Origin of the Ukrainian Church in America

05.11.2015, 15:29

In one of his many articles about the Ukrainian immigration, Father Nestor Dmytriw wrote that the earliest immigrants were mostly Ruthenians from Transcarpathia.  Before 1890 they settled in small groups on farms in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.  Because they were farmers at heart, they did not move to other places. 1 Thus, there were probably few in Vermont. Undoubtedly, they assimilated with the urban population; that is why there is no organized Ukrainian life in Vermont today.

On the other hand, the number of immigrants in other states increased in the 1880s and 1890s with the advent of settlers from Galicia (Lemko Land, Stryy, Sambir and Borschiv.)  During this period of mass immigration of Ukrainians to the United States, agents directed the majority of the settlers to the hard coal regions of Pennsylvania, notably Shenandoah, Hazelton, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, as well as the soft coal regions of western Pennsylvania.

At first, the Lemkos and Ruthenians, and later villagers from Boyko Land, Rohatyn, Ternopil and other areas of Galicia, left their modest thatched roof cottages and small plots of land and emigrated primarily to the United States, which the agents described as heaven on earth.  When the people came they saw how unrealistic their dreams were of getting rich quick and returning to their native land to a comfortable life.  In their new environment, they came to grips with the fact that the unscrupulous agents swindled them and brought them to Pennsylvania as cheap laborers and strike breakers.  This was why the Welsh and Irish workers were so hostile towards them.  The New York Times wrote, "they stoned and starved them, but without success because they were used to being stoned, buffeted and starved in their native land.  It seems they believed this was always to be their fate."2

Illiterate and lacking knowledge of the English language, the immigrants patiently endured cruelty and abuse, and at times, evoked the sympathy and amazement of the local people.  Toughened by hard work in their native land, they did not fear dangerous work in mines.  They had the hope of a brighter future, so they toiled endless hours cracking the hard rock in the dark underground.  Without doubt, among the immigrants, these people endured the great misfortunes.  Other nationality immigrants received care and aid from their home countries; priests, teachers and other professionals came with them, so they were easily able to organize a religious, cultural and economic life of their own.

The Ukrainians were without their own state and government.  Among them there were no educated leaders, and, there weren't any priests to whom they could turn for direction.  Many factors which could have made their life in America easier were missing.  They possessed faith in God, loved their church, and were closely bound to it, but they had no Ukrainian Church in their new homeland.  This was what made their life so difficult. When they attended services in Polish, Slovak or German churches they were strangers; they met with the hostility of Polish priests.  This made them realize they would not exist for long if they did not have their own church.

The Arrival of Father John Wolansky. — In 1884, Ukrainian immigrants in Shenandoah appealed to a local merchant, Carl Rice, for assistance in getting them their own priests.  With his help they composed a letter to Metropolitan Sylvester Sembratovich saying "We came here trustingly by ourselves, Excellency, but we were blind and naive.  No longer are we the same people we were in our homeland, because there is something lacking.  We lack a God we could know and worship our own way.  You, Excellency, are our father here as well, because you are the father of the Church of Rus, even though we are from Western Rus and not from your diocese.  We therefore ask you: Provide us with spiritual fathers and give us your blessing to build churches so we may have here, all that is sacred in Rus. In his reply, Metropolitan Sembratovich mentioned his visit to Lemko Land where he learned about those who went to work in America.  He urged them to keep their Ukrainian religious rite and their church, and promised to provide for their needs.

News that a priest was coming spread among the immigrants in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania.  They sent volunteers all over to solicit funds for his passage.  The pastors of the Polish churches, where the Ukrainians attended and paid dues, were incensed.  They spread rumors that a Greek Catholic priest could not come to the United States because Rome would not allow it; even the United States government would not permit a married Eastern rite priest to come to America!

These rumors had some effect because many withheld their donations to this cause with the comment ". . . nothing will come of it anyway."  Matters were clarified, however, with the arrival of Father Ivan (John) Wolansky, who came to America with his wife at the beginning of December, 1884.  After a brief stop over in Jersey City, New Jersey, he came to Shenandoah, Pennsylvania on December 10, 1884, where he was greeted with tears and jubilation. 

How did Father Wolansky picture his role in America?   The answer to this question is found in the statement he made in response to an inaccurate report that appeared in the American newspaper in Shenandoah.  The newspaper carried the notice ". . . he is not under the jurisdiction of the local church hierarchy in America or elsewhere, but is ever subject to the Pope because of the Metropolitan of L'viv whose brother, Archbishop Joseph Sembratovich, represented the church in Rome."

Father Wolansky stated that the Metropolitan gave him no orders, simply because he did not think any Roman Catholic authority would think of exercising jurisdiction over a priest of another rite. ". . . Since no mention was made of my being subject to the local Roman Catholic Church authority, the Greek Catholic Archbishop suggested that I notify the local Roman Catholic bishop in person or in writing about my mission and ask his help and counsel for my work.

Metropolitan Sembratovich further suggested that he meet the local Catholic clergy and maintain harmonious relations between the two branches of the same Church.  Pursuing the directives of Metropolitan Sembratovich, Father Wolansky went to Philadelphia, four days after his arrival, to meet the local archbishop, Patrick Ryan.  Father Walsh, the Vicar General of the archdiocese, received him. After reading in Metropolitan Sembratovich's introductory letter that he was a married priest, he terminated the conversation.  This pioneer priest, thinking this to be a simple misunderstanding, went to Max Shamberg, the Austrian consul in Philadelphia and requested a letter of recommendation.  With this letter in hand he again went to the archdiocese where the chancellor, Father Ignatius Horstman, later Bishop of Cleveland, told him he could not receive him as a Catholic priest because he was married.  He refused the Austrian consul's letter and did not let Father Wolansky see Archbishop Ryan.

