A traveler coming by ship into the great harbor of New York City cannot help but be awe-struck by the imposing sight of the Statue of Liberty. Standing proudly atop a pedestal some 306 feet tall, with broken chains of vanquished tyranny and oppression beneath her feet, majestically arrayed with a diadem and thrusting a massive torch out to the open sea, this powerful and moving symbol has inspired travelers and voyagers for more than a century.
“Lady Liberty” in particular has beckoned the outcasts of the Old World, the immigrants. One can only imagine the excitement and the thrill of these newcomers, who were described so poignantly by Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) in her memorable sonnet, The New Colossus, as “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as they caught their first glimpse of the mighty Statue.
The journey of the immigrants to America truly was a difficult one. The crossing of the Atlantic Ocean was a three-to-four week voyage made in steerage. The ships utilized for their long voyage were often overcrowded and unsanitary. Death at sea was not an uncommon occurrence.
Upon arrival, the immigrants were ferried along the New Jersey side of New York Harbor to their first destination in America: the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service processing center on Ellis Island. In the great hall of the main building, these nervous foreigners with their strange dress and language stood in long queues waiting to undergo processing by stern faced immigration officials.
The immigrants’ thrill of arrival in the New World soon changed to anxiety and trepidation as their processing began. The newcomers were poked, prodded and probed as part of a medical examination, a procedure which frequently was new to them; they were peppered with questions concerning their medical history, their contacts in America and many other matters by makeshift interpreters speaking a garbled, fractured mix of their native tongue and other languages. On occasion, they even received new last names, as officials, unsympathetic or simply impatient with their strange-sounding names, hurried to complete the processing.
Having survived the hurdles of the health inspection and the questioning of the immigration officials, the immigrants received papers with a stamp of approval. They were then led from the registration area to the foreign currency exchange on the first floor of the main building. With their new “American” money, they were able to purchase tickets for ferries which transported them to New York City or to the Hoboken, New Jersey train terminal for connections to friends, relatives or prospective employers and their new life in a new country.
In the three decades prior to the First World War, these “huddled masses,” numbering more than twelve million strong from all over eastern and southern Europe, passed through the waiting rooms of Ellis Island to a land of opportunity and hope. One of the many groups making the arduous journey to America was a people from a remote mountainous area in the sprawling Austro-Hungarian monarchy. They were known as “Ruthenians,” “Carpatho-Russians” or “Slavish.” In their own language they were hailed as “Rusyn” or “Rusnak,” depending on the district. It is they who brought their Byzantine Catholic Church to America, and this is their story.
It is a story of hardship and struggle; it is a story of turmoil and tragedy; it is a story of striking achievement and success.
But most of all, it is a journey of faith; a faith which supported a decision to leave family and village to venture to an unknown and faraway land; a faith which sustained their fierce determination to preserve and hold fast to the traditions of their Eastern Catholic heritage.
Beginnings in the Old Country
To understand Byzantine Catholic people and their Church, it is necessary to know who they were and from where they came. Thus, the journey of faith must start in their homeland, the “Old Country” of Central Europe.
They literally came from the heart of Europe. If a map of the European continent could be envisioned as a picture with the tip of Norway as the top frame, the isle of Crete as the bottom frame, the coast of Ireland as the left side frame and the Ural Mountains as the right side frame, then their homeland, the area known variously as Carpathian Rus’, Subcarpathian Rus’, Transcarpathia, Carpatho-Ruthenia, Carpatho-Russia and Carpatho-Ukraine, would be in the exact center of the picture.
The most striking feature of this area is its mountainous terrain. Located just south of the crests of the Carpathian Mountains, the land, which averages 2,000 feet in elevation, is covered with forests and lined with narrow, arable valleys. The rugged landscape obviously restricted the choices for livelihood of the people dwelling in the region. Given the harsh and uneven topography, industrialization never took place. Instead, the people of this region, who for the most part lived in small, scattered villages numbering no more than a few hundred residents, scratched out a minimal, subsistence-level existence as shepherds, loggers or small-scale farmers.
Living in the center of Europe had profound consequences on their development. By straddling the border between the East and the West, they were strongly influenced by a complex set of cultural, political and religious forces from both areas.
The area of Central Europe was initially settled by tribal peoples from territories immediately to the north and east beyond the Carpathian Mountains in what is the present day Ukraine. Thus, the very name of the Carpatho-Rusyn people is of Eastern origin. It is derived from the word “Rus,” which is the name given to the early Slavic peoples who migrated to and eventually inhabited this area of the European continent.
Their language also reflected its Eastern orientation. It is an East-Slavic language, written in the Cyrillic alphabet, which was developed by St. Cyril, the missionary monk, who with his brother, St. Methodius, brought Christianity to the Slavs in the ninth century. Thus, the Carpatho-Rusyn language is grammatically and etymologically related to other East-Slavic languages – Russian, Byelorussian and, in particular, Ukrainian.
More importantly than its ethnic name and language, the religious life of these people was rooted in the East. Like the other Eastern Slavs, they received Christianity from the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Greek missionaries, Saints Cyril and Methodius, “The Apostles to the Slavs,” introduced Christianity and the new “Slavonic” alphabet to the state called Greater Moravia, the area of the present day Czech Republic and Western Slovakia, in the year 863. From there, the followers of these Byzantine missionaries moved eastward to convert the Carpatho-Rusyn people.
Their Eastern ethnic, linguistic and religious origins and inclinations, however, were counterbalanced by strong influences from Western Europe. By the end of the first millennium, these Rusyns had been joined to the political, religious and cultural world of Kievan Rus’, which included the area of the future “Kingdom of Galicia.” Gradually, with the decline of these states, first the Carpatho-Rusyn lowlands and then the highlands were annexed to the neighboring Kingdom of Hungary, a domination that would last until 1918.
Living as part of a country which officially was Roman Catholic had a lasting socioeconomic and cultural impact on the Carpatho-Rusyns. By the late 16th and 17th centuries they had been reduced to the status of mere serfs, individuals legally bound to the land and subject to the whims of the landlord for goods and services. In addition, the conquest, first of the Byzantine center the City of Constantinople, and later of large portions of the territory of the Hungarian kingdom by the Islamic Ottoman Turks, led to an increasing political and religious isolation for them and their only effective leadership, the clergy.
During the period of the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuit order established missions in Central Europe. Their teaching and the prevailing Catholic culture, as well as varied political, social and economic pressures, influenced part of the Carpatho-Rusyn clergy in the Kingdom of Hungary to unite with the See of Rome. The Union of Užhorod was celebrated in 1646 when sixty-three Carpatho-Rusyn priests assembled in the garrison chapel of Užhorod Castle and swore allegiance to the successor of Peter.
