THE ARRIVAL OF THE FIRST BASILIANS IN CANADA IN LIGHT OF VATICAN CORRESPONDENCE
by Monsignor Giuseppe Mojoli, Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church (1952).
Translated and adapted by Basilian Fathers Modeste Gnesko & Athanasius McVay.
The first document which hints at Basilians departing for Canada is the letter of Cardinal Mieczeslaw Ledóchowski, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation De Propaganda Fide, to Adélard Langevin, Archbishop of St. Boniface. In his letter of January 21, 1901, Number 12250, the Cardinal thanks the Archbishop for the information about the immigrants who have settled in his archdiocese, as well as for the efforts he is making for them. His letter ends:
"and when the opportunity arises, this Sacred Congregation will not be opposed to taking advantage of the possibility of founding a centre of the reformed Basilians who would be quite capable of serving the spiritual needs of these faithful."1
This same Cardinal Ledóchowski, in his letter of March 1, 1901, Number 12422, wrote to Archbishop Diomedio Falconio, the Apostolic Delegate in Canada:
"I have informed him (Archbishop Langevin of St. Boniface) of the necessity to examine closely, whether it would be appropriate to establish a centre of Basilian monks who would have all of the necessary requirements for the spiritual service to these faithful."
In his report of March 23, 1901, Number 595, Archbishop Falconio replied from Ottawa:
"I am most obliged to Your Eminence for the efforts you have undertaken for these Ukrainians as well as for the hope that you give us in your letter of March 1, 1901, No. 12422, in that you will assist us by sending Basilian monks. The Archbishop of St. Boniface will be very pleased as will the other bishops. Introducing the monks amidst the Ukrainians will not be difficult. The arrival of the Basilian Fathers will be an act of Providence."
Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky took this matter to heart and in his letter from Lviv, August 20, 1902, Number 234, he wrote to Cardinal Gerolamo Maria Gotti, the newly appointed Prefect of the Sacred Congregation De Propaganda Fide:
"... He (Father Basil Zholdak) will be given assistants in the missions and work, which I am prepared to send in response to the fervent plea of the Canadian bishops, as long as Your Eminence does not refuse permission. The first that could be sent would be three priests of the reformed Basilians: Father Jeremiah Lomnytsky, Father Sozontius Dydyk, Father Titus, Auxentius; to them would be added one lay brother from the same Order."
Metropolitan Sheptytsky, from Lviv, wrote to Cardinal Gotti, on September 20, 1902:
"Daily we decry the losses among our people which the Canadian bishops are unable to stop, unless, they send in missionaries who speak the Ukrainian language. Because of this, I humbly ask that Your Eminence permit the travel of the Basilian missionaries, Frs. Lomnytsky, Dydyk and Strotsky who, with the permission of their superiors, wish to begin the journey. And if the consent of the Canadian bishops is required, I have before me the letter of Father Lacombe who, hearing of the pending arrival of missionaries, writes: 'Yes, come with your priests, Basilian monks, with your eparchial priests, with your Basilian Sisters, come without fear."
Archbishop Langevin, having received the same word about the arrival, telegraphed:
"Welcome, Fathers and Sisters. - Langevin."
On September 26, 1902, Number 14979, Cardinal Gotti granted permission to send the first Basilians, and he wrote to Metropolitan Sheptytsky:
"Having considered the reasons put forth in this matter, the Sacred Congregation grants permission for the Basilians mentioned in your letter to accompany the Visitator, Father Basil Zholdak, and to take upon themselves the spiritual care of the faithful under the jurisdiction of the local Ordinaries."
The missionaries began their journey, and on October 28, 1902, Archbishop Falconio, the Apostolic Delegate in Canada, in his letter Number 1610, informed Cardinal Gotti of the missionaries' arrival:
"It is with pleasure that I inform you of the arrival in this Capital of the four reformed Basilian monks, one secular priest, and four Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, all of the Greek-Ukrainian Rite. They arrived from Galicia for missionary work in Manitoba and in the North West, which work was entrusted to them by Most Rev. A. Sheptytsky, the Archbishop of Leopolis (Lviv). Today, they are continuing their journey and in four days of travel by train, they will be in place."
"Considering the fact that I have more than once presented to the Sacred Congregation the need for missionaries, the arrival of these missionaries is truly an act of Providence. The Greek schismatic priests have already begun their divisive work and have occupied one church of the Ukrainian Catholics. Now, with the help of these missionaries I have great hope that this danger will be removed."