Nevertheless, we expect this misunderstanding to be settled as soon as the approval, which our hierarchy has been trying to obtain, comes from Rome."

Unfortunately, no approval came from Rome, but Father Wolansky, known in Shenandoah as the "honky priest," "Hungarian priest," "Greek priest," and "Russian priest," patiently bore all kinds of abuse and derision.  He bore no grudge against the archbishop or chancellor.  He stated, ". . . from their point of view they had their reasons.  Perhaps if I were in the same situation, I would not have acted differently.  They were not familiar with the Greek (Eastern) Catholic rite.  Fearing competition from me, the Polish Latin (Roman, Western) Catholic rite priests gave an unfavorable impression about me.  It is not surprising. The church authorities were aware of the restless situation in the Polish parishes in the United States and did not want this repeated in the early development of the Ukrainian Church.  The principal accusation against the Greek Catholic Church was that the first priest to come is a married man."

The decree also required that the priests be celibate and that married priests be recalled.

The Greek Catholic bishops in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were notified of these decisions as is evident in the letter of May 10, 1892 from Cardinal Miecyslav Ledochovski, Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, to Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, Md.

The decree "Orientalium Dignitas" of Pope Leo XIII, November 30, 1894, dealt with the same subject, namely, the subordination of Eastern rite Catholics to Latin rite authority, while they observed their own rite.9

Laboring tirelessly for his people despite many obstacles and unpleasantness, Father Wolansky caught the attention of the American press.  The following was written about him In the Shenandoah Herald (May 30, 1887):

"A foreigner in a strange land without the support of anyone or anything but his indomitable will, intelligence and decisiveness, he started putting together the many fragments of his Church in the hard coal region and tried to provide his faithful with their own means of worshipping God in their own faith, and according to their own rites and rituals."

After his arrival in Shenandoah, the first task of the pioneer priest was to find a place to celebrate the Liturgy.  The Polish, German and Irish pastors turned him down so he rented Kern Hall in Shenandoah, and on Wednesday, December 18, 1884, on the second floor of this building, celebrated the first Vesper service.  In the corridor he built a temporary altar, a simple decorated table, and kept it separate from the laity by a partition with three openings.  There on December 22, 1884, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first Ukrainian Liturgy was celebrated on the North American continent.

At this meeting, the Brotherhood of Saint Nicholas, the first Ukrainian organization in America, was founded.

Yet they did so before Lenarkevich (pastor of the Polish Church), who threatened to expel any person from the church who dared to take part in the blessing of the foundation of the new church."10

Work on the building of the church progressed, and it seemed that by the end of the year, the Ukrainian community could use it, but an unforeseen problem arose.  Because of negligence on the part of the contractor, the roof caved in and it was necessary to rebuild it again.  The church was completed in the autumn of 1886.  Shortly before this, in the American newspaper he published, Father Wolansky wrote "With God's help, construction is almost finished.  The Divine Liturgy has been offered in the new church now for eight months.  Recently, three bells were acquired for the church.  They were blessed and given the names: Sylvester, John and Julian."11

And so the need arose to find a place to bury them, and the Roman Catholic Church authorities forbade their burial in their cemeteries.

With the cooperation of his parishioners, Father Wolansky bought a small parcel of land which was quickly filled with graves because the Ukrainian people brought their deceased to Shenandoah from other, often distant places.  In 1905, the Ukrainian parish in Shenandoah bought four acres of land for a new cemetery for $438.00.  Only a cross from that cemetery remains with the inscription "Rusyns of the Greek Catholic Faith, buried between 1885 and 1889 lie in repose here.  May they rest with God. Everlasting be their memory."12

Ukrainian immigrants flocked to him from other places in the anthracite region, even from different states.

The Shenandoah Herald wrote: "Father Wolansky probably has the largest parish in the United States because 'people from Baltimore, New York and other areas come to Shenandoah to be married.'13   One has to admire his energy, determination and dedication in ministering to the faithful of his Church all over the expanse of America."  "Father Wolansky as a worker is without peer.  He put his soul in his work so wholeheartedly that he rarely permitted himself to rest.  If life and his health withstand the test, his religious stature as that of his Church will reach great heights and will be established in a decade or two, and then he can harvest the honors he so richly deserves."14

Once again Father Wolansky was left alone.

In the fall of 1888 he sent Simenovich to Galicia to find priests, managers for cooperatives, and a typesetter for the print shop, men and women singers for choirs and theatrical groups, and people who could conduct meetings and public assemblies.  In L'viv, Simenovich had discussions with Ivan Franko and Mykola Pavlyk; in Bolechiv, he visited Natalia Kobrynska.  Fifteen priests volunteered.  He selected from among them, Father Constantine Adrukhovych, a celibate priest, and assistant in Khimchyn near Kosiv.

All the documents of incorporation of this first fraternal organization describe the objectives of these brotherhoods: ". . . to maintain a fund to be used in case of illness or death of its members."

Other cities which Father Wolansky visited followed the tone set by Shenandoah and inspired the settlers to organize brotherhoods and churches.  In a short time, brotherhoods were organized in Olyphant, Freeland, Hazelton, Kingston, Shamokin, Mayfield, Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre, Plymouth and Jersey City.

The brotherhoods in Wilkes-Barre, Mayfield and Plymouth became Russian Orthodox, but the brotherhoods in Shenandoah, Shamokin, Olyphant, Jersey City, Pittsburgh and Hazelton (also McAdoo) remained Ukrainian.