The Greek Catholic faith provided both a spiritual dimension and a social focus for the lives of these people. The whole cycle of life in their small villages was governed first and foremost by the precepts of the Church. Though the pattern of their lives was determined by the rhythms of the agricultural seasons, it was also intertwined with numerous religious observances and obligations. These included keeping Sundays and holy days as day of rest, observing the fasts and feasts of the Church, and following the dictates for baptisms, weddings and funerals. Thus participation in the life and activities of the Church was as natural as the daily pursuit of the necessities of life itself for them. This close relationship with their Church also provided these Carpatho-Rusyns with a cultural identity, because it distinguished them from other nationalities within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
As they parted from their family, friends and loved ones in the Old Country, it would be this religious and cultural identity as Greek Catholics which the founders of the Metropolitan Church would seek to keep and to establish in America.
Coming to America
By the latter decades of the 19th century, the already marginal economic situation of the Carpatho-Rusyn people in Europe had become even more precarious. The old peasant way of life, which in the best of times provided only a meager living, irreparably broke down under the strain of a changing economy.
The former economy which was based upon feudal notions of barter and service was replaced by a modern cash economy. Since they had no money, these peasants found themselves increasingly unable to purchase basic necessities and to pay ever higher taxes.
The lack of available land also increased their economic plight. Although serfdom had been officially abolished in 1848, the ownership of the land remained concentrated in the hands of the ruling Austro-Hungarian aristocracy. While they no longer were serfs, the peasants were forced to continue to work as either poorly paid or indebted agricultural laborers under the same landlords.
Then came the Industrial Revolution. Factories produced new labor-saving machines and modern farming techniques were introduced. The need for the agrarian labor supplied by the Carpatho-Rusyn peasantry decreased drastically. Since there were no manufacturing or heavy industries located in their regions, their agricultural work force could not be absorbed into the local economy.
The economic pressures upon them were further exacerbated by their practices with their own limited land holdings. Rather than the land being inherited by the eldest son only, the estate was subdivided among all of the male children. As the population grew, the limited land holdings became continually subdivided into such tiny plots that they could no longer support the basic needs of their owners.
Thus these people sank deeper and deeper into poverty with no immediate hope of improvement in their situation. Faced with these grim prospects, they could only look to better their fortunes by emigrating abroad.
Word of the opportunities to be had in America began to spread throughout southern and eastern Europe by the 1880s. Relatives and friends there encouraged them to leave, and agents of the steamship companies and recruiters of the rapidly growing American industries also sought them to come. The recruiters traveled from village to village in search of cheap labor. Not surprisingly, their message of readily available land and steady employment at substantially higher wages found a receptive audience among these impoverished people. Before long, the exodus of destitute peasants in search of economic improvement and a better life in America began.
For the most part, the journey westward to America for the average Carpatho-Rusyn peasant followed a common course. After a heart-wrenching goodbye with weeping loved ones and a final blessing under the wayside cross at the head of the village, the prospective traveler went by horse-drawn cart or on foot to the nearest major city. From there, the immigrant rode a train to a distant coastal port where he or she would board a ship for the journey to a new life.
Those who lived in the counties of Szepes (Spiš), Sáros (Šariš), Zemplén (Zemplin), Ung (Už), Bereg, Ugocsa (Ugoča) and Máramoroš (Marmaroš) departed for America from two different routes. One was from the North Sea ports of Bremen and Hamburg in Germany; the other was from the ports of Trieste and Fiume on the Adriatic Sea.
Arranging for overseas travel for them was a large scale enterprise, and two companies shared control over this lucrative passenger trade. They were the Cunard Lines and the Hamburg-Amerika Line. It is likely that the immigrants traveled in steerage class to America on such ships as Hamburg’s “Berengaria” or Cunard’s “Pannonia” or “Carpathia.”
The First Churches
The earliest Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants settled initially in northeastern Pennsylvania and took jobs as miners in the anthracite coal fields of the region. The émigrés, however, soon began to realize that what had identified, preserved and sustained them in the “Old Country” and in the long journey to America was painfully missing in their strange, new and difficult surroundings. They had no spiritual home, no place of worship that they could call their own, and no church where they could practice their distinctive Greek Catholic faith. Thus, they began to organize parishes, build churches and petition for priests to be sent from Europe.
In 1884, Reverend Father Ivan Voljanskyj, a priest from the Eparchy of L’viv in Galicia, answered the call to minister to the newly arrived faithful in the United States. In the same year, he organized the first Greek Catholic parish in the United States in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Within a short period of time, his pastoral work led to the establishment of additional parishes in Pennsylvania: Freeland (1886), Hazleton (1887), Kingston (1888), Wilkes-Barre (1888), Olyphant (1888); and in Jersey City, New Jersey (1889), Minneapolis, Minnesota (1889), Whiting, Indiana (1889) and Passaic, New Jersey (1890). By 1894, with the arrival of additional clergy primarily from the Prešov and Mukačevo Eparchies, there were 30 Greek Catholic parishes serving more than 100,000 faithful.
In time, more and more Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants would arrive in America. Steadily, they would move ever westward to Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio for employment in the region’s steel mills and coal mines. This movement led to the establishment of new parishes in Pennsylvania: Duquesne (1890), Leisenring (1892), Punxsutawney (1893), Trauger (now Latrobe, 1894), Johnstown (1895), Braddock (1896), Munhall (1897), Barnesboro (now Northern Cambria, 1898), Charleroi (1899), Pittsburgh-South Side (1900), Windber (1900), and in Ohio: Cleveland (1893), Marblehead (1897), Pleasant City (1898), and Youngstown (1900).
The Struggle for Recognition
The arrival of considerable numbers of Eastern Catholics to the United States found the Catholic Church in America ill-prepared for them. The sudden appearance of increasing numbers of people who professed to be Catholic, but who followed different traditions, used a different liturgical language and conducted a different manner of public worship, was extremely disconcerting to the Latin Catholic hierarchy.
Most Latin bishops and clergy lacked even the most elementary knowledge of the Eastern Church. Knowing just their own rite, they could only perceive the Church in terms of uniformity and conformity rather than in its universality and diversity. Thus it was virtually inconceivable for them that these newcomers with their married priests and non-Latin liturgy could possibly be adherents to the same religious faith. Because of the differences in their language, liturgy, and traditions, they were viewed in ignorance by many members of the American hierarchy as a threat to be contained or even eliminated, rather than as a welcome and complementary source of new religious vitality.
Also the arrival of these “different Catholics” added a further complication to the ongoing efforts to suppress the development of so-called “ethnic” churches. Led by Archbishop John Ireland of Minneapolis, Minnesota, certain members of the hierarchy felt that ecclesiastical solidarity was threatened by an identification and organization of the Church in America along ethnic lines. By attempting to suppress the development of ethnic churches, these hierarchs hoped that by making it more “American,” the Catholic Church in the United States would become more unified and dynamic. The presence of these newcomers, who were organized not only in ethnicity but also in rite, confounded and deeply disturbed the leaders of the Americanization movement.
