When you are a child having a last name with eight letters is a burden. The repetition of repeating it, spelling it, and correcting people got old quickly. It was not until I changed my last name that I started to learn more about the meaning and history behind that 8-letter burden of the last name. I did, however, always love knowing I was Croatian. There was something about knowing it was not a common heritage; it was not something that had a huge day where people dressed up and pretended to become; it felt like it was mine.
A church on Chicago's south side, St. Jerome's, would have a fest on August 15th that we would attend every once in a while. Growing up, I always thought it was strange that there would be a fest in the middle of the week, never realizing that there was a reason behind the actual date itself. Little did I know that this fest, this church, would be just the beginning of understanding the love behind a long, complicated last name.
St. Jerome's is where I found out more about my family history. My family history gave me a feeling of discovering more about myself, my inner heart, and a crazy connection to generations I never thought much about. Chicago was once known as the "Second Croatian Capital." The Southside of Chicago is where Croatians would come for a second chance at life, a place to start over for the 'American Dream.'
Before I can continue to grow my tree of understanding myself, what helps me grow as a person, I need to know and understand my roots. The roots of a tree serve as an anchor, keep the truck upright and help the rest thrive. If I want to continue to grow and thrive, I needed to understand more about my background, my family story, and the reason behind that complicated last name. So, I set out on a mission to find out about August 15th and why that is so important, but first, I had to find out why my family even carried out about that date, that church, or how we even arrived in America.
Our family comes from a town called Livno which, as of the end of 1995, after a 3 1/2 year-long Bosnian War, is now a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those from Livno were known for this stubbornness and resilience, which, if you have ever met me, is something that leaks out of my pores.
I chuckled a bit while finding that out in my research because my whole mission around ALS Advocacy is to turn my stubbornness of needing the last word in an argument into an argument with ALS. If you have ever met a Pripusich, no matter the spelling, I am sure you would agree that they are the toughest and most stubborn people you will ever meet. We love hard and fight harder; family means everything to us, and it truly is in our blood.
The family surname Pripuzic had a chance in spelling due to error before coming to the United States in 1913, where they arrived as Pripusic. Matyo came over with her two sons, Jakob, 20 of his arrival, and Jozo, 23. Jake and Joseph Americanised their names not long after their boat arrived and, throughout time, would be the ones that would end up transforming the last one once again to Pripusich.
The Pripuzic/Pripusic/Pripusich, whichever way you know them, started in the Village of Lusnic, where you can still find people with the last name to this day and where generations are buried together in the hills of a small chapel.
Joseph's mom, Matyo, was born in the Village of Potravlje on the other side of the mountain in Dalmatia. Joseph's parents had him in a small house in Livno, in the Dalmatia province.
Livno was a part of Croatia until 1995, after the Bosnian War. Since the war's end, our family's area is now considered the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The area around Dalmatia is "where aquamarine meets gold in the rays of sunshine ." Such a beautiful phrase for a family who has always found joy and meaning in the song, "You Are My Sunshine."
Joseph arrived in the United States in 1913 with $10 in his possession. Somehow finding his way to Chicago, he met Catherine Pernicky, and they married on April 14th, 1918. Below is a picture that starts the connection with St. Jerome's parish. I knew my great-grandfather was a part of the parish, and my grandfather was as well, but being a part of something and a PART of something are two different things.
(Below is the marriage index from 1914-1942 with Joseph and Catherine and yet another unique spelling of the last name.)
The picture showed my great-grandfather in 1928 when these men came together while still overseas to help educated orphaned children. These men had nothing, came from nothing, and still found a way to give back.
Growing up, I knew I wanted to teach; I wanted to help others; I wanted others to feel as if they could conquer the world.
Little did I know that teaching and helping others learn was something deeper than my heart; it was embedded in my soul, in a part of me that has been passed on through generations. A trait that now has even more important to who I am.
Joseph and Catherine had a large family, one of their children being Anthony (Anton) Pripusich. As I knew him, Papa Tony was a man who spelled like car oil; he enjoyed tinkering in the garage and would tell you to get his medicine out of the fridge, which was, in fact, a cold beer. I knew he was a crotchety old man who served in WWII. I knew my stubbornness was a Pripusich trait and figured he saw some stuff.
While researching, I saw that his parents lost a sibling who was eight months old before he was born. Papa Tony enrolled as a US Merchant Marine when he was 18 and spent years on and off ships for our country. With a large age gap between him and his older brother, and then many siblings after, I cannot imagine things were easy for his family in the 1920s.
Papa Tony was big on tradition, big on the catholic way of life (hence him having eight children of his own), and learning more about where his dad came from, the parish he joined when he arrived in Chicago helps me understand more about why August 15th is an important day in the Croatian culture.
Virgin Mary is considered the "Queen of the Croatian People," and August 15th is the "Feast of the Assumption of Mary," and some may even call it the "Easter of Summer." Our family in Livno would walk barefoot for over 25 minutes over the mountain into Sinj for the yearly festival. Croatians from all over the country would come to kneel in front of the Miraculous Lady of Sinj and bow in silence to pray. They hope that by praying to her each year, they can open their hearts to her grace.
The Miraculous Lady of Sinj has resisted wars and earthquakes and has somehow preserved its original appearance. She is a symbol of treasure and hope, and after a victory in 1715, a gold crown was placed with the saying, "May you triumph forever crowned."
She has been called "the most devoted advocate of Croatia throughout history."
An advocate. Until a couple of years ago, a word that meant nothing to me, and now something that I feel so strongly in my heart.
The more I have learned about the root of my maiden name and the root of my family history, the more I feel like I have anchored myself into the place where I need to be, which is helping others. I have always been extremely connected to my dad, we've always had a bond that was hard to explain, and now I feel such a better understanding of why we were connected.
The way our family was born and the values instilled for centuries have continued through even surname change. We are people who will love deep, fight hard, and open our hearts up to the idea of change and seeing the good in people. We are the type of people who, even with nothing, will give someone our everything, we would rather sacrifice ourselves to see someone else happy, and we do that because it's in our blood.
Having a long, hard-to-pronounce last name is not a burden; it is a blessing. The last name with so many letters comes with so many years of courage, a heart of gold, crossing boundaries, and trying to see the best in people; it comes with never giving up.
Being born a Pripusich means being born to advocate for what you believe in; yourself, your family, and your country. It means to open your heart to grace and that it is worth walking over mountains for the chance at prayer being answered. Being a Pripusich means being born with passion, and that is something I will always be proud to have running through my blood.