These brotherhoods established churches.  The church building committee in Shamokin was organized in 1886.  John Glowa, who later became treasurer of the Ukrainian National Association, was responsible for raising funds.  In 1888 Father Wolansky blessed the cornerstone of the Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, and Father Constantine Andrukhovych blessed the church.  The first pastor was Father Theophan Obushkevych (1840-1924).  He was a Muscophile.  From 1893 to 1918, the church was administered by Father John Konstankevych.

Among the outstanding priests who worked in this city, there were Father Nicholas Strutynsky, Father Michael Guryansky (1920-1935), the builder of St. John the Baptist Church in Detroit, and Father John Ortynsky (1935-1948).  From 1951 to 2008, the pastor of SS Cyril & Methodius Church in Olyphant was Monsignor Stephen Hrynuck .  Fr. Nestor Iwasiw became the current pastor in 2009.

The priest who was longest pastor of SS Peter and Paul Church in Jersey City was Father Volodymyr Lotovych (1925-1955).

Father Wolansky founded the St. Michael Brotherhood (1888) in Pittsburgh, and it became the nucleus of St. John the Baptist parish which was founded in 1890 on the south side of the city. At first, Father Theophan Obushkevych attended there from Shenandoah. The first permanent pastor was Father Gabriel Wyslocky. After he left in 1891, the church was administered by Father Ambrose Polansky, a Muscophile, who stayed there until 1895. Father Nicholas Stefanovich served as pastor from 1870-1911.

In 1887, Father Wolansky organized the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit in Hazelton. On December 8, 1888, he purchased a parcel of land there, and in the early part of the year of 1889, built a chapel. A short while later the vitality of the Brotherhood of Saint Vladimir waned, but an influx of new members from Honey Brook reactivated it in McAdoo. A Ukrainian Church was formed in 1891, and the first pastor was Father Constantine Andrukhovych. Father Bohdan Lewycky has been the pastor since July of 1966.

Some of the churches Father Wolansky organized now belong to the Carpatho-Rusyn Diocese (Kingston, Freeland, Wilkes-Barre, Hazelton). There will be no discussion about them here. However, mention will be made of the Protection of Our Lady Church in Minneapolis. It was founded and blessed by Father Wolansky in the spring of 1889. By the end of the same year, Father Alexius Toth of the Presov diocese became administrator of the church. Father Toth presented himself to Bishop John Ireland, Archbishop of Minneapolis and Saint Paul as Father Wolansky did five years earlier. When he discovered that Father Toth was a widower, he threw the papers on the table and shouted: "I've already sent a protest to Rome not to send me such priests because I do not consider you or that bishop (Ivan Valia, the Greek Catholic Bishop of Presov) Catholic. Besides, I don't need Greek Catholic priests here. Its enough having a Polish priest in Minneapolis. He can be the priest for the Greek Catholics."15

Archbishop Ireland forbade his priests to associate with Father Toth and ordered the announcement to be made in church that no one was to receive the Holy Sacraments from him or attend his Liturgy. These events bore tragic consequences for the Ukrainian Church in the years that followed.

Father Wolansky did not confine himself to founding brotherhoods and churches. As a good organizer he cared also about the cultural and economic development of the communities. At his initiative, the first choir, first reading room, first theatrical group and first orchestra were organized in Shenandoah.

To educate the immigrants and promote unity, he began publishing the newspaper, America. He became acquainted with the mechanics of printing at the Shenandoah Herald facilities. After he acquired a typesetter from L'viv, the first edition of the paper was published on August 15, 1886 with the help of his wife and his cantor, Gregory Dolny from Nastasiw (near Ternopil). At first it was a biweekly but a year later it was published weekly. In March 1887, Volodymyr Simenovich arrived and became editor. In an endeavor to raise the level of the newspaper, Father Wolansky invited Ivan Franko to come to Shenandoah, while Simenovich in L'viv asked M. Pavlyk, and through him, M. Drahomaniv, to send him materials for publication.

To foster economic life, Father Wolansky founded cooperative shops in Shenandoah, Shamokin, Plymouth and Olyphant. Income from these shops was designated for the spiritual development of the community. Thus, schools, choirs, orchestras and drama troupes were established in the various places where Ukrainians settled. There were performances featuring actors of other nationalities, notably French and Lithuanian. They were popularly accepted by Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian audiences. Choirs and orchestras took part not only in concerts, but also participated in parades commemorating various American national holidays, as well as Ukrainian ones, especially the blessing of new Ukrainian churches.

Father Wolansky Returns to Galicia. — Father Wolansky's accomplishments during his mission in the United States were manifold. He earned the love and respect of his own people and those outside the Ukrainian community. It appears that the whole history of the Ukrainian Church and immigration would have taken different directions if Father Wolansky did not have to return to Galicia because he was a married priest. At that time, few could have predicted the dire consequences his departure would cause for the development of Ukrainian communities. He was forced to return because of the pressure American Latin rite bishops exerted on the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which decided that only unmarried priests or widowers without their children could come to the United States for missionary work.

