By CONNIE HELM
Special to the Tribune
PAWNEE ROCK — The Church of the New Jerusalem in Pawnee Rock has a new minister, the Rev. Gabriella Cahaley.
The Rev. Cahaley moved to Kansas this summer from Tucson, Ariz. She had her choice of several Swedenborgian churches that needed ministers, in New York, Washington D.C., and Seattle, but she chose to serve the New Jerusalem churches in Pawnee Rock and Pretty Prairie.
“It’s because of the people,” she said. ”I fell in love with the honest, openness of the people when I came to candidate. As I was flying into Wichita, I was moved by the beauty of the land below – the patchwork of fields and the wide open spaces. It just felt like I belonged here.”
She preaches at Pawnee Rock on the first and third Sundays of each month. Services at the New Jerusalem Church are at 11 a.m.
Born in Hungary when it was occupied by the Soviet Union after the end of Wold War II, she grew up under the reign of communism. She was the youngest daughter of a Baptist preacher. Her brother Cornell led the rebellion that started on Oct. 23, 1956, which led to most of the family fleeing into Vienna, where they sought refuge in a Baptist church.
A missionary from Cleveland, Ohio, offered to sponsor the family to come to the United States. They arrived the day before Thanksgiving, 1956. Gabriella was 10.
“They treated us like royalty. We were the first plane of Hungarian refugees to arrive in the U.S. and my father spoke a few words of English so we were on TV and magazine covers,” she said. “The Hungarian Baptist churches gave us clothes and money. The welcome was amazing and a bit overwhelming.”
Her father had learned about Emanuel Swedenborg just before leaving Hungary and they became affiliated with a Swedenborgian church in Cleveland.
Gabriella met her husband John while living in Pennsylvania. They have three children. They moved around the South with her husband’s career and Gabriella was a swim coach and aquatics director. John retired to Tucson and it was Gabriella’s turn to work on her degree at the University of Arizona where she felt the call to ministry.
John’s health problems slowed her progress toward her Masters of Divinity, but she persevered and was ordained in 2011. Her first ministry call was to Fort Meyers Beach, Fla., but John’s diagnosis of cancer shortened that stay as they were too far from a VA Hospital and had to return to Tucson for his needed treatment. Gabriella was trained as a Spiritual Director while caring for her husband and working as a hospice chaplain. When John’s health required 24-hour care, she stayed home to care for him and he died in April of this year.
Feeling the continued call to serve a church as the pastor, the Rev. Cahaley checked out openings for ministers throughout the United States and decided on Kansas.