Matushka Marie (Gambal) Kreta, 90, fell asleep in the Lord at Brookdale Assisted Living here on Monday, October 23, 2017. She celebrated her 90th birthday with her children and some of her grandchildren on August 2 of this year.
The youngest daughter of Stephen and Alice (Stavisky) Gambal, Matushka Marie was born in Old Forge, PA. She pursued her college studies in Lackawanna, where she earned an associated degree in administration. She met and married Joseph Kreta on August 5, 1951, after he had completed his studies at Saint Tikhon’s Seminary. Her beloved husband was ordained to the diaconate on May 30, 1952, and to the priesthood the following day, at Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral, New York, NY. Although Matushka Marie expected to accompany her husband to Alaska—he had petitioned to be sent to a small parish in Juneau, AK—he was instead assigned to celebrate the English language services in the cathedral’s Saint Innocent Chapel. What a blessing it was for them to share the residences with Metropolitan Leonty in this parish.
It was during this time at the cathedral that their son Peter was born, and four years, later they became the parents of twins, John and Stephen. In 1958, Father Joseph was given a blessing to establish Saint John Chrysostom Mission, Queens, NY. By the grace of God, in addition to starting a mission, Father Joseph and Matushka Marie watched their family continue to grow as their daughter Maria joined the family several years later.
Matushka Marie worked alongside her husband and was active in the life of the parish, including its Church school and Ladies Society, and once told of an occasion where she held on to her twin boys, one in each arm, while trying to sing alone as the choir for an early morning service, more determined than ever. The parish grew to be a family, a church was built and it became the first all English language parish on the East Coast.
In 1972, the Holy Synod of Bishops send Father Joseph and his family to Alaska for one year only, assigning him as Temporary Administrator of the Diocese of Alaska and Rector of Sitka’s historic Archangel Michael Cathedral. Matushka Marie faithfully uprooted herself and children from the parish family she had come to love, and the conveniences of Queens, NY, and left all to follow Christ and serve His Holy Church in rural Alaska. This one year assignment lasted for 30 years! During this time, Matushka Marie, while raising her children who were now teenagers, continued to work steadfastly with Father Joseph for the building up of the Church in Alaska. Six months later, they moved to Kenai, and helped to establish Saint Herman’s Pastoral School. Later the school, which became Saint Herman’s Seminary, was moved to Kodiak Island, where Father Joseph was appointed Diocesan Chancellor and assigned rector of Kodiak Island’s Holy Resurrection Church, in which the relics of Saint Herman are enshrined.
Matushka Marie soon came to love her new parish family and the native Alaskans with all her heart. She became “Mother” to countless seminary students, and their families. She welcomed hierarchs and other dignitaries from around the world to the rectory with hospitality and grace, year after year, and especially during the annual pilgrimages to Saint Herman on Spruce Island.
Matushka Marie assisted with many jobs through her husband’s tenure at Saint Herman’s Seminary. Seeing her in the role as an office manager, mail and bank runner; answering phones, writing thank you notes and receipts—as well as doing janitorial chores—were among the “blessings” she offered at the seminary. She met with student wives and young women to answer questions and to share her story of being a priest wife. Matushka Marie not only adapted to the rigors of Alaska, donning boots and winter gear, travelling by boat, skidoo, and small planes to various island churches, but also came to love and prefer her Alaskan home to all other places. She particularly enjoyed going to “the conferences” on the Kuskokwin, Yukon, and Nushagak Rivers. At these conferences she would meet with all the matushki to hear their stories of joy and sorrow in their villages, and all would gain strength from each other.
While Matushka Marie suffered grief, only as a mother does with the passing of her eldest son, Archpriest Peter Kreta, she never waivered in her faith and love for the Lord. She had the blessing of witnessing the ordination of her son John to the priesthood, the ordination of her son Stephen to the subdiaconate, and the blessing of wearing “wings” to her grandson, Subdeacon Timothy. The continued service of all her children, their spouses and grandchildren to the Church in many capacities is a testimony to the love she and Father Joseph shared for each other and God.
In addition to seminary responsibilities, Matushka Marie was employed by the Kodiak Island Borough School District as a Teacher’s Aide. She served in this capacity for 11.5 years.
In retirement, she and Father Joseph resided in Arizona, where they were faithful members of Saint Ignatius Mission Church in Mesa, AZ. In 2016, Matushka Marie moved to Arkansas with her daughter Maria and son-in-law, Del. She resided at Brookdale Assisted Living, where she was loved and well cared for by the staff and volunteers.
Matushka Marie is survived by her son, Archpriest John (Evelyn) Kreta, son, Stephen (Angela) Kreta, daughter, Maria (Del) Dillon, daughter-in-law Matushka Marilyn Kreta (the late Archpriest Peter), and Darcy Stielstra, sister-in-law Mary Ann Kreta Sola, twelve grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and one on the way. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Protopresbyter Joseph P. Kreta; her parents, Stephen and Alice Gambal; sister Julie Grimes; brother Serge Gambal; and son, Archpriest Peter Kreta.
Visitation will begin at Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery Church, South Canaan, PA at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, October 30, 2017. The Funeral Service will be celebrated at the church at 11:00 a.m., with interment immediately following in the Monastery Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Saint Herman’s Seminary Protopresbyter Joseph P. Kreta Scholarship Fund.
May Matushka Marie’s memory be eternal!