A few decrees were already mentioned earlier, but the Congregation's decree of May 1, 1887 authorized American bishops to approve only unmarried priests and those who were deserving of approval. If these two conditions were not met, the bishops then had the right to send Latin rite priests to minister to the Ukrainian people within their own diocese. Father Pospishil maintains that such a rule was wholly unrealistic, because in the Byzantine rite diocese to which Ukrainian immigrants belonged, there were no monks, and some of the unmarried priests, it was hoped, would assume positions of leadership as bishops, seminary professors, department deans, etc.16  In any event, the various directives of the Congregation compelled Father Wolansky to leave America. Before he left he went to the District Court in Luzerne County in Wilkes-Barre to arrange for legal transfer of authority to his assistant, Father Constantine Andrukhovych. This was done on June 1, 1889 and Father Wolansky told his parishioners in Shenandoah about the matter. At the same time he also committed the responsibility of the church treasury to Father Andrukhovych. After settling other matters, he left for Europe in the first part of June 1889.

The departure of Father Wolansky was a terrible blow to the entire Ukrainian immigration. In Shenandoah, conditions became chaotic and the faithful began sending complaints to Metropolitan Sembratovich against Father Andrukhovych, accusing him of "irregularities in church finances because he did not properly administer the money collected."17  In response to these complaints, the Metropolitan again sent Father Wolansky to America to settle the problems. He arrived in Shenandoah on February 20, 1890. The meeting between Father Wolansky and Father Andrukhovych, and what transpired between them regarding the state of that parish, are a sad page in the history of the Ukrainian immigration. Suffice it to say, Father Andrukhovych did not allow Father Wolansky to celebrate the Liturgy in the church that he built, so he celebrated in rented buildings. He then revoked the authority he previously vested to Father Andrukhovych, but the priest refused to surrender the parish. This occurred on July 17, 1890, the very day that Father Theophan Obushkevych, the priest authorized by Metropolitan Sembratovich to take over the parish, arrived in Shenandoah. The matter had to be resolved by the District Court of Schuylkill County at considerable cost to the Ukrainian parish in Shenandoah.

Father Wolansky, understandably, was discouraged and again returned to Galicia. Father Obushkevych went to Shamokin. Father Andrukhovych was suspended by Metropolitan Sembratovich and by Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia, but he vowed not to leave the parish until he was paid $1,900.00 in damages. After receiving the money, he put the church up for sale and it was bought by John Smith of Mahanoy City. The parish then had to repurchase it from Smith. Father Andrukhovych left Shenandoah March 20, 1892 and went to McAdoo. He too then returned to Galicia. The Shenandoah Church treasury was burdened with a debt of $10,000.00 less the penny cash that was found by a man sweeping the church floor.

The unfavorable decrees of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, and the recall of Father Wolansky affected the relationships between the church and the people. It was clear that as long as the faithful were without their own bishop, they would completely disappear. For this reason, on October 28, 1890 in Wilkes-Barre, ten Greek Catholic priests, most of them Transcarpathians, convoked a "Conference of Greek Catholic Priests." During the conference, Father Alexius Toth suggested that a request be sent to Rome for the appointment of a bishop who would understand the customs and language of the people, exercise direct control over church properties, and represent the priests. The participants failed to agree on this matter and the conference ended without success. At this point, Father Toth converted to Russian Orthodoxy. The married Transylvania clergy refused to leave the United States as Father Wolansky did. These priests jumped from parish to parish to avoid jurisdiction of Latin bishops. Restoration of order in the Ukrainian churches would be a difficult task.

The Russian Orthodox Mission. — Taking these circumstances under consideration, there is little wonder that the Russian Orthodox mission involved itself in the affairs of the Ukrainian Church. Its undermining activity intensified when Father Toth joined them. With his cooperation, Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky, bishop of the Aleut diocese, who resided in San Francisco, California, came to Minneapolis on March 21, 1891. Father Toth was able to attract 304 local Greek Catholics to Russian Orthodoxy. He was the first pastor of the church established by Father Wolansky in Minneapolis and it went Orthodox. Father Toth was paid an annual salary of 800 rubles in gold. Bishop Sokolovsky encouraged him to proselytize Greek Catholic priests throughout America for Russian Orthodoxy. With this in mind, Father Toth came to Wilkes-Barre in 1893 and began an intense effort at "converting" the Ukrainian people. As a result, thousands of the faithful fell under the jurisdiction of the Russian bishop. The same happened with several other Greek Catholic priests (H. Hrushka, J. Volkay, M. Balog, A. Dzubay, I. Obushkevych and others). Some eventually returned to their own maternal church, but the trust of the people was badly undercut.

The work of the Russian Orthodox Mission was made easier because the Greek Catholic priests from Galicia and Transcarpathia were in disagreement. There were Muscophiles among the Galicians while the Transcarpathians favored the Magyars and deemed themselves such. There were, nevertheless, several clear thinking clergy but they were too few to take a stand against Muscophilism, against the increased activities of the Russian Orthodox Mission, and against Magyarophilism which was supported by the Hungarian government. The anti-Ukrainianism of the Greek Catholic Magyarophile priests was clearly evident at the forum of the brotherhood known as "Soyedyneniye Hreko Kat, Ruskykh Bratstv Severnoy Ameryky" (Union of Greek Catholic Russian Brotherhoods of North America), which was convoked by them and the Galicians on February 14, 1892.

Relations in this organization between the priests from Galicia and those Magyarophiles from Transcarpathia was marked by disagreements from the very outset. Father Nestor Dmytriw wrote that their clerical absolutionism and Magyarism alienated the Galician priests. That is why at the convention of the "Soyedyneniye" in Scranton in the year 1893, Father John Konstankevich strongly criticized the governing body of the Union, and without mincing words, declared that there was no place in that fraternal association for Galician Ukrainians.18  This led to establishment of the Ruthenian (now Ukrainian) National Association (UNA) in Shamokin on February 22, 1894.

