One of the hardest things Rev. Nicolae Ciurea ever had to do as a priest was to retire.
It was easy enough admitting he was slowing down, that he couldn’t keep up the pace he’s demanded of himself in almost 30 years serving congregants of Hamilton’s only Romanian Orthodox Church.
The hard part was letting it all go, the weekly services, the visits to the homes and hospital beds of those in need, the dances and cultural performances he organized.
He left it all behind in 1997, leaving a legacy as one of the longest-serving priest of the Holy Resurrection Romanian Orthodox Church.
Since retirement, he contented himself with sitting among the congregants, listening to the weekly liturgy
Ciurea died of respiratory failure on Sunday, March 3 2002, at 76.
His roots in Hamilton’s Romanian community stretched back to the day in November 1969, when he arrived from his native Romania, wife and two children by his side, to take over the priesthood at Holy Resurrection.
Soon his congregants learned of the passion their new priest had for history and Romanian culture.
They were elements he felt were inseparable from his Romanian Orthodox faith, as shown by a trip to the basement of the MacNab Street North church.
There, Ciurea set up a museum to teach the young – maybe as much as the older generation – about their past. He gathered pictures of the first immigrants to Hamilton, who arrived at the turn of the century and settled in large part in the city’s east end , working in factories and steel mills.
He displayed art by local Romanian artists and books and folk dance costumes. And with his pet project, he brought together an immigrant community and helped preserve a piece of their history.
“He dove into old records and put it (the museum) together”, said choir director and church council member George Donison.
“He was more interested in the all the activities of the church. He wasn’t just your Sunday-only priest.”
Ciurea earned an honours theology degree and attended the seminary in Romania before being sent to an impoverished northern village in his early 20s to serve as a missionary priest.
“They would pay him with food and whatever they had”, said his daughter, Magdalene.
The money was earned by his wife, Rafira, who during that time was working as a nurse and midwife.
Then came a move to a southern resort town, where Ciurea served as parish priest for 13 years.
His adventurous spirit wouldn’t let him rest in one place though, and when a friend told him a congregation in Canada was looking for a Romanian priest, he decided to make the move. He and Rafira, Magdalene and her brother, Victor, arrived in Hamilton.
It was a time of instability at Holly Resurrection, which was founded in 1916, as Ciurea tool over from a temporary priest. He promoted the church choir, organized events for the young parishioners, and ran the Romanian language school.
He also endured harassment from people who believed the parish was Communist. His car was vandalized, his home was broken into three times, and in 1982, the parish house was firebombed. But he forgave it all and Magdalene said things got better as the community saw his commitment to the church.
One of his beliefs was that members of all orthodox and wider Christian faiths had more in common than people believed. Ciurea help found the Pan-Orthodox Association of Hamilton-Wentworth, which brought together members of the Romanian, Greek, Serbian and Ukrainian Orthodox faiths. Every year, one of the member churches hosts a service where all the congregants of each faith gather.
“Every time someone needed him, he was there”, said association president, Rev. Dimitrios Tzeneteas, of Panagia Greek Orthodox Church. “It takes a special person to be so caring and compassionate.”
Ciurea is survived by his wife, children, and four grandchildren.
The Hamilton Spectator
March 7, 2002