation will begin at 4:00 p.m. at Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Church, Phoenix, AZ. The Funeral Service for a Priest will be celebrated at 6:00 p.m. His Grace, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West will preside.
On Tuesday, February 7, Bishop Benjamin will preside at the Divine liturgy at 10:00 a.m.
On Thursday, February 9, the Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery Church, South Canaan, PA, with the entrance of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, at 8:30 a.m. The final Panikhida and interment will follow.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Protopresbyter Joseph Kreta Scholarship Fund at St. Herman’s Theological Seminary, Kodiak, AK.
May Father Joseph’s memory be eternal!