Given their complete identification with the Latin Rite and their fierce resistance to ethnic churches, many Latin bishops adopted an unfriendly and sometimes hostile attitude toward the Greek Catholics. Viewing their married clergy as a source of great scandal, the bishops granted little or no material aid to them. The hierarchs also refused on many occasions to grant faculties or formal ecclesiastical permission to conduct services in their churches or to grant ordinary jurisdiction to assume pastoral duties. Repeatedly, the bishops took up the matter of the “Greek Rite Priests” at their annual meetings and wrote to the Holy See in Rome demanding that only celibate priests who submitted to the jurisdiction of the local Latin bishop be permitted to minister to the Greek Catholics in the United States.
The animosity of the Latin hierarchy was in some measure reciprocated by the Greek Catholic faithful and their clergy. Some priests resisted the orders of the local bishop and conducted their pastoral duties among their faithful by claiming their faculties from the European bishops who permitted them to come to America. In the meantime, the organizers of the various parishes, fearful of attempts to suppress their Eastern rite practices and traditions, refused to transfer parish property into the name of the local Latin bishop. Instead, these individual parishes kept their properties titled in the name of the parish as a nonprofit corporation. Thus, the church properties could be controlled by a lay board of trustees, rather than to be held in trust by the local bishop.
With tensions between the American bishops and the Greek Catholic clergy and faithful escalating, Rome intervened. In an attempt to clarify the situation, on October 1, 1890, the Holy See issued a decree which instructed the newly arriving Greek Catholic priests to obtain jurisdiction from the local Latin bishops and to function under their authority. Additionally, the decree stated that all Greek Catholic priests serving in America should be celibate, and that all married priests were to be recalled to Europe.
Rather than resolving the situation, the Vatican’s decree only served to exacerbate the relationship between the Latin bishops and the Greek Catholics. Inevitably, the outcome was a schism.
At a meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1889, Father Alexis Toth, a priest of the Eparchy of Prešov, was harshly rebuffed by Bishop John Ireland who refused him faculties. Father Alexis, a widower, a former eparchial official and a professor of canon law, was well aware of his rights. Disgusted with the attitude of the American bishops, he turned in 1891 to the Russian Orthodox Archbishop residing in San Francisco, who immediately accepted him and his parish of 361 souls. A gifted missionary, Father Alexis personally was responsible for the conversion of fifteen Greek Catholic parishes with over twenty thousand souls into the Orthodox Church before falling asleep in the Lord in 1909. Today he is a canonized saint of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), of which he is considered a founder.
Renewed Efforts to Organize
The Vatican’s 1890 decree requiring all Greek Catholic priests serving in the United States to be celibate deeply disturbed the Greek Catholic clergy. Since most of them were married, they considered the decree to be an outrageous and unwarranted attack on their centuries-old tradition by both Rome and the unsympathetic American hierarchy. Meeting in Hazleton, Pennsylvania in late 1891, they strongly protested the decree and petitioned the Holy See for the appointment of a Vicar General to administer the affairs of their Church in the United States. When their protests and petitions went unanswered, the clergy unilaterally acted in 1892 and selected from their own ranks a widowed priest, Reverend Nicephor Chanat, to be Vicar General. Essentially, his role was to act as an intermediary between the Latin bishops and the Greek Catholic clergy. Unfortunately, the bishops ignored his appointment and the clergy refused to follow his leadership. Thus, in 1896, Father Chanat resigned his position.
After numerous petitions submitted by clergy and lay committees requesting the appointment of a bishop for the Greek Catholic Church in the United States, the Holy See finally acted. In May 1902, upon the recommendation of the Hungarian government, the Holy See named Father Andrew Hodobay, a canon and member of the Chapter of the Prešov Eparchy, as Apostolic Visitator for all Greek Catholics in America. Father Hodobay’s assignment was to investigate “all aspects of the religious controversy” concerning Greek Catholics in America.
Initially, however, Canon Hodobay’s mission in the United States was undermined by his public admission that he came to America as the official representative of the Hungarian government. In response to this, the Greek Catholics began to separate along national lines. People who emigrated from the Galician region of Central Europe started to distinguish themselves as Ukrainian, rejecting the more universal, if imprecise, term Ruthenian or Rusyn. In turn, the Carpatho-Rusyns split themselves into two regional factions: one from Prešov and the other from Užhorod. So then, rather than creating unity and harmony, Father Hodobay’s mission served instead to further the divisions within the nascent Greek Catholic Church in America.
Regrettably these intrigues and internal rivalries only served to weaken Church discipline, to exacerbate the problem of schism and to accelerate the exodus to the Russian Orthodox Church. Though Father Hodobay was recalled to Europe after five years, the Holy See accepted his recommendation that a bishop be named for the Greek Catholic faithful in the United States.
A Greek Catholic Bishop Comes to America
To restore ecclesiastical order and to stem the tide of defections to Orthodoxy, the Holy See finally relented, and on March 8, 1907 announced the appointment of a bishop for the Greek Catholic Church in America: Reverend Soter Stephen Ortinsky, OSBM, a Basilian monk from Galicia. When he came to America on August 27, 1907, his temporary residence was at St. Michael Parish in South Fork, Pa., and in 1908 he moved to Philadelphia.
Father Ortinsky’s appointment as bishop, however, still did not end the bitter and divisive ecclesiastical and national disputes which threatened the unity of the Greek Catholic Church in America. Two problems immediately hampered his administration. First, his Ukrainian origin and perceived tendency to favor the Ukrainian members among his consultants reopened the old wound of ethnic factionalism among the faithful. Second, he was given very limited episcopal authority. According to an apostolic letter known as “Ea Semper,” issued on June 14, 1907, Bishop Soter was forced to obtain the approval of each local Latin bishop in whose diocese a Greek Catholic parish was located before he could exercise any authority over that parish. In effect, he functioned as a vicar general for all Greek Catholics in the various Latin dioceses in America. Without the necessary authority, he was unable to impose the ecclesiastical discipline over both clergy and laity needed to bring order to the contentious, but still growing, Greek Catholic community in America.
United Then Divided
Finally, after six long years of continuous internal fights, ethnic rivalries and threats of schism, the Holy See established an Apostolic Exarchate (missionary diocese) “for all the clergy and the people of the Ruthenian Rite in the United States of America” and granted full episcopal jurisdiction to Bishop Soter on May 13, 1913. More than anything else, this decisive action on the part of the Holy Father brought about peace and canonical unity to the American Greek Catholic Church which had now grown to 152 parishes, 43 mission churches, 154 priests and an estimated half-million people of both Carpatho-Rusyn and Ukrainian descent.
