Just a brief note today: I had always assumed that Fr. Sebastian Dabovich was the first Serbian Orthodox priest in America, but apparently he wasn’t. The first Serbian priest in America — and probably the first Serbian priest the California-born Dabovich had ever seen — was Fr. Sava Matanovich. From the 1985 book Sacred Places of San Francisco: “The first Serbian priest to visit America was Father Sava Matanovich, a Montenegrin, who participated in three liturgies in 1875.”
I should note that I don’t know for sure whether someone from Montenegro should be classified as Serbian. Most references I’ve found treat Montenegrins as a subset of Serbs, rather than a distinct group. More importantly, I think (but again, I’m not certain) that in 1875, a priest from Montenegro would have had no quarrel with being called a Serb. The Serbs and Montenegrins in America seem to have totally intermingled. If any of our readers want to correct me on this, please, by all means, do so.
Anyway, the visit of Matanovich is verified by Dabovich himself in his 1897 history of Orthodoxy in California (published in the Vestnik in April 1898):
In 1875 a priest from Montenegro, Father Sabbas Matanovich, arrived in San Francisco. He was received into the Bishop’s house and served two or three Liturgies, but as he was not assigned a position, he went back home after several months. At the present time the honorable Father Matanovich is an archpriest in Cetinje.
I haven’t been able to find any other references to Matanovich’s visit, and I suspect that the 1985 Sacred Places in San Francisco reference used the Dabovich article as its source. It would be interesting to know what other places (if any) Matanovich visited in America. Did he serve liturgies in other cities besides San Francisco? If anyone else turns up anything, please let me know.
This article was written by Matthew Namee. He can be reached at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.