Father Daniel Bitsko, a former pastor of the Byzantine Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Smithtown, died Sept. 4 at the age of 82. Originally from New Britain, Pennsylvania, Father Dan served the church for 30 years. He was also a 50-year member and chief chaplain for the Smithtown Fire Department and chaplain for the New York Islanders Hockey Team.
His legacy includes launching the once popular Byzantine Bazaar, an ethnic festival hosted every other year over the Labor Day holiday weekend at the Smithtown church.
“Ten of thousands of people attended the festival,” said the church’s current pastor Father Tyler Strand in a telephone interview. “It was a big deal that included a nightclub, restaurants. It was a very important part of life here.”
An Aug. 25, 1991, The New York Times article noted that the bazaar as “one of the biggest food festivals on Long Island is staged by one of its smallest churches…”
Strand said that the church had to stop hosting the festival because it just got too big. The tradition, however, lives on, on a smaller scale, but is still the church’s largest fundraiser. On the first Saturday of November, the church hosts the annual Slavic Dinner that includes live entertainment, raffles and two seatings for dinner that includes traditional foods of Eastern Europe-like stuffed cabbage, pierogies and poppyseed rolls. This year’s event is scheduled for Nov. 2.
The Smithtown Fire Department announced Father Dan’s passing on Facebook.
“The longtime pastor of the Byzantine Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Smithtown, Father Dan was appointed to the Smithtown FD in April 1969 and quickly became an integral part of our family,” the chief’s office stated. “Throughout the years he mentored, counseled, comforted, educated, laughed and prayed with us all.”
Born in Coaldale, Pennsylvania, Bitsko was the son of the late Frank and Helen (Zelinka) Bitsko. He was a graduate of the former Coaldale High School and was a graduate of Duquesne University. He then joined the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh, where he fulfilled his vocation of becoming a Byzantine Catholic priest. Father Dan had also served as the pastor at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in New York City, St. Andrew’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Westbury, and last served at the Byzantine Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Smithtown.
Father Dan was a member of the New York State Chaplains Association and also served as the chaplain for Nascar Races at the Pocono Raceway.
Father Dan was very active in the local community. He was a member of the Smithtown Rotary, the Smithtown Historical Society, Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association in New York, the Southern New York Fireman’s Association and the Knights of Columbus, Henry Baker Council 2711.
Surviving is a sister, Helen Kochaba and her husband John of Camden, Delaware; brother, Nicholas Bitsko and his wife Ruth of New Britain, Pennsylvania; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by a sister, Mary Cortese; brothers, Michael, Frank, Andrew, John and Stephen.
Funeral Service with Divine Liturgy will be held Monday, Sept. 9 at 11 a.m. at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church, 104 E. Bertsch St., Lansford, Pennsylvania with the Most Reverend Kurt Burnette officiating. Interment will follow at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, Summit Hill. Visitation will be held Monday from 9-11 a.m. at the church, which is where he first served as pastor.
Contributions, in Father Dan’s memory, may be made to St. John the Baptist/St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Parishes, the Byzantine Catholic Church of the Resurrection or to the charity of one’s choice. Online condolences may be expressed at www.nalesnikfh.com. Funeral services and arrangements are being handled by the Bruce A. Nalesnik Funeral Home, 57 W. Center St., Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania.
The Byzantine church in Smithtown is planning a celebration of Father Dan’s life at a still undetermined date in October that will later be announced.