The Popstefanov Family
of Bansko, Bulgaria

Katerina Dimitrova Stephanova


Katerina Stephanova Tsilka

Early Life - Pt 1
Early Life - Pt 2 Education - Pt 1
Education - Pt 2
1st Trip to USA-1
1st Trip to USA- 2
Return to Europe
Abduction 1901-2
Touring the USA
Return to Albania
Katerina Alone


Return to Albania

Congregationalist and Christian World, March 3, 1906, p. 298  (Vol. 91, no. 9)

 The Tsilkas at Work in Albania

Letters have been received from Madame Tsilka, Miss Ellen M. Stone's companion in captivity, and her husband, Gregory M. Tsilka, now at their old work in Kortcha, Albania, Turkey in Europe. They had been absent from their posts for more than two years lecturing and preaching in America. Prior to their visit to America and before Mrs. Tsilka's experience in captivity, they had attempted to establish a school for girls and a school for boys. Although there was great opposition on tile part of the people, a girls' school was successfully begun and during the absence of Mr. and Mrs. Tsilka was continued under the direction of trusted helpers. 


Since returning to Albania the Tsilkas have found a remarkable change in the attitude of the people and Mrs. Tsilka writes: "In the providence of God it seems as though the psychological moment for evangelizing the people of Albania had come." "People are dissatisfied with the old religion and anxious for something better; the welcome accorded us has been most cordial; we are constantly confronted in the streets by both boys and parents asking us to take them and teach them; people are anxious for us to secure a suitable place for a boys' school ; they are even willing to help us to do so ; before we left for America no one would sell us property and instead of coming to us, boys and parents jeered at us and often disturbed our services; this is all changed now and we are daily receiving great blessings in our work." 

Both Mr. and Mrs. Tsilka received training for their work in America. Mrs. Tsilka Is a trained nurse, having graduated from the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City after the full course of study at Northfield Seminary. Mr. Tsilka was trained under the American missionaries in Albania and then at Union Theological Seminary. They are peculiarly qualified to build on lasting foundations and their spirit and enthusiasm is such as to convince their friends that deep and broad foundations for redeeming the people of the Balkans will be laid by these native but American-trained workers. It is the hope of many of their friends in this country that some generous contributions may be made towards permanently establishing their work.


!BIOGRAPHY: Washington Post, 12 May 1907, p. 58


From Human Life

Among the children born into this world who do not know where their birthplace is must be numbered Elenchie Tsilka. The circumstances of her birth, while her unfortunate Macedonian mother was a captive with Ms. Stone, during the winter of 1901 -1902, have not been forgotten by those who have heard either of the captives tell her story, or read it in the papers at the time.

Possibly the brigands who held them in their unrelenting grip know where that hut was hidden; but to this day, neither Miss Stone nor the Macedonian mother has the least idea of its location: for their captives forced them to make the journey there and back under cover of darkness.

That little hut, upon which at the time the attention of the whole world was focused, was an excavation in the mountainside for the storage of the wine casks of some Macedonian peasant. Did he ever learn that a helpless baby was born in the blackness of his hut, under the bulging side of one of his great casks, that Saturday night, January 4, 1902? Or did he, when next he visited that remote vineyard of his, as the spring days drew him thither to hoe his vines on that mountain slope, find his storage hut destroyed, and wonder with pain of heart who could have brought such damage to a poor, hard-working farmer in Turkey?

The two captives have no knowledge, save that it became their shelter before the dawn of Saturday morning, when, exhausted after their ten hours' journey on pack saddles, they were compelled to stop somewhere .

When, with her parents, the little girl was in the United States in 1904 -1905, people often inquired of her, Elenchie, where were you born ? And laughed, while a wonderful tenderness filled their hearts and tears often sprang into their eyes to hear the little voice answer softly, "In captivity!" That is all either of the captives know of her birthplace.

Since her parents returned to their work in Albania, where Mr. Tsilka is a preacher and also a teacher also of Albanian boys, Elenchie has become proficient in talking Albanian and Greek in addition to her English, and has also made good progress in the Macedonian dialect of the Bulgarian, which is her mother's language .

Five-year-old Elenchie has now become a great help to her mother in her household duties, to which are added the care of her second daughter, Afrodita (Morning Star), and practicing her skill as a trained nurse in many homes.

Elenchie, named for her maternal grandmother and her mother's fellow-captive, was called Kismatchie, the Little Luck-Child, by the brigands. Marvelously was her life preserved amid the fearful exposures of those midwinter nights of her first seven weeks, in the clutches of desperate men -- as well as during her mother's unspeakable hardships from September to January before her birth. Surely this life must have some high purpose!

May it be realized in noble achievement and the uplift of many sad lives!


