by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, September 2014) On August 3, 2014 Antwain Thomas became the first African American to be baptized at St. Helena Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church in the 108-year history of the church. Romanian is the language still used today to say the Mass in the Church, which was founded by Romanian immigrants in 1905.
Thomas’s Godfather at the ceremony, Jack Craciun III, relates the story of how Thomas came to be baptized at St. Helena.
Craciun said Thomas is interning at his company, the ITM Group, where Craciun serves as Chairman and CEO.
Craciun, who has family roots in the St. Helena Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church, was back in the neighborhood after many years overseas. Members of St. Helena, and the parish’s new priest reached out to Craciun to help out. The parish had recently experienced a crisis due to a scandal involving the former pastor and was working to recover from its aftereffects. The recruiting effort involved a Cleveland police officer, a member of the parish, pulling Craciun over as he drove through the neighborhood and telling him “Father needs you at St. Helena.”
Craciun and Thomas soon became involved in the formation of the Saint Helena Community and Property Development Committee (SHCPDC). Craciun is serving as the Executive Chairman of the SHCPDC and Thomas is serving as Secretary of the committee.
As they became more involved, they were invited to the ceremony of the installation of Father Petru Stanea as the new parish priest on May 18, 2014. Stana, who arrived at the parish from Romania, had written his graduate thesis on St. Helena, the first Byzantine Catholic Church in the Americas. They also attended Fr. Stanea’s 40th birthday celebration.
After one of the celebrations, Thomas, inspired by the beauty of the liturgy of the Mass and the hospitality of the parish as they feasted on Romanian food after the Mass, asked Craciun if he could be baptized in the church. Thomas also told Craciun, his mentor at ITM Group, that he wanted to be baptized in the same church where Craciun had been baptized.
The baptismal ceremony of Antwain Thomas followed a mass in Romanian celebrated by Fr. Petru Stanea and Fr. Chuck Works.
Jack Craciun III served as Godfather, and Vicky Prior served as Godmother. Because of his age, nCraciun insisted that there be an Alternate Godfather. Robert Weakley, who had recruited Thomas for the internship at the ITM Group, served as the Alternate Godfather and Lorinda Laughlin Plank, also with ITM Group served as the Alternate Godmother.
Thomas also received his First Communion and Confirmation at the August 3rd ceremony. After the ceremony Fr. Stanea revealed that the baptism was his first at his new parish.