Efforts to Obtain a Bishop for Ukrainian Catholics. — In October 1890, action to secure a native bishop was initiated at a conference of Greek Catholic priests in Wilkes-Barre. Then on September 5, 1893 a committee of priests met in Olyphant and sent a petition in this regard to the Apostolic See. At the same time the "Soyedyneniye", at its fourth convention, prepared a memorandum for the Austrian government with a complaint about Latin bishops, and a plea for aid to Greek Catholics in America for establishing an Apostolic Vicarate. These petitions to Rome bore no priest so the priests themselves began handling the affairs of the Ukrainian Church in America. In July 1899, twenty eight priests met in Philadelphia and founded the "Association of Greek Catholic Priests." Two years later, on May 30, 1901, at a meeting of priests in Shamokin, the "Association of Church Communities in the United States and Canada" was established. It was made up of an executive committee (three priests and three laymen), a Spiritual Directorate of six priests and an Educational and Publication-Statistics Commission. The "Spiritual Council" would care for mission stations and appoint priests to parishes. On March 26, 1902 in Harrisburg, this group evoked a convention of priests and delegates from church communities to deliberate on the relationship of the Ukrainian community in America, and with Latin bishops and the Vatican. Those who attended moved that Ukrainian priests were not subject to the Latin bishops, that authority over churches should be turned over to curators, and that the Vatican was to appoint as bishop the candidate nominated by the priests and the faithful. At a subsequent meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, the committee moved to hold a Church Congress in Brooklyn, New York in 1905. The Vatican, however, disallowed this and thus all the efforts of the participants were without success. Their attempts to secure their own bishop were checked because they chose an unlawful path.

Metropolitan Sheptitsky was aware of the condition of the Ukrainian Church in America and its need for a bishop. He began laying the ground work for the establishment of a Ukrainian episcopate in America. Neither was this without problems, for in the Catholic Church there was a legal tradition from the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) in accordance with which there could not be two bishops for the same territory. Thus all Catholics residing in a particular region were subject to a single bishop. The church law, however, made the provision that Eastern rite faithful living in an area where the majority of the people were Latin rite (or vice versa) were to have Vicar Generals who were to be subject to the bishop of the majority of that region. The creation of a Slav rite episcopate in the United States would upset this time honored tradition. Besides, Latin bishops in America strongly objected to this with the argument that it challenged their rights and undermined their authority.19

This position further intensified the disagreement between them and the Greek Catholic priests. The situation would have continued for many years if it were not for the success of Metropolitan Sheptitsky in convincing Cardinal Gotti, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Cardinal Morri del Vaglia, Secretary of State, and Pope Pius X, that the creation of an episcopate for Greek Catholics in the United States was imperative.

The Hungarian government learned of these endeavors by our Hierarch and was disturbed that its subjects, the Transcarpathian Rusyns in America, would fall under Muscophile and Ukrainian influence and this spirit would spread to Transcarpathia. In 1902, the Vatican named Father Andrew Hodobay, a canon from Presov, as Apostolic Visitator for Greek Catholics in America. The Hungarians expected him to later be elevated to the episcopacy.

After arriving in America, Father Hodobay quickly mastered the English language and established ties with Latin bishops and hurried to gain their friendship. However, as a Magyar appointee, he turned the Galician priests against himself. Even some clergy from the Mukachiv diocese broke ranks with him. In 1906, the Vatican recalled Father Hodobay. Metropolitan Sheptitsky then proposed Father Soter Ortynsky as a bishop for the Ukrainian immigrants in America, and on March 26, 1907, Rome approved his candidacy.

Arrival of Bishop Ortynsky in America. — Bishop Ortynsky was consecrated on May 13, 1907 in L'viv, and on August 27 of that year, he came to Hoboken, New Jersey, where a committee of three priests greeted him: Fathers Joseph Chaplinsky, Cornelius Lawrisin, and Gabriel Chopey (the latter two were Hungarian). All the priests from Galicia and Transcarpathia also were there. After Moleben (prayer services) in St. George's Church in New York, the clergy paid reverence (homagium) to Bishop Ortynsky. That evening a banquet was held in his honor at the Nederland Hotel on Fifth Avenue. The reception of the new bishop was cordial at first but not without unpleasant moments, especially during the dinner when John Gugash, representing the "Soyedyneniye" remarked: "Excellency! If you hold with us we will hold with you. If you listen to us, everything will go well for you."20  After the meal, Fathers C. Lawrisin and G. Chopey came with a gift of love for the bishop who was supposed to have said to them, "I am a better Rusyn than you are."21 Offended by this, the two Magyarophile priests from Transcarpathia began agitating against the him.

From the very outset, Bishop Ortynsky's work was complicated by the Papal Bull "Ea Semper" which established not a diocese, but an episcopate, and directed the bishop to seek jurisdiction from Latin bishops on the territory where Ukrainian immigrants lived. Under such circumstances, he could not organize the clergy and establish order among the faithful of the church.