Unfortunately, this new-found harmony and unity would prove to be short-lived. Bishop Soter suddenly and unexpectedly died of pneumonia on March 24, 1916. Upon his death, a papal decree divided the Church along nationality lines: one Ukrainian and the other Carpatho-Rusyn. Each was headed not by a bishop, but by an administrator: Father Peter Ponjatyšyn for the Ukrainians and Father Gabriel Martyak for the Carpatho-Rusyns. Again, the administrators lacked full episcopal authority and functioned more like Vicars General for the Latin bishops with Greek Catholic parishes in their respective dioceses. In effect the Greek Catholic faithful, lacking an organizational identity and any authoritative leadership, were relegated to an inferior status among American Catholics. Even without a bishop, however, Father Martyak’s administration was a time of relative stability and continued growth in the Church: an additional 21 parishes and 4 mission churches were created then. Moreover, during his administration, the first monastic order of women for this Church was established in America.
With the approval of the Apostolic Delegate, Father Martyak received Mother M. Macrina Melnychuk, O.S.B.M. and two other sisters from the Order of St. Basil the Great under his jurisdiction. On January 19, 1921, the Sisters opened their first convent at Holy Ghost parish in Cleveland, Ohio. In April of that year, the novitiate for the new foundation was opened with the admission of five postulants. In 1923 the Sisters moved to Elmhurst, near Scranton, Pennsylvania. Here they began their ministry of service to the Church with their administration and staffing of the newly constructed St. Nicholas Orphanage.
The Episcopacy of Bishop Basil Takach
For the eight years following the death of Bishop Soter Ortynsky, Greek Catholics in the United States waited eagerly for the appointment of a new bishop. Finally, on March 8, 1924, the Holy See unexpectedly announced the establishing of two exarchates for them in the United States. Father Basil Takach was appointed to be the Bishop for those of Carpatho-Rusyn, Hungarian, Slovak and Croatian descent, while Father Constantine Bohachevsky was named Bishop for those of Ukrainian descent. The appointment of Bishop Basil ended more than 30 years of ecclesiastical disputes, foreign interventions and intrigues, and various ethnic rivalries. These at times were so bitter and divisive that the survival of Eastern Catholic churches in America was seriously threatened.
Basil Takach came from the Eparchy of Mukačevo, where he was one of the most loved and respected priests. Serving in several prominent positions of responsibility, the news of his selection on March 8, 1924 as the first bishop for the newly-established Greek Catholic Exarchate in the United States came as a surprise to him. However, the word of his appointment was received with resounding joy and approval by the faithful in America. Almost immediately, plans were made by clergy and laity to greet their new leader’s arrival at a familiar destination for the immigrant Carpatho-Rusyn community: New York City.
When the new bishop arrived on the liner Mauretania on August 13, 1924, a huge and enthusiastic throng crowded onto the pier of New York Harbor to welcome him. After leading a service of thanksgiving at St. Mary Greek Catholic Church in the city and following a banquet at New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania, he began the arduous task of organizing the new exarchate and giving much needed leadership to his dispersed and sometimes unruly flock.
One of the initial decisions confronting Bishop Basil was the location of a permanent episcopal seat and residence. The papal bull appointing him as bishop expressly stated that these were to be situated in New York City. This, however, was not an acceptable location because it had a much smaller Carpatho-Rusyn population than other regions of the country. Thus, temporary residences were established, first in Trenton, New Jersey, and later in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
Official episcopal seat established in Pittsburgh
Shortly after his arrival in Uniontown, representatives from St. John the Baptist Church in Munhall, Pennsylvania, a steel mill town in suburban Pittsburgh, met with Bishop Basil. They presented him with a formal written proposal offering land and financial assistance to establish his residence and episcopal seat at that parish. Since the offices of the Greek Catholic Union, the oldest and largest fraternal organization serving the Greek Catholic community, were nearby, the bishop accepted this generous offer and St. John Church in Munhall became his cathedral.
In February 1926, Bishop Basil moved into his residence across the street from the cathedral. On July 5, 1926, the buildings were solemnly dedicated with long and impressive ceremonies attended by thousands. A formal blessing service was conducted at a temporary altar erected in a large vacant field just south of the cathedral. Afterward a Divine Liturgy was celebrated by the bishop in the cathedral, and in attendance were Bishop Constantine Bohachevsky of the Ukrainian Exarchate of Philadelphia, Bishop Dionysius Nyaradi, the Apostolic Administrator of the Prešov Eparchy, Bishop Hugh C. Boyle, the Latin Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh, and more than one hundred priests.
Very important for Bishop Basil was the establishment of canonical order and ecclesiastical discipline in the new exarchate. He first created an administrative structure for governance by naming Father Theophile Zatkovich of Trauger, Pennsylvania as the first Chancellor, and Father Julius Grigassy as the head of the Matrimonial Tribunal and Secretary to the Bishop. He also appointed a Board of Consultors which included from Pennsylvania: Father Gabriel Martyak of Lansford, Father Valentine Gorzo of McKeesport, and Father Nicholas Chopey of Wilkes-Barre, and Father Joseph Hanulya of Cleveland, Ohio and Father Victor Kovaliczky of Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
Bishop Basil undertook a strenuous parish visitation program for the twofold purposes of meeting the faithful and of creating regional governing districts or deaneries for the exarchate. Beginning with Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where he blessed a newly erected parochial school at St John parish, the Bishop visited 60 parishes in various parts of the country in a five-month period. Based upon the recommendations of the Board of Consultors and the geographic locations of the parishes, he divided the exarchate into thirteen deaneries having the following seats: New York City, Jersey City, Philadelphia, Scranton, Hazleton, Johnstown, Punxsutawney, Pittsburgh, Homestead, Uniontown, Youngstown, Cleveland and Chicago.
Along with the creation of the administrative structure, Bishop Basil also required that the clergy conduct a much-needed census of all of the parishes. The results of this census showed that the exarchate included almost 300,000 faithful organized into 155 parishes and mission churches served by 129 priests.
From the start of his episcopacy, the bishop was motivated by a burning desire to elevate the Greek Catholic Church in America to the “spiritual, cultural and national level of other progressive nationalities.” In pursuit of this goal, he advocated the creation of new organizations and activities to spiritually enrich and unify the faithful. In collaboration with the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, he instituted an annual pilgrimage in honor of the Mother of God at the Sisters’ newly established monastery at Mount St. Macrina in Uniontown. This annual event, in keeping with the tradition of pilgrimage to Marian Shrines in Europe, quickly became a highlight in the life of the Church, bringing together thousands of worshipers from across the country and beyond.
With appreciation for the teaching ministry of the Sisters of St. Basil as crucial to the future growth and development of his Church, the bishop wholeheartedly supported their efforts and activities. Father Nicholas Chopey founded the first school at St. Mary Parish in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. During the episcopacy of Bishop Basil, the sisters established and staffed ten parochial schools and six catechetical schools throughout the exarchate.
Bishop Basil clearly recognized the vital importance of a Catholic press. With the support and financial generosity of the United Societies, a Greek Catholic fraternal organization, many various religious and devotional materials were printed and disseminated along with the publication of a monthly magazine called the Queen of Heaven (“Nebesnaja Carica”). To spread knowledge of the Eastern Church among American Catholics, a monthly called “The Chrysostom,” and a weekly entitled “The Eastern Observer” also were published with his approval.
