Some Unitarian historical trivia for you…
Just by chance, I happened across the odd fact that Maja Capek spent time here in New Bedford. Maja Capek was married to Rev. Dr. Norbert Capek, the Unitarian minister Czechoslovakia who was killed by the Nazis in the Dachau concentration camp. Maja Capek managed to escape Czechoslovakia when Norbert and their daughter Zora were captured by the Gestapo, and she settled in New Bedford’s North End, where she became a part of North Unitarian Church.
North Unitarian Church started as a Unitarian mission in the 1890’s among the millworkers and recent immigrants in New Bedford’s North End. It was originally called “Unity Home,” and it was similar to a settlement house. Before long, a Unitarian congregation gathered at Unity Home, and became a legal, corporate entity in 1920. First Unitarian continued to own the building, but the North Unitarian congregation now had a separate existence. It is said that at one point the membership of North Unitarian exceeded that of its parent church.
At the time Maja Capek arrived in New Bedford, there was a large Eastern European community in the North End; perhaps that is what attracted her to this city. Mrs. Capek quickly became the director of Unity Home. North Unitarian Church was listed by the American Unitarian Association (AUA) as a separate congregation beginning with the 1942-43 Yearbook. In that first listing, Maja Capek is listed as minister (!), “Unity Home Chapel Society” is listed as the congregation’s name, and 1941 is listed as the date the congregation originated. Presumably 1941 is when North Unitarian Church first affiliated as a spearate organization with the AUA.
It may well be that Maja Capek led the very first Flower Celebration in the United States with the North Unitarian Church in New Bedford; at least, that’s what David Rankin, minister at First Unitarian from 1968-1974, wrote in 1969. (The Flower Celebration, a distinctly Unitarian liturgical innovation, is widely known in the U.S. as the “Flower Communion,” but see the article by Isa Fiserova in the May, 2002, issue of Quest for an indication that the Czech Unitarians did not call it a “communion.”) You can read more about the saga of North Unitarian in the history section of the First Unitarian Web site.
My congregation, First Unitarian, is the inheritor of North Unitarian Church. Pretty cool to think that a minister of First Unitarian, I am following in the footsteps of Maja Capek. If any of you, my readers, have additional information about Maja Capek’s time in New Bedford, please let me know.
Update, June 30, 2006: Despite Rankin’s statement, I have been able to find no other evidence that Maja Capek led the first Flower Celebration here in New Bedford. Unless such evidence turns up, I’ll have to go along with First Parish Cambridge’s claim that they hosted the first U.S. Flower Celebration.