Miracle of the rosary
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION This illustration depicts what the 1928 Lansford wake observance may have looked like when rosary beads placed in the deceased's hands slowly began to bloom. The man pictured here is not Kusko. It is unknown if photos exist of the actual miracle of the rosary.
Thousands stormed into the small town of Lansford.
The eyes of the world looked to Carbon County in awe.
Extra police were summoned to handle traffic.
Dumbfounded witnesses stared in disbelief.
"It's a miracle!" they cried.
Crowds observed a spectacle that never had happened before in the history of the world and has not happened since.
It began on July 12, 1928, and lasted for three spellbinding days.
People everywhere were left speechless over the miracle of the rosary.
Here's what happened.
Lansford's Michael Kusko, 28, a regular attendant at the Byzantine Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist, had been seriously injured in a coal-car accident at No. 8 Colliery five years earlier.
"He fell from the end sill of a car and fell in front of a moving car. He had his back broken when the car ran over him," states a 1928 article in the Tamaqua Evening Courier.
Kusko lingered and suffered for five years, at times so seriously ill he was said to be near death.
"But he had borne his lot with great Christian resignation," states an Aug. 28, 1928, report in the Arkansas Catholic newspaper, found in archives by Bill Harleman, president, Lansford Historical Society.
"I first heard about the story from Robert Scherr of St. Clair," says Harleman, who contacted the TIMES NEWS.
According to published reports, Kusko's fellow patients at Coaldale Hospital "spoke of him as a kind and virtuous sufferer who often prayed to die. He knew for a fact that he could never get well."
Kusko eventually passed away in the hospital. His body was taken home to 346 W. Bertsch St. for a wake observance.
What took place shortly later inside the house defies logic and challenges the imagination.
Nobody could have seen it coming. It began with a simple gesture.
Kusko's devout mother placed a rosary in his hands, according to all of the published reports.
"It was an ordinary rosary, the beads made of bone. Mrs. Kusko says she had it for about five years and obtained it from a missionary who had brought it from Rome. She had used it for the last five years to pray for her injured boy," say newspaper accounts.
Mrs. Kusko had been told by the missionary that the rosary was blessed at the Vatican by Pope Pius some 10 years earlier.
Kusko's dying wish was that the beads be buried with his body. So, with love, the rosary was placed in his hands by his grieving mother.
And that's when it happened.
In front of everyone's eyes, the beads began to open like petals of a flower. Very, very slowly.
A brother, Andrew Kusko, was first to notice the phenomenon. Family members gathered and watched in shock, joined by town undertaker Vanpuish. They said by watching closely, they could see the actual process of the gradual opening of the beads. And it continued unabated. Once it started, it simply didn't stop.
By the third day, 23 of 59 beads in the rosary had opened, the petals curling back like those of a lily but retaining their bony hardness. Some were in various stages of opening, half or a quarter of the way complete, state reports.
There was no explanation for what was taking place.
The lily is the traditional flower of purity, innocence and rebirth.
Was this a miracle? A sign from above?
Word spread quickly through the coal region. People poured into Lansford to see the corpse and the rosary. Mrs. Kusko, although heartbroken, graciously allowed crowds to file into her modest home, half of a double block.
The news shot across the country like wildfire, drawing even more of the curious to Lansford.
"Traffic officers were pressed into service today to cope with the crowds," reported the Pittsburgh Press on July 15.
The Pittsburgh paper ran headlines: "Crowds see miracle beads on dead man's rosary appear as lilies."
The Tamaqua Courier headline announced: "Miracle changes rosary beads into miniature lilies."
Reports describe how police and private security guards struggled to keep order in Lansford and inside the Kusko house.
The development was unprecedented. How was this happening? There were no answers.
Wish not granted
After three hectic days, Michael's body was buried in the parish cemetery in Summit Hill.
But his dying wish was never granted.
The beads weren't buried with him.
The Very Rev. Gabriel Martyak, rector at St. John's, induced the family to hand over the rosary.
In fact, news accounts indicate that Martyak at first stored the beads in a gold casket "and placed them among sacred church accoutrements in the sacristy" at St. John's Church.
Eventually, he asked permission of the Kusko family to send the rosary for canonical investigation. The beads, then opened like lilies, were taken to Pittsburgh for inquiry by church officials.
However, it's unclear whether Martyak was provided an answer between then and his death six years later.
It's also unclear whether the Kusko family and countless witnesses ever learned an official response.
A direct descendant told the TIMES NEWS that the topic faded away.
"My parents didn't talk much about it," says Mrs. Kusko's granddaughter, Gerry Kusko Solack, now 84. "I knew about it. I knew something had happened. I remember them saying how busloads of people came here."
There were follow-up inquiries from near and far.
This reference is included in university archives: "Fitzmaurice encloses an extract from the 'Universe' (of Sept. 21, 1928). It will be easy for Hudson to get further information from the ecclesiastical authorities of Pittsburgh. If the information should prove false, Fitzmaurice would be grateful if Hudson would let him know. (The extract tells of) a rosary, the beads of which unfolded like a lily while they lay in the hands of a dead man, Michael Kusko."
However, there is no response recorded to that request. Just 10 months later, things took a sudden turn.
The world became submerged in the Great Depression. People struggled to survive. Focus had shifted.
Today, many questions remain and answers are elusive.
The Eastern Rite Diocese of Pittsburgh didn't respond to a TIMES NEWS request for more information.
St. John's Church is now part of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, NJ. A similar request to the eparchy also went unanswered.
The Roman Catholic Church apparently wasn't involved in the mystery.
"Back in 1928, the Diocese of Allentown did not exist. It wasn't formed until 1961," said Matt Kerr, spokesman.
As for Msgr. Martyak, he was said to be a man of high credibility. He was apostolic administrator for all Greek Catholics of Ruthenian, Hungarian and Croatian extraction. He was a longtime pastor at St. John's, having served from 1895 to 1898, then from 1908 until his death in 1934.
It is believed, although not known for certain, that all of those who witnessed the unexplainable event are now gone.
Will we ever truly know what happened in Lansford in the summer of 1928? What caused the miracle of the rosary? Where are the beads?
The passing of 85 years has silenced a great mystery of our time.
The voyage of faith is an enchanted journey.
And in our search for meaning beyond our earthly existence, our thoughts reach heavenly high.
Our hopes soar upward on gossamer wings.
Our mortal minds seek answers.