Schism of 1929
Unfortunately, the administration of Bishop Basil was not without controversy or conflict. In 1929, the Holy See issued a decree entitled Cum Data Fuerit, in which its previous position that the Greek Catholic clergy in America must be celibate was reiterated. The Bishop vehemently opposed the decree and he appealed in vain to have this decision reversed. When it became apparent that he was without further recourse, he had to enforce the decree. Some priests and laity perceived the decree as an attack upon their Eastern traditions, and they began a campaign against the bishop, questioning his authority to govern the exarchate. Many parishes were drawn into the conflict, families were divided, and numerous legal battles for control of Church properties ensued. Regrettably, this resulted in a schism which led to the formation of the Church that became the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A. (ACROD). Despite this tragic turn of events, the Pittsburgh Greek Catholic Exarchate, under Bishop Basil’s firm and determined leadership, regained its momentum and continued to grow and establish new parishes.
End of an era
When Bishop Basil, who had guided the exarchate since its founding in 1924, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and needed help with his official duties, a request was made to the Holy See to appoint an auxiliary bishop to assist him. Speculation at the time identified Monsignor George Michaylo and Father Stephen Gulovich as the likely candidates for this office. The Holy See, however, named Father Daniel Ivancho, the pastor of St. Mary Church in Cleveland, Ohio, as Coadjutor Bishop, and the successor to Bishop Basil.
Bishop Daniel was ordained a bishop at St. Paul Latin Catholic Cathedral in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh on November 5, 1946. Many Eastern and Latin bishops and clergy participated in the 4-hour ceremony, and the homilist was the renowned preacher, (then) Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen. The presence of Empress Zita and other members of the Imperial Hapsburg family of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire added to the occasion.
Bishop Basil Basil’s pioneering 24-year tenure of loving service as the first bishop of the Pittsburgh Exarchate ended on May 13, 1948 with his falling asleep in the Lord after suffering with cancer. He was 69. His funeral liturgy at St. John Cathedral was attended by seven bishops, three abbots, more than 180 priests and numerous civic, fraternal and cultural leaders. He was buried at Mount St. Macrina Cemetery in Uniontown. Through his dedication, patience and unparalleled zeal, Bishop Basil succeeded in creating the foundation of the Greek Catholic Church in America.
Bishop Daniel subsequently assumed the leadership of the Exarchate.
The Episcopacy of Bishop Daniel Ivancho
Among other needs, Bishop Daniel was faced with the vexing difficulty of providing the proper preparation of men for the priesthood. Until the 1920s, most of the clergy were foreign born and foreign educated. As more and more Americans wished to become priests, providing education and formation for them became increasingly problematic. A temporary solution was to have their formation divided into two parts: they would pursue most of their studies at Latin Rite
seminaries such as St. Vincent in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, St. Mary in Baltimore, Maryland, or St. Bonaventure in Olean, New York; they then would complete their studies with two years of schooling at either of the seminaries in Prešov or Užhorod. The outbreak of World War II ended this possibility, so the candidates then attended St. Procopius Benedictine College and Seminary in Lisle, Illinois. Eventually it was seen that this arrangement was neither efficient nor satisfactory. Thus, the construction and staffing of a seminary became a necessity.
Many of the bishop’s advisors opposed building a seminary, arguing that construction of a new cathedral with greater seating capacity and with a more central location in Pittsburgh would better serve the needs of the Exarchate. They reasoned that providing for greater attendance at religious ceremonies and presenting the identity and splendor of the Eastern Churches to the United States was of supreme importance.
Since he lacked the financial resources to undertake both projects, Bishop Daniel was forced to choose between building either a seminary or a new cathedral. Despite the unanimous recommendation of his Board of Consultors in favor of a cathedral, the bishop decided to construct a seminary. In a pastoral letter dated June 14, 1950 to the clergy and faithful of the Exarchate, he announced plans for its construction and operation.
A tract of land was acquired at the corner of Perrysville and Riverview Avenues on Pittsburgh’s North Side, and an architect and contractor were hired to design and build the new building. The grounds were solemnly blessed on July 5, 1950.
The new seminary, dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs, opened with temporary accommodations in two buildings adjacent to the property on October 16, 1950 with 40 student seminarians and a faculty of five priests.
A year later, on the morning of October 18, 1951, the beautiful new seminary building officially was dedicated and blessed by Bishop Daniel. Bishop John F. Dearden, the Latin Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh, delivered one of the sermons. Twenty bishops, 400 clergy and religious and an estimated 5,000 laity attended this memorable event. A civic program was held in the afternoon featuring a number of notable figures, including Mayor of Pittsburgh David L. Lawrence, Governor of Pennsylvania John S. Fine, Father Vernon L. Gallagher, President of Duquesne University, and Stephen Tkach, President of the Greek Catholic Union, a notable financial supporter of the Seminary.
In addition to erecting the seminary, Bishop Daniel encouraged the founding of Eastern monastic communities in the Exarchate. An order of monks following the Rule of St. Benedict was established in the late 1940s; their first home was located at St. Nicholas Church in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and then later moved to a property in suburban Forest Hills. In 1954 a group of Benedictine Sisters from Lisle, Illinois came to Saints Peter and Paul Church in Warren, Ohio to found their monastery. The Franciscan Friars saw their origin at Holy Dormition Monastery in Sybertsville, Pennsylvania.
Bishop Daniel’s episcopacy was concluded suddenly when he resigned his ministry for personal reasons in December of 1954. He retired to Florida where he fell asleep in the Lord in 1972. Though his tenure was short, he continued the work of his predecessor, and he is acknowledged for his vision with the establishment of the seminary.
Bishop Nicholas T. Elko – First American-Born Greek Catholic Bishop
With the abrupt and unexpected resignation of Bishop Daniel, the responsibility for leading the ever-growing exarchate was entrusted to the Vicar General, Monsignor Nicholas T. Elko, originally of St. Michael Church in Donora, Pennsylvania. While he was serving as the rector of St. John Cathedral in Munhall, he was named the Apostolic Administrator “sede plena” of the Exarchate on December 2, 1954.
As Apostolic Administrator, Monsignor Nicholas possessed all of the powers and authority to administer the affairs of the Exarchate granted to a bishop with one exception: the power to ordain priests. This soon was to be changed when on February 16, 1955, Archbishop Amleto G. Cicognani, the Vatican’s delegate to the United States, announced that Monsignor Nicholas would be elevated to the episcopacy.
On March 6, 1955, with his mother and two brothers in attendance, Monsignor Nicholas was ordained a bishop at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The ordaining prelate was one of the highest ranking officials in the Vatican Curia: Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals and Secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. At the age of 46, Monsignor Nicholas Thomas Elko became the first American-born Bishop of the Greek Catholic Church.