!BIOGRAPHY: The Missionary Herald, June 1908, pp. 284-285

Field Notes

The Kennedys Reach Kortcha (European Turkey Field)

Rev. and Mrs. P. B. Kennedy have at last reached Kortcha , and have begun work there as "teachers" of the Albanians. They were unjustly detained at Salonica for four months, but finally secured their treaty rights and were allowed to preceed. The Vali of Monastir vilayet offered them a guard of gendarmes over the mountains. So in a large, closed carriage, with mounted guards on either side and an armed kavass provided by the consul on the seat with the driver, spending the night in route in the home of an evangelical family in the town of Ressin... Some persecution is being undergone in part from the Greek Orthodox Church. The joy of reaching Kortcha was clouded by finding Mr. Tsilka , who is head of the school and whose wife, it will be remembered, was kidnapped with Miss Stone, imprisoned for connivance with Albanian revolutionists , a charge which the missionaries believe to be entirely groundless. It is more than suspected that some of the of events on which she was imprisoned was manufactured or so placed as to bear false witness against him. The sympathy and prayers of the friends of this mission are desired, both for Mr. Tsilka and the Kennedys as they take up their work in a situation so difficult and delicate.

!BIOGRAPHY: The Missionary Herald, August 1908, p. 356

A Correction.

Through inadvertence the June Herald spoke of Mr. Tsilka as having been the head of a school at Kortcha . The facts are that Ms. Sevastia D. Kyrias has had charge of this girl's boarding school for nearly seventeen years , and that Mr. Tsilka has never even taught in it, but only preached in its building to a mix congregation of townspeople and others. We regret the twofold injustice of the misstatement.


!BIOGRAPHY: Sioux Valley News, Correctionville, Iowa, 22 Oct 1908, p. 9


Mme. Tsilka, Who Was in Prison With Miss Stone, Writes of the Revolution in Turkey

It was Mme. Tsilka who was in prison with Miss Ellen Stone in Turkey and it will be remembered she gave lectures in the United States three years ago. A letter from her has been received in Gardner, Mass. by Mrs. Geo. A. Swallow with whom Mme. Tsilk spent the last Sunday before returning the last time to Turkey.

About six months ago Mme Tsilka's husband was thrown into prison and without any alleged reason on the part of the officials. In order to keep him in prison the magistrates went to his home and seized all his private papers and examined them carefully to see if by chance there was anything in them against the government and their search proving unsuccessful they forwarded them to other places further examination.

The letter reads as follows

Have not written sooner because I could not possibly get the time. Four children to look after, husband in prison and twice a day sending him meals beside running about to court officials and lawyers. And no help for the houseworkfor people were afraid to mingle with us. Two babies on my hands, Afrodita not quite two years old and little Skender, now three months old. He came to me two months after my husband's imprisonment. Before his advent I had no idea who was to assist me in such a trying time, who was to look after the children. Am a perfect stranger here. To send far for friends impossible, for traveling was very dangerous. So I just prayed and left it all to God.

Now I do not know where to begin to tell you of the wonderful change that has taken place in this country of ours. Two weeks ago groans and weepings were heard everywhere around us. A person murdered here, another there, a village burned in one place, another massacred women and children cruelly mutiplated and innocent vitims were dragged out of their homes and thrown into prison. The prisons were so full that the poor victims had to squeeze hard in order to get a sleeping place. The walls perspired dampness and the sun never entered there.

My ears heard the rumors among the people and officers that Tsilka would be either imprisoned for life or hung. Oh! how I used to hurry home, close the door after me and tell it all to Him. And He gave me wonderful peace. Well in the midst of all this gloom and uncertainty, two weeks ago early one morning the general of the newly arrived army accompanied by his staff walked into my husband's confinement and shouts out.

'Tsilka you are free! Come with us for we have need of such as you.'

And it was Mr. Tsilka who wrote the first outline of the new government here. And most of the important work was done in our very school. Of course when my husband was thrown in prison there was a silent indignation even among the Turks, the enlightened ones I mean. Even the enemies of our work did not dare to rejoice.

Mr. Tsilka's freedom was the beginning of the overthrow of the old government. Two days later the prison doors were wide open and every prisoner set free. The very stones seemed tio rejoce Freedom, freedom of thought and action was given to every nation and tribe.

Men ran about the streets, wild with joy and shouting. Long live liberty, long live the union, long live the love, long live our country!

Women and children danced in the streets and wept with joy. All eyes were turned upward to heaven.

(signed) K S T (Katerina S. Tsilka)

She adds: "Write anything you please now and send any printed matter you like. No fear now."

BIOGRAPHY: Los Angeles Times, Sep 23, 1913; pg. 13


Greek Seizure of American School Causes Protest.

Matron of Mission Beaten and Sent to Prison.

British Consul Attempts to Protect Teachers.

WASHINGTON. Sept. 22. - State Department officials said today that the reported seizure of the American mission school at Koritsa, Albania, by Greeks, would raise an important diplomatic question, as the status of American institutions in Albania has not been determined under the new territorial delimitations growing out of the war between the Balkan allies and Turkey and the later conflict among the allies themselves.