A few months later, Archbishop Langevin of St. Boniface, expressed his satisfaction to the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Sbaretti. In his letter March 1, 1903, Langevin wrote:
"The Basilian Fathers are doing excellent work in St. Albert and their presence in Winnipeg is necessary."2
In his letter to the Apostolic Delegate, of April 6, 1903, Apostolic Visitator father Basil Zholdak provided a similar apraisal:
"The Basilian Fathers are working very zealously; quite rightly it can be expected that the Basilian Fathers will be able to bring back to the faith those families that had transferred to those not in union."3
Having seen the tremendous success of the Basilian Fathers mission in Alberta, Archbishop Langevin expressed the desire to bring in still other Fathers for Manitoba. On April 14, 1903, Langevin wrote the following to Apostolic Delegate Sbaretti:
"The visit of Rev. Father Platonid Filas, a Basilian, who came from Edmonton in response to my fervent plea, has kept within the Church the largest portion of the Ukrainian families. It is certain that it will be possible to keep the Ukrainians within the Faith if one or two Basilian Fathers arrive in spring to assist Father Zholdak, a fervent and pious priest, who is closely bound to the Roman Church. Your Excellency would do us a great favour if you were able to obtain Basilian Fathers for Manitoba. In any case, I asked the Provincial of the Basilians for one or two members of their Order for spring, or at least for summer, and I impatiently await them."4
In his letter of April 24, 1903, No. 186, Archbishop Sbaretti, in turn, appealed to Cardinal Gotti:
"The Basilian Fathers are working fervently: and although they are faced with serious obstacles and opposition, there is hope that they will be able to restore to the true faith those unfortunate families and individuals who left it and who went to those not in union. Archbishop Langevin insists on the necessity of having a Basilian Father in his Archdiocese. He indicates that he has already asked the Provincial in Galicia for one or two priests. He very much desires to have his request answered. I am certain that this would do much good for the spiritual welfare of the Ukrainian Catholics and because of this, I boldly and fervently draw this matter to the kind consideration of Your Eminence."5
Cardinal Gotti, in his letter, Number 16611, of September 26, 1903, asked Superior General Father Bapst, (the first Master of Novices in Dobromyl during the 1882 Basilian Reform), whether he could possibly send a few more Basilian priests to Canada, especially to the Archdiocese of St. Boniface. In answer to this request, Father Bapst, on October 11, 1903, wrote from Lviv:
"Although we presently have few labourers, nevertheless, at the request of Your Eminence, bearing in mind the words of the Gospel: 'give and you shall receive', I am prepared to send to Archbishop Langevin, from our small numbers, two conscientious and persevering priests, namely, Father Matthew Hura and Father Naucratius Kryzanowsky. Consequently, I ask permission to send these two priests and for your blessing."
Cardinal Gotti immediately replied and in his letter of November 30, 1903, Number16704, he wrote:
"Having considered the great danger in which the faithful find themselves, without any delay, I grant the requested permission to the monks you have presented, Matthew Hura and Naucratius Kryzanowsky, with the hope that their virtue as well as perseverance in labour, which you commend, will be of great benefit to the Ukrainians."
Archbishop Langevin, in his letter of December 8, 1903, expressed his gratitude to Cardinal Gotti for the priests he had received:
"Moreover, we are speaking in this common letter (by the suffragan bishops to the Pope) about the difficulties in serving the Ukrainians and about the danger of separation which threatens them. Because of this, we are grateful that we can thank Your Eminence for having helped us obtain, in this current year, a centre of the Basilian Fathers in the diocese of St. Boniface, similar to the one established in the diocese of St. Albert."6
In one of his reports in November, 1904, the bishop of St. Albert, Alberta, wrote the following of the work of the Basilians in Canada:
"Finally, the priest monks of OSBM arrived and, following the directives of the Apostolic See, faithfully laboured to maintain these people in union with the Holy See. There are, though, too few workers for the vast territory and many others are spreading uncertainty; sowing false news."
And thus, we come to the third arrival of the Basilians in Canada. On December 19, 1904, Father Paul Demchuk wrote to Cardinal Gotti asking for permission for Father Athanasius Filipow to come to Canada to replace Father Filas, who was returing to Europe to become Superior General of the Basilian Order.
Cardinal Gotti, in his letter to Bishop Légal, of December 10, 1904, No. 18486, recommended Father Filipow, who is to become the superior in Edmonton, in place of Father Filas.
