I have always felt that only God truly knows who the saints are until He chooses to reveal them to us, but how does this happen? One way that this happens is through local veneration, which attracts the attention of the regional church. It is my hope that Fr. Nicola Yanney of Nebraska will soon be glorified in this manner.
I have a very close relationship with Fr. Nicola. I first heard about him after my godfather had returned from a visit to Fr. Nicola’s church in Kearney, Nebraska. He later took me on a small pilgrimage to Kearney as well. I can still recall the great joy in my heart upon venerating the Gospel that his own parishioners had given to him as a gift. The love that the church had for him and their history is amazing.
Born in Ottoman Syria, Fr. Nicola immigrated to America at age 19. He eventually settled in a tiny rural town outside of Kearney with his family. Here, the family remained for some years, until the tragic death of Fr. Nicola’s wife during childbirth. After mourning for a long time, Fr. Nicola was encouraged by the then Archimandrite Raphael and the few, but strong faithful in the Kearney area – who had just established a church, St. George the Great Martyr – to travel to New York to study for ordination. In 1904 Raphael was elevated to bishop and that Palm Sunday, Fr. Nicola became the first to have Bp. Raphael’s hands laid upon his head. Upon his return to Nebraska, he moved his family to Kearney to be in the heart of his flock.
Bishop Basil of Wichita describes the duties given to Fr. Nicola: “Shortly after his consecration to the sacred episcopacy a century ago – – on March 13th, 1904 — St. Raphael of Brooklyn performed his first priestly ordination, the ordained being a young widower, Nicola Yanney, a native of the tiny village of Fi’eh in north Lebanon, living with his children on a farm in Gibbon, Nebraska. Father Nicola was ordained [on April 3rd, 1904] for what was then the westernmost parish of St. Raphael’s Diocese, St. George’s Church in Kearney, Nebraska, but he was given pastoral responsibility for an area that is nearly identical to the boundaries of our newly created Diocese of Mid-America. Father Nicola’s parish stretched from the Canadian border in the north, to the Mexican border in the south, and from the Mississippi River in the east, to the Rocky Mountains in the west. It is Fr. Nicola who, as a circuit riding priest headquartered in Kearney, followed the example of his Father-in-Christ, St. Raphael, and visited Orthodox Christians in the scattered towns, villages and isolated farm lands throughout America’s Heartland.”
In 1918 the Spanish Flu had come to Kearney. The city was lucky, as not many people suffered. But a second wave of the disease struck harder and the city ordered a quarantine. Since the faithful could not come to church, Fr. Nicola took the Church to them, one by one, house by house, so that they could receive the Body and Blood of Christ. And it was in this way that Fr. Nicola would come to meet Our Lord on October 29, 1918, after catching the Spanish Flu himself a week earlier.
There is something that draws me near to Fr. Nicola: perhaps it is my close proximity to his church, or the beauty in his faith. Maybe even it is his passion for Christ, so strong was it, that he was worried more about the souls of those in his Church than for his own health. Nonetheless, I have never been able to explain this. And perhaps that is the point. My godfather likes to tell me that perhaps it is Fr. Nicola inspiring me. Whatever it truly is, by God’s grace, I can only pray that the Church proper recognizes the impact that he has had on us -the faithful- and that he is indeed a Passion-Bearer.
Holy Fr. Nicola pray to God for us.
If you would like to learn more about Fr. Nicola, please visit: St George’s Orthodox Church.