A Brief Description of the
Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in the United States
Professor Walter Dushnyck gives the following description of Ruthenian Greek Catholics in his book, The Ukrainian Catholic Church at the Ecumenical Council: "The Catholics of the Byzantine rite of Podcarpathia (Carpatho-Ukraine) are ethnically Ukrainian. They came originally from Carpatho-Ukraine, a Ukrainian ethnographic province on the southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains which for centuries was under the cultural influence of Hungary. This region was known variously as Carpatho-Ruthenia or Sub-Carpathia or Podcarpathia. In 1939, during the break-up of Czechoslovakia, Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence. Its first president was Msgr. Augustine Voloshyn. In 1945, Carpatho-Ukraine was integrated into the Ukrainian SSR. (sic) Today, it forms the Transcarpathian oblast of Ukraine" (page 22).
The historical circumstances surrounding the Ruthenian Church are confusing to most individuals not familiar with the church's history, especially since prior to the first several decades of the twentieth century, Rome referred to both groups as being of the "Ruthenian Rite." Only around this time did the name "Ukrainian" begin to be officially used by the Vatican to denote Greek Catholics from Western Ukraine. The term "Ruthenian" is the English equivalent of the Latin word "Ruteni," referring to the ancient kingdom of Kiev-Rus'. This historical land is often confused with modern day Russia, by non-Ukrainians.
As the cultural consciousness of people from the areas of the former Kiev-Rus' grew, beginning towards the middle and end of the nineteenth century, the term "Ukrainian" became a preferred title among people in Western Ukraine while those living in the Carpathian region tended to keep the name "Rusyn" or "Ruthenian." This lack of a united cultural identity was primarily the result of the fact that these people were long deprived of their own form of government, being dominated by foreign monarchs of Austria-Hungary, Poland and Russia. According to linguists, the spoken and literary usage in Carpatho-Rus belongs to a dialect of what is now known as the Ukrainian language.
The Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in the United States was established to serve Greek Catholic faithful originating from the Carpathian mountain region of Eastern Europe, in what is today the Transcarpathian Oblast of Ukraine, Eastern Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia. The United States was at that time, the only country in which these faithful were considered separately from their brothers and sisters of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Prior to 1924, there was only one jurisdiction for Ruthenian-Rite Catholics, serving people from the above mentioned areas as well as from Galicia, in Western Ukraine.
The first bishop in the United States was appointed in 1907, in the person of the Most Rev. Soter Stephan Ortynskyj. As soon as they arrived in the United States, Greek Catholic faithful desired to have a church of their own faith tradition, and asked their "old-country" bishops to send them priests. Both Metropolitan Sylvester Sembratovich and the Servant of God, Metropolitan Andreij Sheptyskyj were approached by the lay leaders of the Ukrainian (Galician and Subcarpathian) faithful about this issue.
After the death of Bishop Ortynskyj, the results of in-fighting and the desire of various groups of the faithful to have a bishop from their own geographic are of Rus' led to the appointment of separate administrators for each territorial area in 1914. The V. Rev. Gabriel Martyak became the apostolic administrator for those coming from Subcarpathian Rus, Hungary and Croatia, and the V. Rev. Peter Poinatyshin for those from Galicia. In 1924, Bishop Takach would become the first bishop for Carpatho-Rusyn faithful and the Most Rev. Constantine Bohachevskyj was appointed to succeed Bishop Ortynsky to the Philadelphia See to serve the faithful from Galicia.
Bishop Takach was succeeded by Bishop Daniel Ivancho in 1948, who had been his coadjutor since 1946, and later Bishop Nicholas Elko. Bishop Ivancho was instrumental in the establishment of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh and dedicated the new seminary building in 1950. This visionary accomplishment secured the education of generations of Greek Catholic Ruthenian priests in the United States, at a time when the seminaries in Uzhorod and Prijasiv in Subcarpathina Rus' were no longer open because of the communist destruction of the Greek Catholic Church in Eastern Europe. Bishop Ivancho also envisioned a new cathedral church for the Pittsburgh Ordinariate, a dream which would finally be realized during the pastorate of Msgr. Procyk. Unfortunately, Bishop Ivancho retired early, in December, 1954.
In 1963, the Holy See elevated the Pittsburgh Exarchate to the status of an Eparchy and created the Eparchy of Passaic, NJ, to serve parishes along the eastern seaboard of the US. Bishop Kocisko was installed as the first Eparch of Passaic and Bishop Elko remained to lead the Pittsburgh Eparchy. By 1967, Bishop Elko had been recalled to Rome, due to the increasing dissatisfaction of the clergy and a period of heavy latinizations and in 1968, Bishop Kocisko was transferred to the Pittsburgh See.
After the canonical erection of the Byzantine Ruthenian Metropolitan Province in 1969, a third eparchy was established by Rome in Parma, Ohio, to serve the Midwest and West Coast parishes. Bishop Emil Mihalik was consecrated as the first Eparch of Parma. He was succeeded in 1984 by Bishop Andrew Pataki and in 1996 by Bishop Basil Schott.
In 1981, a fourth Ruthenian Eparchy was created in Van Nuys, California, with the western US parishes of the Parma Eparchy. Bishop Thomas V. Dolinay was made the first Bishop of Van Nuys and was succeeded by the Most Rev. George Kuzma who retired in 2000. The See of Van Nuys is currently awaiting the appointment of a new eparch.
In 1992, Metropolitan Kocisko retired and Bishop Dolinay became the second Metropolitan of the Ruthenian Province but his reign was short-lived and he died in 1993. In 1995, Metropolitan Kocisko died, after many decades of service to the church and almost 40 years as a bishop. Bishop John Bilock, the beloved Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh died in 1996.
Metropolitan Judson Procyk was the church's third Metropolitan-Archbishop and made great strides in a return to Eastern Christian spiritual, liturgical and canonical awareness and practice. At the same time, he promoted a strictly American cultural milieu and the church saw a major disappearance of the use of Church Slavonic and Rusyn in liturgy and conversation. This was the result of a gradual process of Americanization in the US Byzantine Church. Today, many immigrants coming from the traditional areas of Subcarpathian Rus' feel more comfortable attending a local Ukrainian Catholic Church because of the greater preservation of their language. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union and freedom in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, there has been, however, an exchange of seminarians between the Mukachevo Eparchy and the churches in the United States and a growing closeness between the ancestral eparchies and those of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Province.
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