By Father David Reilander
Two years-ago, I made my first mission trip to the Eparchy of New Westminster near Vancouver to visit Bishop Ken Nowakowski and get acquainted with the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which CMIC assists. I knew very little about our sister Church. Bishop Ken gave me a huge volume and asked me to read it, which I unfortunately did not. Then, I made a trip to Alberta and Saskatchewan for CWL Conventions in June of this year. Bishop Brian Bayda, Ukrainian Catholic Eparch of Saskatoon and the Vice-Chair of our Board of Governors, picked me up and drove me to Saskatoon. It’s a long drive that gave me a chance to catch-up on Ukrainian history in Canada. He described a unique history that focused on the stamina and commitment of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada. 2016 marked the 125th Anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada, while 2018 marks the 200th Anniversary of the Catholic Church in Western Canada. Ukrainians immigrated to Canada (known as Ruthenians) from Galicia and Bukovyna, in what is now the Ukraine. Most Roman Rite Catholics have little knowledge of our sister Church. Most often, we confuse Eastern or Oriental Rites with the Orthodox Church. Catholic Missions In Canada is a strong supporter of Ukrainian Eparchies in Western Canada and has been so since 1909. The Eparchies of Saskatoon and of New Westminster currently receive CMIC funding.
To understand this history, one must first realize that the Catholic Church has many different Rites (a rite represents an ecclesiastical tradition of celebrating sacraments). The Catechism lists seven rites: Latin, Byzantine, Alexandrian, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, and Chaldean. Roman Catholics are of the Latin Rite lead by Pope Francis. As Vicar of the universal Church, the Pope is shepherd of the rites of the West and the East. The Eastern Churches are administered by a separate code of canon law and are completely equal in dignity with the Church of the West. All of these eastern ritual churches come under the jurisdiction of the Pope through the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, one of the offices of the Roman Curia. The Rites are administered by either a Patriarch, a Major Archbishop, a Metropolitan, or have some other arrangement.
The largest of the Eastern Rites is the Byzantine, whose liturgy was developed by St. James for the Antiochaian church, but modified by St. Basil (329-379) and St. John Chrysostom (344- 407). This liturgy is similar, if not identical, to that used by the Orthodox churches. After the schism of 1054 between the churches in Rome and Constantinople, many particular churches remained separated from Rome, though some came back into union (Uniate) and are treated as separate Rites based on their particular location. The churches using the Byzantine liturgy include the Albanian, Belarussian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak, and Ukrainian. We know them for their distinctive churches with onion domes, icon writing and sung liturgies.
Canada is home to more than 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadians, the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine and Russia. This community, built over four waves of immigration dating back at least to 1891, began on the prairies. In Canada, Ukrainian churches are either “Greek Catholic” or “Greek Orthodox”. The parishes share a common history and what is variably called the Greek Rite, Byzantine Rite, or simply the Eastern Rite. The liturgy is practically identical and they share a common heritage in iconography and architecture.
Ukrainians started coming to Canada at the end of the nineteenth century, being halted by the outbreak of war in 1914. About 62% of this first wave located in the Prairie Provinces. There were many hurdles to be overcome, however. Fr. Burke and the Catholic Church Extension Society started advocating for the Ukrainian communities a year after its founding. Burke bought the Register and used it to great effect in bringing awareness to the plight of the Ruthenians. Not only did our founder write about the Ukrainian issue, he provided funds for the building of churches and used his influence to encourage Ukrainian bishops to send priests to Canada. He was even involved at the periphery of the first Ukrainian bishop, Nykyta Budka, being sent to Winnipeg. Michael Power went as far to say, “No other organization in the Canadian Church could match the zeal, the righteousness and the actions of Church Extension in its solicitude and unwavering support for Ukrainian Catholics.” Even in Pope Pius X Apostolic Brief constituting the Society, “commended the Society for its great success ‘in protecting the poor Catholic Ruthenians…’”
At that time, the presence of married priests was thought to be a threat to Roman celibacy, Latin bishops did not want to share jurisdiction with eastern bishops. Protestant and Orthodox churches were snapping up Ukrainian Catholics who felt they were getting a raw deal. The shortage of Ukrainian Catholic priests was initially dealt with when a number of French-speaking Roman Catholic priests transferred to the Greek Rite to minister to Ukrainian parishes, but they were trained in Canada in Roman Catholic seminaries. Under these influences, Roman Catholic pieties, such as the Stations of the Cross, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, etc. grew increasingly common in Greek Catholic churches. This period also saw an increase in statuary in Greek Catholic Churches, even though statues were uncommon in old-country Ukrainian churches. Previously, the three-bar Slavic cross was part of the heritage of Ukrainian Catholics, however it all but disappeared from their churches during the interwar period because it was perceived to be associated with Orthodoxy. Greek Catholic churches built during this period rarely, if ever, had an iconostas, since it seemed at the time to be inappropriate in a Catholic church.
By 1918, the second wave began. Ukrainian institutions of all sorts developed, since the interwar period saw many farmers with settled land. Greater numbers of Ukrainians in Canada were educated going into businesses other than agriculture. Originally illiterate peasants arriving at the end of the 19th century had children by the 1920s who became professionals.
After World War II, Canada saw the third wave of Ukrainian immigration. However, these new Ukrainian-Canadians were generally people displaced by the war, rather than people coming to Canada for its agricultural advantages. There were also a larger percentage of educated professionals (including priests). Consequently, the third wave had a much greater impact on the urban communities than it did on the rural ones.
It is difficult to determine a date when the post-war period ended and the modern period of Ukrainian churches began in Canada, since the change in trends has been very gradual over a period of six decades. However, in some instances, change has been dramatic. The membership of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada peaked at over 200,000 in the early 1960s. This trend dramatically reversed so that membership is currently down to about 10,000 active members. The Ukrainian Catholic Church has fared only slightly better.
“That’s a lot to remember,” I say to the Bishop. He suggests I read a biography of Bishop Budka for more detail. I don’t tell him that Bishop Ken gave it to me and remained unread until I wrote this article.” We reach Saskatoon and the history lesson comes to an end. Another time we’ll explore Bishop Bryan’s fascination with Our Lady of Guadalupe.