An accomplished speaker and writer, Bishop Nicholas ardently endeavored to make the liturgical richness and spirituality of the Byzantine Church better known and appreciated by the Latin Catholics both in the United States and abroad.
Recognizing the necessity for the Church to be more responsive to the needs of its now increasingly American-born faithful, and to adapt to the conditions presented by modern American life, Bishop Nicholas embarked upon a course of dynamic changes within the Exarchate. In 1955, he sought and was granted permission by the Holy See to permit English to be used in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This was a radical move at this time, because English was still forbidden in the Liturgy of the Latin Church.
Bishop Nicholas officially established a weekly newspaper in 1956 to evangelize and spread Church and religious news to the faithful and to effectively unite the vast territory of the Exarchate. This newspaper, The Byzantine Catholic World, was an indication of the sense of change sweeping through the Exarchate. “Greek Catholic” was replaced by the term “Byzantine Catholic” as a means to clarify the religious and ritual identification of the Church for American Eastern Catholics.
Bishop Nicholas’ tenure also was an era of tremendous growth, expansion and development of structures and facilities. Under his direction, more than 100 churches and schools were constructed or reconstructed. This expansion program, while absolutely necessary to accommodate larger congregations, was later seen to have a major unfortunate consequence. In an effort to be like other American Catholic churches, many traditional Byzantine architectural features such as icon screens were omitted or removed from the newly-built or renovated churches. Though the changes that he initiated helped open the exarchate to American Catholicism, they also diluted ethnic and cultural values in a drive to encourage the children of immigrants to enter into the great American melting pot.
Mindful of the need to serve an increasingly mobile laity, Bishop Nicholas assigned priests to organizational work in other areas of the country. The result of their zealous labors was the establishment of new parishes in such places as Van Nuys, California in 1956, Anchorage, Alaska in 1957, and in Fontana and San Diego, California in 1958.
Because of the increasing numbers of both faithful and parishes, Bishop Nicholas petitioned the Holy See for an auxiliary bishop to assist him. His request was granted and he was notified that Father Stephen J. Kocisko would be elevated to the episcopacy. At that time, in addition to serving as pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Lyndora, Pennsylvania, Father Stephen also was a member of the Matrimonial Tribunal, professor of Patrology at the Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius and Chancellor of the Exarchate. Following his episcopal ordination On October 23, 1956 at St. Paul Latin Catholic Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Bishop Stephen resided at Holy Ghost Parish on Pittsburgh’s North Side. For seven years, he served as auxiliary to Bishop Nicholas. He also assumed the administrative positions of Seminary Rector and Vicar General.
The First American Eparchies Created
In recognition of its continued growth and development, the Holy See acted to significantly upgrade the status of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States. By a decree issued by the newly-elected Pope Paul VI in 1963, the Exarchate, whose territory included the entire United States, was divided into two separate ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The first, centered in Passaic, New Jersey, included the states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia, all of Eastern Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. The second jurisdiction, centered in the city of Pittsburgh, included Western Pennsylvania and the remainder of the nation. The papal decree also raised each jurisdiction to the canonical status of an eparchy, the Eastern term corresponding to the Latin “diocese.”
On July 31, 1963, the two new eparchies were formally established with ceremonies conducted in the newly-designated Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Passaic. Presiding at the ceremonies was the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, who enthroned the first bishop of Passaic, Most Reverend Stephen J. Kocisko.
When the historic Second Vatican Council convened in Rome (1962-1965), both Bishop Nicholas and Bishop Stephen were active participants in the proceedings.
In December 1967, Bishop Nicholas was transferred to Rome. Shortly after his transfer, he was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop and appointed the ordaining prelate for the Byzantine Catholics in Rome and head of the Ecumenical Commission on the Liturgy. He resigned as the Byzantine Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh, and Monsignor Edward V. Rosack, Chancellor of the Eparchy, was named the temporary Apostolic Administrator until the Holy See appointed Bishop Stephen to head the Eparchy of Pittsburgh on December 22, 1967.
Archbishop Nicholas returned to the United States in 1970 and became the Auxiliary Archbishop of the Latin Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio. Upon reaching his seventy-fifth birthday, he retired from this position. He fell asleep in the Lord in Cincinnati on May 18, 1991 following an illness.
Though he became a controversial figure, Bishop Nicholas’ dynamic personality and energy accomplished much for the growth and recognition of the Byzantine Catholic Church.
The Episcopacy of Archbishop Stephen Kocisko
Metropolitan Church Created
At the beginning of the decade of the 1960s, the organizational status of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States was that of a church missionary territory with limited self-governing authority. By the end of the decade, however, the remarkable growth and the steadfast loyalty of Byzantine Catholics in the United States were recognized by the bestowal of a new ecclesiastical dignity and status: Pope Paul VI issued a decree on February 21, 1969, entitled Quando Quidem Christus. By virtue of this decree, the Holy Father officially created the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church. The Eparchy of Munhall thus was elevated to Archeparchy, and the Eparchy of Passaic was designated as a suffragan or constituent part of the Metropolitan Church. Additionally, the new suffragan Eparchy of Parma (Ohio) was created from the western territory of the former Munhall Eparchy.
The Holy Father appointed Bishop Stephen Kocisko to head the new Metropolitan Church and named him its Archbishop. Bishop Michael J. Dudick, who in 1968 succeeded Bishop Stephen in Passaic, remained the head of the five-year-old Passaic Eparchy. Father Emil Mihalik, Chancellor of the Passaic Eparchy, was then named the first bishop for the newly-created Eparchy of Parma.
On June 11, 1969, Most Reverend Luigi Raimondi, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, enthroned Archbishop Stephen as the first Metropolitan in the history of the Carpatho-Rusyn people. The enthronement took place at Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.
Over a decade later in May 1981, the bishops recognized the need for further development in the life of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America. Bishop Emil of Parma, at a meeting in Pittsburgh, proposed the creation of a fourth eparchy for the far western states. The request was made to the Vatican, and on December 3, 1981, Pope John Paul II, through the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, created the Eparchy of Van Nuys in California. Bishop Thomas V. Dolinay, Auxiliary Bishop of Passaic, was named its first hierarch.
Leading the Metropolitan Church and the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh
1981 – 1990
Following the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Stephen promptly set about the task of restoring the Church generally and Pittsburgh Archeparchy in particular to its authentic religious traditions. To achieve this important goal, Archbishop Stephen undertook a number of initiatives.
Under his leadership, the theology department of Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary, which had been closed for two years, reopened. In accord with the guidelines set forth in the Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation, the seminary instituted programs in pastoral and field ministry for seminarians and placed renewed emphasis on Eastern theological tradition and practices. These programs were implemented under the direction of the seminary’s new rector, Father Judson M. Procyk.
To encourage lay participation and to improve congregational singing in the liturgical services, the Archbishop established an institute to provide formal classes for the instruction of cantors.