When the priests from Galicia and Transcarpathia learned of Bishop Ortynsky's limited powers, a group of clergy from Transcarpathia, at the Synod held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania October 15-16, 1907, stood in opposition to the Papal Bull. When they again met in Wilkes-Barre on December 19, they prepared a proposal to the Apostolic Delegate to rescind it.22

What began as opposition to the Papal Bull soon turned into a personal attack against the bishop by the Magyarophile Soyedyneniye and Paul Zhatkovych, editor of Vestnik, a publication of this organization. Authors of the attack called him a "Ukrainian threat" and questioned his intellectual abilities. When he insisted on wresting control of the churches from the curators and signing the churches over to the bishop, they advised the membership of Soyedyneniye and the readers of Vestnik not to obey him, and stop paying the annual five percent diocesan dues. This was because the bishop was Ukrainian. The result of this was that in 1909, ten thousand Ukrainians from Galicia and Transcarpathia went over to Russian Orthodoxy.23

In the autumn of 1901, the Supreme Director of Soyedyneniye demanded that the Bishop for Greek Catholics in America be a clergyman from Transcarpathia. On November 30, 1910, fifty-six priests from Transcarpathia came to Philadelphia to meet with Metropolitan Sheptitsky. During their meeting with him they accused Bishop Ortynsky of favoring Galician priests, who were in the minority, and of influencing the Apostolic See to recall many "Hungarian" priests from America. The metropolitan told the delegates that their accusations were false and based on the desire to break with church discipline. In one interview, the metropolitan stated that all of Bishop Ortynsky's actions were "regulated by the laws of the church and that he was responsible to the Pope and his delegate in Washington. His actions were studied and approved unconditionally."24

Preparations for continuing the fight against Bishop Ortynsky were made at a meeting of Transcarpathian priests in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on November 5, 1908. At a meeting in Scranton, Pennsylvania on August 30, 1911 they moved to join a coalition of laymen. Forty-four Transcarpathian priests made plans to hinder the work of the bishop. At this time, the bishop suspended all of them.

Bishop Ortynsky's circumstances changed on May 28, 1912. The Vatican accorded him full jurisdiction and freed our church from the jurisdiction of Latin bishops in America. It created an exarchate with the stipulation that it would be responsible to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, DC. Details were explained in the decree of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, "Cum Episcopo," of October 17, 1914. It was binding for ten years. This decree consisted of four chapters and thirty-four articles, but its central theme dealt with the rights of the bishop, clergy, faithful and intermarriage between people of mixed rites. The bishop was under the direct jurisdiction of the Apostolic See through its delegate in Washington, DC, and he was to care for the purity of the rite and keep discipline in the church. He was to bring uniformity in the celebration of liturgies and the administration of the Holy Sacraments, and make frequent visits to the missions.

The bishop was to train his priests in a seminary of their own or in other schools in or outside America. He could seek priests from Transcarpathia or Galicia through the Sacred Congregation. Priests could not travel to Europe or be recalled without approval of the bishop. The faithful were to attend their own churches, support them and observe the rules of their rite. Where there was no church of their own, they could attend churches of other rites. The fourth chapter stated that children of mixed marriages were to be baptized in the rite of the father. When a new born child was in danger of death, or was born in a place where there was no Ukrainian priest, a priest of another rite could baptize it, but the child would still belong to the father's rite.25

Informing the faithful about the new status of his church in America, Bishop Ortynsky called to liberate the Ukrainian people from harmful foreign influences. In response to his appeal, forty-four suspended priests apologized to him, and he again accepted them into the diocese. The Chancellor of the bishop's chancery was a Transcarpathian. In November of 1913, Bishop Ortynsky named a Vicar General and three canons from among the Transcarpathian priests. He also honored three Galician priests with the title "Canon." All these endeavors were part of the bishop's plan to bring the Galicians and Transcarpathians closer together. On May 18, 1914, he attended the convention of the Soyedyneniye and succeeded in deleting from their statutes, the paragraph stipulating that "neither Ukrainians nor anarchists" could be members.26 But the hope for achieving total harmony between Ukrainians and Ruthenians (Transcarpathians) was not realized because Vestnik, the official publication of the Soyedyneniye did not cease attacking him and those priests who cooperated with him (Fathers John Hanulya, Valentine Gerzo and others).

Bishop Ortynsky's Activities. — Notwithstanding the unfavorable circumstances, Bishop Ortynsky accomplished a great deal for the Ukrainian Church. First of all, he purchased a Methodist Church on Franklin Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and made it a cathedral, which was blessed in 1910 by Metropolitan Sheptitsky. At a general meeting on September 15, 1909, regarding in-school and out-of-school education, he founded the Prosvita Association, became its head and allocated a separate building for it in Philadelphia. He brought the Basilian Sisters from Galicia. They in turn established a parochial school in 1911, and in 1913, assumed management of the orphanage organized by the bishop. The orphanage became a home for 131 orphans. The bishop opened a vestment department at the orphanage, also, a print shop, a bookstore, and a carpet shop. He also bought a summer estate-farm in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland for children between the ages of two and six, and for sick orphans. Part of his work in educating the faithful of our church was the publication of periodicals like "Eparchy News," "Pastor of Souls," and "The Missionary." On August 29, 1912, in Philadelphia, he founded the newspaper "America" which originally appeared in 1914 in New Britain, Connecticut, and was edited by Father Alexander Pawliak. It is still published in Philadelphia today.

To stop widespread alcoholism among our immigrants, the bishop established a "Diocesan Brotherhood of Sobriety." He paid special attention to new priests. In Yorkston, Virginia, he purchased 122 acres of land for a future seminary. On June 27, 1910, Metropolitan Sheptitsky blessed the cornerstone. Later, Bishop Ortynsky changed plans and sent candidates for priesthood to Catholic University in Washington, DC. The purchased land was to be used for disabled priests, as a summer estate for students, and for a trade school.

As already indicated, the period of Bishop Ortynsky's work was far from placid. The attacks by Soyedyneniye, the undermining activities of the Russian Orthodox mission, and at times, the discord among intellectuals in the Ukrainian community, did much to hobble his work. Generally, the UNA found him very acceptable. He was supported by the UNA. The newspaper Svoboda defended him against attacks by the Magyarophile Vestnik and the Russian press.