Under a convention with Turkey made when that nation exercised sovereignty over Albania, Americans, in addition to their rights under treaties of commerce and travel, were given extra territorial rights which protected, among other things, educational institutions.

No official report of the seizure of the school had been received today, but the State Department is prepared to protest to the Greek government vigorously for the protection of Americans and their property in Albania, under the new political order.


VIENNA, Sept. 22.- The Greek authorities at Koritsa, in Albania, seized today the American mission school there, where instruction is given to nearly 100 Albanian girls. The information reached here in a telegram from Avlona, the principal seaport of Albania on the Adriatic Sea.

The Greeks also have arrested and persecuted a large number of Albanians who recently returned to Koritsa. from America and other foreign countries, releasing them from detention only when Albanians promised to join the agitation for the incorporation of the district under the Greek flag.

The British Consul at Monastir has entered a vigorous protest with the Greek government on behalf of the Americans. Last week Greek officials at Koritsa endeavored to take forcible possession of tho American mission school building, but the housekeeper in charge refused to hand over the keys. The Greek soldiers beat her mercilessly and then carried her off to prison.

The mission is in charge of Phineas B. Kennedy. a native of New Jersey and a Princeton graduate. Mrs. Viola B. Kennedy conducts the Ladies' Literary Society, whose object is to give the elements of education to the women of Albania.


NEW YORK, Sept 22.-The American mission school in Koritsa, Albania, is under supervision of the Congregational Church and controlled by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.


!BIOGRAPHY: Tsanoff, Vladimir A. (ed.), Reports and Letters of American Missionaries Referring to the Distribution of Nationalities in the Former Provinces of European Turkey (Sofia, 1919), p. 76



The Servians early took possession of northern Albania, and soon after their arrival at Durazzo, Elbasan and Tirana, they arrested Mr. Erickson and Mr. Tsilka. Mr. Erickson, on December 10, was ordered to leave, with his family, within twenty-four hours after notice was served upon him, and Mr. Tsilka was kept in confinement for several weeks before he was given his liberty. . . .

Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy remained at Kortcha after the Greeks had taken possession of the city for several weeks, but on April 24 they received orders to prepare to withdraw, and they were sent under Greek guard to Salonica. The reasons given by the Greeks for the expulsion of Mr. Kennedy were wholly unsatisfactory and without any ground. The Greek Government, however, after correspondence gave assurance to our State Department, that as soon .as order was restored in Kortcha, Mr. Kennedy would be allowed to return. Although Kortcha falls within independent Albania as set apart by the European Powers, up to October 1 the Greeks have not withdrawn, and indications are many that they do not intend to do so. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be there.

In Salonica there was an entire suspension of every form of work as there was in Kortcha and Elbasan during the hostilities and even down to the present time, except that the missionaries gave themselves with great abandon to the work of relief for which there was boundless call. The refugees flocked into Salonica where Mr. Haskell and Mr. Cooper devoted their entire time and strength to relief work. While they have not been personally molested by. the Greek authorities, the later-development of their hostility to Bulgaria has raised doubt as to whether the Greeks would allow any work to be carried on in Salonica, or in fact anywhere under the Greek flag, in the Bulgarian language, as there was also serious doubt as to whether any work in Kortcha or in any part of Albania would be allowed to continue if the Albanian language was used. The Greek officials have expressed themselves as not hostile to the work of the American mission, but they have given no assurance that the work will be allowed to continue.

!BIOGRAPHY: Dako, Christo A., Albania: the master key to the Near East. Boston: Grimes, 1919, pp. 194-95:

[Insurrection in Kortcha, April 2-6, 1914]

All the Christian quarter was forced to put up the Greek flag. We took down the Albanian flag, and Mr. Spencer put up the American. Mr. Spencer, Zarif our kavass [security guard], Miss Kyrias and two of the teachers took rifles and guarded the school. Firing continued most of the day. The school was often threatened. All that Sunday the fighting was terrific. . . Late that evening Rev. Tsilka, one of our teachers who had come from Elbasan, reached the school.

Early the next morning, Monday 6 April, after a good breakfast, Mr. Tsilka with Zarif my kavass and fifteen men started fighting from our gate. They slowly advanced... Then 150 men were taken to attack the Metropolis and capture the Greek Bishop. These troops were divided into three companies, Captain Doorman of the Dutch Mission made the attack from the east, Captain Ghilardi from the south, and Mr. Spencer, who had been an officer in the American navy, from the west. Mr. Spencer ordered his men to ignore the firing from the surrounding houses and to charge directly on the Bishop's residence. His men, however, were held up for two hours where two streets meet, but at last they reached the Metropolis. The Bishop gave up his arms and surrendered. As the Albanian villagers who had followed in Spencer's rear wished to hang the Bishop, Mr. Spencer placed a guard of forty men around the residence, and he himself entered with ten soldiers. After half an hour Captain Doorman and Captain Chilardi arrived. . . At midnight for his own safety the Bishop was sent to Elbasan. . . . The Kyrias School was turned into a hospital for the wounded.

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