Keenly aware of the need for increased knowledge and understanding among the faithful of their religious traditions and heritage, Archbishop Stephen created an Office of Religious Education. This new office took the lead in publishing and providing catechetical materials for the instruction of the youth in their faith and church. Included within the many instructional materials produced by this office was the acclaimed “God With Us” catechetical series. This series was specifically developed for instruction of children in the first eight grades and eventually was used by all Byzantine Catholic jurisdictions in the United States and Canada.
Another important means of instruction inaugurated by the Archbishop was the Byzantine Leaflet Series. Published four times a year, these 8-page pamphlets were extensively researched and printed in color. They proved to be a valuable resource in explaining the liturgical services, customs and traditions of the Byzantine Catholic Church.
Preservation of religious and cultural materials was a matter of great importance for Archbishop Stephen. In 1971, he directed the establishment of an Archieparchial Museum to keep and maintain icons, books, paintings and other items of historical interest. Realizing the archival importance of newspapers, books and other artifacts produced by many Americans of Carpatho-Rusyn origin, he facilitated the efforts of scholars at some of America’s leading universities in collecting and microfilming these materials for conservation and study by future generations.
The Archbishop also undertook an active and prominent role in making his Church recognized and appreciated. With the cooperation of the other hierarchs, clergy and faithful he erected a beautiful chapel in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. during the Archieparchial Golden Jubilee celebration in 1974. Designed in traditional Byzantine style with an iconostasis and colorful mosaics, the chapel serves as impressive reminder to the many visitors to the shrine of the presence of Byzantine Catholics in the United States.
As the head of a sui iuris (self-governing) Metropolitan Church, Archbishop Stephen was designated by the pope to represent the Byzantine Catholics in the Synod of Bishops, the highest consultative body of the Catholic Church. Through his participation at these synodal sessions, the Archbishop was able not only to express the position of the Byzantine Catholic Churches on the many issues faced by the Church in contemporary life, but also to acquaint the Synod fathers from all over the world with the history and importance of this Church in America.
Under his pastoral leadership, several new parishes and missions were established in the expanding Pittsburgh suburbs of Upper St. Clair, North Huntingdon and Gibsonia and in the Texas cities of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. An annual celebration was also introduced to honor couples celebrating their twenty-fifth and fiftieth wedding anniversaries.
With special concern for the seminary, Archbishop Stephen established a Seminary Endowment Fund on the 40th anniversary of his priestly ordination and 25th anniversary of his ordination to the episcopacy.
Auxiliary Bishop John M. Bilock
On March 8, 1973, Pope Paul VI named Monsignor John M. Bilock, Rector of St. John Cathedral, Auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Stephen. He was ordained to the episcopacy on May 15, 1973 at Holy Spirit Church in Pittsburgh (Oakland).
Auxiliary Bishop John used his organizational skills to plan and coordinate most of the Archeparchy’s events, activities and major functions. Some of these which he chaired or coordinated included the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh; the annual Byzantine Catholic Family Day at Pittsburgh’s Kennywood Park; the annual St. Nicholas Day Banquet, and the Labor Day weekend pilgrimage at Mount St. Macrina in Uniontown. Besides these events, he also organized and personally led numerous pilgrimages from the Archeparchy to such places as the Holy Land, Rome, the Marian shrines in Europe and finally, to the ancestral homeland of American Byzantine Catholics in Slovakia and Ukraine.
Bishop John also pioneered the use of the media to develop a new Byzantine Catholic apostolate. Through his efforts, the Divine Liturgy was broadcast every Sunday to a radio audience of thousands, and gradually this apostolate was expanded to include televised Divine Liturgies and other services.
Official change of name for Archeparchy
In 1977 the Archeparchy of Munhall-Pittsburgh was renamed the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.
In February 1990, as the repressive Communist rule finally ended in Central and Eastern Europe, Archbishop Stephen with Bishops John, Michael and Thomas led a large group of American Byzantine Catholic clergy, religious and faithful to the Eparchies of Prešov and Mukačevo. This expression of support and solidarity was gratefully received by their European counterparts who were enjoying freedom of worship after 40 years of suppression and persecution. The historic journey had a great positive moral and spiritual impact for the people in the motherland of the American Church.
Coadjutor Metropolitan Archbishop Thomas V. Dolinay
In the spring of 1990, Archbishop Stephen’s health began to decline; when his retirement became imminent, Pope John Paul II named Bishop Thomas V. Dolinay, Bishop of Van Nuys, as Coadjutor Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh with the right of succession. He was enthroned at St. Paul (Latin Catholic) Cathedral there on May 29 of that year. Bishop George M. Kuzma, Auxiliary Bishop of Passaic, succeeded him as Bishop of Van Nuys.
In compliance with the directives of Vatican II, Archbishop Stephen tendered his resignation as Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh to Pope John Paul II on his 75th birthday, June 11, 1990. Thus was concluded his 50 years of deeply committed service to the Church as a priest and 35 years as a bishop. His health gradually declined, and he fell asleep in the Lord at Mount St. Macrina Manor on the monastery property of the Sisters of St. Basil in Uniontown, Pa. on March 7, 1995. His body reposes in the bishops’ section of the cemetery there.
The Episcopacy of Archbishop Thomas V. Dolinay
1990 – 1993
During his short time of leadership, Archbishop Thomas endeavored to make the Archeparchy more visible and its operations better organized. He moved the Chancery and other administrative offices to the newly purchased nine-story Ewart building in downtown Pittsburgh, and established a central financial accounting system for the parishes. He was actively involved with the Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania (CASP) and their ecumenical endeavors. When Europe became free from Communism, he raised money to help rebuild the churches in the eparchies of Prešov and Užhorod, and traveled there as well.
In addition to his Archieparchial duties, Archbishop Thomas served as the spiritual advisor and editor for The United Societies and was a member of the board of trustees of Catholic Golden Age from its beginning.
Archbishop Thomas fell asleep in the Lord unexpectedly in his sleep at his residence, suffering an apparent heart attack during Bright Week on April 13, 1993. He was 69. His Funeral Divine Liturgy was celebrated in Holy Spirit Church in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh by Auxiliary Bishop John M. Bilock; he was interred in the bishops’ section of Mount St. Macrina Cemetery in Uniontown. Whether in his speaking or writing, Bishop Thomas was frank and outspoken in sharing his opinions and beliefs.
Upon Archbishop Thomas’ passing, Bishop John Bilock, despite his own declining health, then accepted the unanimous selection of the Board of Consultors to become the Administrator of the Archeparchy. He served in this capacity until he fell asleep in the Lord on September 8, 1994. His funeral was celebrated at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall on Tuesday, September 13, and he too was laid to rest in the bishops’ section of Mount St. Macrina Cemetery in Uniontown. Bishop John was a “people person” whose warm personality and charm reached out to everyone, and he had special compassion for the ill and disabled. With the death of Bishop Bilock, Monsignor Russell Andrew Duker, Rector of the Seminary, subsequently served as Administrator of the Archeparchy.