At its convention in 1908, in Philadelphia, the UNA nominated him an honorary member and patron of its organization. Sad to say, misunderstandings arose because the UNA was a secular national organization whose members were Catholics, Orthodox, and non-denominational. A Catholic bishop could not be patron of an institution which included non-Catholics. It would be necessary, therefore, to change the By-Laws and limit membership in this organization to Catholics. At the UNA convention in 1910, in Cleveland, Bishop Ortynsky headed the By-Laws commission and requested that the name of the organization be changed from "Rus National Association" to the "Greek Catholic Rus Association," that the association be subordinated to church authorities, that membership be limited to Greek Catholics, and that the Easter duty be fulfilled. Obviously, the bishop's primary goal was to keep our immigrants in the Greek Catholic Church. Non-Catholic members of the association at the time remained beyond the focus of his attention. But all these positions turned the Cleveland convention into an arena of sharp conflict and argument which ultimately led to a split. A group of delegates at the convention formed a committee to protest the resolutions of the convention and began collecting funds to legally void changes in the by-Laws of the UNA which had been accepted according to the wishes of Bishop Ortynsky. In the fall of 1910, Ukrainians from Scranton met in that city and elected a so-called "Preparations Committee" which immediately got in touch with the Cleveland committee. Together, these two groups called a meeting in Scranton for October 25-26, 1910 during which a new organization was founded, the "Rus National Association," presently known as the Ukrainian Fraternal Association (UFA, formerly Ukrainian Workingman's Association, UWA).

When it became evident that the changes in the by-Laws of the UNA that were introduced a the Cleveland convention were illegal, Bishop Ortynsky left this organization and in 1911 organized "Christian Love," an association of Rus Greek Catholic brotherhoods in America. Presently it is the association of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States known as the "Providence Association." Today, we see that this new organization attained its goals with its publications, and with the efforts of individual branches, it served to strengthen Catholic spirituality among Ukrainian immigrants.

When World War I broke out in Europe, Bishop Ortynsky began a grand fund raising campaign to aid the widows, orphans, and starving people in Ukraine. He sent warm clothing to the priests and intellectuals who were exiled in Siberia by the Tsarist government. He strongly believed that as long as war was raging in the native land, Ukrainians in America should represent the Ukrainian nation before the outside world. This was why on December 8, 1914, he invited representatives from all parishes to Philadelphia to a national convention at which the "Rus National Council" was founded. This led to misunderstandings with the UNA, whose leaders suspected him of establishing a clerical organization to provide leadership for our immigrants. The UNA considered itself the spokesman for the immigrants.

During the war years, Bishop Ortynsky asked the Pope to provide material assistance for the needy in Galicia and to support Ukrainian aspirations during peace negotiations after the war. He appealed to the Austro-Hungarian government to grant Ukrainians in Austrian administered territories the same freedoms and rights that the Poles enjoyed. From the German Kaiser, he sought assurances that our countrymen would have national freedom in the land captured from Russia. Regarding the release of Metropolitan Sheptitsky, he wrote a letter to the Tsar and the American government.

During the short span of his stay in America, Bishop Ortynsky performed great work in various aspects of Ukrainian community life. Along with the accomplishments mentioned, his special achievement was slowing the work of agitation by the Russian Orthodox mission, and he contributed immensely to the steady growth of the Ukrainian Church. During his episcopacy, the churches grew in numbers from 140 in 1901 to 296 in 1916. The handful of priests in 1909 increased to 220 in 1916. The faithful numbered a half million. He provided people with everything that was expected of him. His untimely death on March 24, 1916 caused great sorrow in all circles, even among those that condemned him and cast stones at him.

The Ukrainian Church After the Death of Bishop Ortynsky. — In order to avoid further conflicts between the Transcarpathian Rusyns and the Ukrainians, the Holy See, after the death of Bishop Ortynsky, decided to appoint separate administrators for each branch of the Greek Catholic Church. They were: Father Gabriel Martyak for the Transcarpathian Rusyns and Father Peter Poniatishin for the Ukrainians. Although the rights of Father Poniatishin were very limited, he did much in the struggle with the Russian Orthodox mission which once again increased its activities after the death of Bishop Ortynsky. With the so called vykroplenci (pseudo priests), cantors (actually assistant cantors), who were ordained overnight by the Transcarpathian priests, Father Stephen Dzubay, former Vicar General of Bishop Ortynsky, went over to Russian Orthodoxy and became a bishop and sent his pseudo priests to Ukrainian parishes where they began working as cantors and stirred up the faithful against the priests, hoping to take over their places.

Father Poniatishin intervened in the matter of releasing Metropolitan Sheptitsky from exile and headed the "Ukrainian National Committee" which worked at political action and got a "Ukrainian Day" designated in Washington, DC on April 21, 1917. He sent a delegation of American Ukrainians to the Peace Conference in Paris and remained administrator of the Ukrainian Church until September 1924.

On May 8, 1924, Pope Pius XI, in his Papal Bull, appointed Constantine Bohachevsky, the bishop for Ukrainians, and Basil Takach for the Transcarpathian Ruthenians. The work for the new bishop and his successors does not fall into the limitations of this report so we confine ourselves to touching only the highlights.

In 1956, a new exarchate was established in Stamford, Connecticut and together with the Philadelphia exarchate became part of the newly formed Metropolitan Province with its see in Philadelphia (August 12, 1958). The first metropolitan of our church was Bishop Constantine Bohachevsky. After he died in January 1961, his position was filled by Bishop Ambrose Senyshyn (1965-75). He was succeeded by Bishop Joseph Schmondiuk (1976-78) and by Archbishop Myroslav Lubachivsky.  On March 31, 1981, Archbishop Stephen Sulyk assumed the metropolitanate. Auxiliary bishops in the Philadelphia eparchy were Bishops Ambrose Senyshyn, Joseph Schmondiuk, Basil Losten, John Stock (d. 1972) and Robert Michael Moskal. The diocese of Stamford, which became an eparchy in 1958, was headed by Bishop Ambrose Senyshyn (1956-61). He subsequently went to Philadelphia. He was succeeded by Bishop Joseph Schmondiuk (1961-76) and by Basil Losten (from 1977). In 1961 a Ukrainian Diocese was established in Chicago. Its first bishop was Monsignor Jaroslav Gabro (1961-80). After his untimely death, Bishop Innocent Lotocky took over the diocese on April 2, 1981. In 1982, the Apostolic See made Bishop Robert Michael Moskal an assistant bishop in Philadelphia. A year later he became the ordinary of the newly established eparchy of Parma, Ohio.26

In 1984, the Ukrainian Catholic Church in America celebrated its centennial. Its path was often thorny. Numerous were the times when it seemed that it could not withstand the pressure from its enemies and would be totally assimilated. Its faithful endured ridicule, abuse and much suffering. Conceivably this was necessary to make the church survive and grow, and the faithful realize they are privileged to be her spiritual children. During all those turbulent years in the history of the church there were many good servants; bishops and hundreds of dedicated priests. Owing to them and the extraordinary sacrifices of pioneers, a great tree developed from the single seed sowed over 100 years earlier by Father Wolansky in Shenandoah. It has hundreds of branches — churches of which we are beneficiaries today. Who would have thought that long ago, that the Ukrainian Church in America, which was established in such humble circumstances, would become with its sister churches in other countries beyond the bounds of the native land, a temporary custodian of the catacomb martyr church in Ukraine?   Hence, all of us in the Diaspora have taken on the serious responsibility not only of preserving the beautiful rite and traditions of the Church, but also to strengthen and foster them.



1. Svoboda No. 21 (1904) and Commemorative Book published on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Ukrainian National Association (1936), p. 10.
2. New York Times (February 13, 1888), p. 2, col. 1.
3. Sokhocky, Isadore, "The Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite" in the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolia in the USA. Philadelphia (1959), p. 200.
4. "The Church Status; Rev. Father Wolansky of the Greek Church Makes a Statement." Shenandoah Herald (June 4, 1887), p.4
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Sokhocky, op. cit. p. 206-207.
8. American Ecclesiastical Review, 7 (July 1892), pp. 66-67.
9. Pospishil, Victor J., Interritual Canon Law Problems in the United States and Canada. Chesapeake City, Md. (1955). p. 19.
10. Constance J. Tarasar. Orthodox America, 1894-1976; Development of the Orthodox Church in America. Syosset, New York (1975), p. 45.
11. "Sylvester" -- namely, Metropolitan Sylvester Sembratovich; "John" -- namely, Ivan Stupnycky, Bishop of Presov; "Julian" -- namely, Julian Pelesh, Bishop of Stanislaviw.
12. Jubilee Book of St. Michael's Church in Shenandoah (1959).
13. Shenandoah Herald (Monday, September 20, 1886) p. 1. Here it was noted that on Saturday, September 18, 1886, Father Wolansky married John Fedorko and Anna Ciundra from Jersey City, N.J., and on Sunday, September 19, Mykhailo Ciuryla and Maria Topoliak of Pottsville, Pa.
14. "A Noted Character; An American Priesthood of One Who He has accomplished.", Shenandoah Herald (May 30, 1887), p. 4.
15. "Prymernoe i muzhestvennoe vystuplenie otsa Aleksea Tovta na zaschytu pravoslavnykh i rusko-narodnych idelov." Russian-American Orthodox Cathedral for 1937, p. 142.
16. Victor J. Pospishil. "Compulsory Celibacy for the Eastern Catholics in the America. Diakonia. 2, nr. 2 (1976), p. 137.
17. Konstankevych -- "Istoria pershoy ruskoy tserkvy v Shenandoah, Pa.." in Persryj Rusko-Amerykanskiy Kalendar. Compiled by Nestor Dmytriw. Mt. Carmel, Pa. (1887), p. 138.
18. Dmytriw, Nestor, "Korotkyj nacherk istoriyi rozvoyu Ruskoho Narodnoho Soyuza na rik 1914" p. 86.
19. Sokhocky, Isadore, op. cit. p. 211.
20. Calendar of Providence Association for 1932, p. 119.
21. Ibid.
22. Amerykansky Ruskyj Vestnik, "Soyedyneniye Hreko-Kat. ruskykh bratstv Sivernoy Ameriky" (December 26, 1907, p. 1. Also: Walter C Earzeski, "The Rusin Community in Pennsylvania." Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, (1947) p. 135.
23. Stephen C. Gulovich. "Windows Westward; Rome, Russia, Reunion." New York: Decian & Mc Mullen (1947), p. 135.
24. "Priest's Charges Denied." Public Ledger. Philadelphia; (December 2, 1910), p. 2, col. 7. Also: Osyp Krawcheniuk, "Veleten Zo Sviato-Yurskoi Hory." Yorktown, Sask. (1953), p. 29.
25. Sokhocky, Isadore, op. cit., pp. 224-225.
26. Osyp Krawcheniuk. "Ukrainians in America." Jubilee Almanac of the Ukrainian Fraternal Association on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, 1910-1985.


Dr Osyp Krawczeniuk