The Episcopacy of Archbishop Judson M. Procyk
1995 – 2001
On November 14, 1994, Pope John Paul II announced the selection of Monsignor Judson Michael Procyk as the third Archbishop of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church and the sixth ordinary of the Pittsburgh Byzantine Archeparchy.
On February 7, 1995, Monsignor Judson was ordained Bishop and enthroned as the Metropolitan Archbishop in the new Cathedral that he constructed. The ordaining bishops were the three hierarchs of the suffragan eparchies of the Metropolitan Province: Bishop Michael (Dudick) of Passaic, Bishop Andrew (Pataki) of Parma, and Bishop George (Kuzma) of Van Nuys. He was enthroned by Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States. Presiding at the ceremonies was His Eminence Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Archbishop of the Latin Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In attendance were 29 Eastern and Latin Catholic bishops, including four bishops from the European eparchies from which American Byzantine Catholics trace their roots, as well as scores of priests, religious, representatives from various Protestant and Orthodox Churches, and hundreds of faithful, many of whom watched the proceedings on closed circuit television in the lower level of the Cathedral.
Metropolitan Judson made significant progress in moving the Church to a more faithful adherence to Eastern traditions and practices. Within the framework of the recently published Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, he established new norms for the administration of the sacraments of initiation, instituted a diaconate program, reestablished the Cantors’ Institute to promote better congregational singing at services, and began an Archieparchial Choir. Additionally, to promote greater openness about the financial situation of the Archeparchy, he directed the preparation and publication of annual financial reports. As the representative of the American Byzantine Catholic Church to the Synod of Bishops on the status of the Church in the Americas, the Metropolitan used that forum to educate and inform bishops from throughout this hemisphere of the presence and importance of the Eastern Catholic Churches. He also was instrumental in the remarkable warming of relations with the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown, Pa.
Sadly, as with his predecessor Archbishop Thomas, the angel of death came suddenly and unexpectedly to Archbishop Judson when he fell asleep in the Lord at the age of 71 in springtime, April 24, 2001. For the last time he was taken to the Cathedral that he built, where the funeral services were prayed and the Divine Liturgy was celebrated on April 30, 2001. Two cardinals, four archbishops and 27 bishops of both the Latin and Eastern Churches participated along with the heads of the Orthodox Church and leaders of other Christian denominations. Many monastics and faithful also were in attendance; the Archieparchial Choir which he founded sang liturgical responses. Metropolitan Judson reposes in the bishops’ section of Mount St. Macrina in Uniontown. He was dearly loved by his people and held in great esteem by the leaders of the other churches and faiths with whom he worked.
On May 1, 2001, the College of Consultors elected Archpriest John Michael Kudrick as Administrator of the Archeparchy. When elected, Archpriest John was serving as Rector of St. John Cathedral, and also held the Archieparchial positions of Secretary to the Archbishop, Vice-Chancellor, Executive Director of the Presbyteral Council, member of the Personnel Board and Chairman of the Renewal and Revitalization Committee.
The Episcopacy of Archbishop Basil M. Schott, OFM
2002 – 2010
Archpriest John directed the functions of the Archeparchy until he was named Bishop of Parma. At the same time, the Bishop of Parma, Basil M. Schott was appointed Archbishop of Pittsburgh. Archbishop Basil Myron Schott, OFM was enthroned as the 4th Metropolitan Archbishop of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church in St. John the Baptist Cathedral on July 9, 2002 by Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.
One of Metropolitan Archbishop Basil’s first undertakings was to name personnel and to create and organize the policies and procedures necessary for the Archeparchy to be in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth as mandated that year by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Archbishop Basil established offices which provided programs for children, teens and young adults. A Pastoral handbook was published under his direction, and monthly days of prayer for the clergy were instituted. During his tenure, in 2006 the status of the Benedictine Holy Trinity Monastery in Butler, Pennsylvania changed, and it officially became a monastery of the Archeparchy.
Archbishop Basil was appointed to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches in Rome, and as head of a sui iuris Church he was its representative to the Synod of Bishops, convening with hierarchs from all over the world.
As president of the Eastern Catholic Bishops Association, Archbishop Basil was instrumental in the creation of a new region of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Formerly, the Eastern bishops belonged with the Latin bishops in the regions which are determined by geographic location. With the addition of the new Region XV, the Eastern Bishops of every judicatory were now a part of their own region.
During the Year for Priests, as proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI from June 29, 2009 to June 29, 2010, Archbishop Basil had a great desire to recognize and honor the priests of the greater Metropolitan Church. He headed the committee, which was comprised of a priest representative from each eparchy, to plan this event. In the midst of the planning in November of 2009, he was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph system. Despite undergoing aggressive treatment, he continued the duties of his office until late May 2010 when his illness incapacitated him. As the priests of the Metropolitan Church gathered in Pittsburgh from all over the country for the early June celebration which he so desired and planned, he was hospitalized.
Archbishop Basil fell asleep in the Lord on June 10, 2010. At his largely attended funeral at St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Metropolitan Nicholas Smisko of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church of Johnstown, Pennsylvania spoke of the deep friendship and esteem that he shared with the Archbishop. He mentioned their ecumenical endeavors, the meetings of their seminarians, and their times together both in prayer and socially. (Metropolitan Nicholas also was afflicted with cancer, and fell asleep in the Lord on March 13, 2011)
The priests that Archbishop Basil ordained during his eight-year term served as his pallbearers at the Cathedral. His Franciscan brothers carried him to his final resting place in the bishops’ section of Mount St. Macrina Cemetery. Blessed with a warm and outgoing personality, Archbishop Basil was beloved for his compassion and concern for everyone. His sense of humor endeared him to friends and strangers alike.
Interim: 2010 to 2012
In accord with Canon Law, after the funeral of Metropolitan Basil, the College of Consultors elected as Administrator of the Archeparchy one of their own, Very Reverend Eugene P. Yackanich. Pastor of St. Elias Church in Munhall, Father Eugene at the time of his election also was serving on the Seminary Board, the Presbyteral Council, the Archieparchial Finance Council, as Protopresbyter of the Greater Pittsburgh Protopresbyterate, and as a member of the Review Board. While continuing to pastor his parish, he capably directed the everyday operations of the Archeparchy.
Bishop William C. Skurla, head of the Eparchy of Passaic, served as Administrator for the Metropolitan Church in the U.S. until he officially was named successor to Metropolitan Basil by Pope Benedict XVI on January 19, 2012.
The Episcopacy of Archbishop William C. Skurla from 2012 to present
Archbishop William C. Skurla, D.D. became the fifth Metropolitan of the Byzantine Catholic (Ruthenian) Metropolitan Church and the eighth head of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh on April 18, 2012 upon his enthronement at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Munhall, Pa. by Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò. In addition to overseeing the Metropolitan Church in the U.S. and administering to the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, Metropolitan Archbishop William also serves as a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Administrative Committee, Priority and Plans Committee, and National Advisory Committee.