On December 15, 1904, Archbishop Langevin informed Cardinal Gotti that the faithful, served by the Basilian Fathers, are building a church and a residence in Winnipeg:
"This beautiful church will soon be available for divine services and it is our hope that it will be a means of uniting all of the Ukrainians in Winnipeg as well as in the surrounding colonies with the Catholic Church in faithful subordination to the Apostolic See. Father Hura is the pastor of this parish and he has assured us most recently that he has great hope that this will bring about harmony among the Ukrainians of Winnipeg. As well, itwill have beneficial results in the colonies, which are in a state of confusion and which are insistently pleading for a priest of their own Rite."
On the same day, December 15, 1904, Archbishop Langevin asked Cardinal Gotti for permission to add some of his Roman Rite priests to the Ukrainian Rite, thereby alleviating the shortage of Ukrainian priests.7 Cardinal Gotti, in his letter, Number 18626, of January 16, 1905, suggests that Langevin sooner try to obtain priests from the Ukrainian bishops in Austria. Gotti ends his letter:
"Be so good as to once again ask the Ukrainian bishops in Austria or in Hungary, to send you priests, unmarried and of good behaviour. If those are unavailable, ask for priests from the Order of St. Basil. If neither can be had, we will then see, with God's help, what is to be done."
It is interesting to read the record of the blessing of the Church of St. Nicholas in Winnipeg, which is contained in the letter of Archbishop Langevin of St. Boniface to Cardinal Gotti, on January 15, 1905:
"The first [item] concerns the blessing of the new Ukrainian church built in Winnipeg. It was built with the help of a loan from the Archdiocese and given to the care of the Basilian Fathers from Galicia.
Considering the battle which those not in union with Rome have been waging against the Latin Rite bishops, the General Superior of the Basilians insisted that I preside at ceremony. I was presented with the keys to the church as well as with the traditional greeting with bread and salt. I then, having delegated Father Filas to bless the church, told the people: "I insist that this church be blessed according to the Ukrainian Rite, because as Archbishop and Metropolitan it is my duty to safeguard, and, if need be, defend this Rite which is recognised by the Roman Church’. Later I assisted at the throne, during the Divine Liturgy sung in the Ukrainian Rite.
The people present seemed to be very impressed; I was assured that there were at least thirteen hundred people in attendance. I feel that this was a triumph of Catholic unity and the Basilian Fathers of Winnipeg, who at first feared that my presence might create confusion, are now very pleased.
It is now important that Your Eminence send us additional Basilian priests who might take up residence in three additional places which would each have an average of a thousand families."8
In his letter, Number 1583, January 30, 1905, to Cardinal Gotti, Apostolic Delegrate Archbishop Sbaretti related the story of the Ukrainian immigration to Canada and of the arrival of the Basilian Fathers. In this letter we have the first indication of the establishment of the future Basilian Novitiate in Canada:
"Taking advantage of the fact that Father Filas, recently appointed by the Sacred Congregation (De Propaganda Fide) as Superior of the Order of St. Basil, was passing through Ottawa, I asked that he prepare a short memorandum about the Catholic Ukrainians in this country; he gave his report to me on the 20th of this month. I also received, from Archbishop Langevin, Archbishop of St. Boniface, a report about the building of the church for the Ukrainians in the city of Winnipeg. I will attempt to briefly present the material contained in both reports.
The emigration of Ukrainians to Canada began about 15 years ago. These people left their native land because of the unfortunate situation in which they found themselves. They came here and immediately found themselves in a better situation. The government gives each family, at no cost, about 65 hectares of arable land, and, especially in the first years, it gives assistance and relief to the settlers who, if they are industrious and economical, can, after some time, achieve a reasonable level of prosperity. It is no wonder that the Ukrainian settlers here are satisfied and fortunate.
In the beginning, the blossoming material situation did not foster religious development. On the contrary, it gave rise to serious concerns. For almost ten years these people were unable to obtain a single priest of their own Rite. Because they did not trust the Latin Rite priests, nor did they understand their language, they were hot inclined to accept them. Those not in union with Rome took advantage of this situation and strove to separate the Ukrainians from a unity in faith. To this end they persuaded them to oppose the authority of the Latin Rite bishops whom they presented as enemies of the Ukrainian Rite.
Meanwhile, about four years ago, some Ukrainian secular priests arrived and they worked against the actions of the schismatics. For various reasons, especially because they did not want to remain under the jurisdiction of the Latin Rite bishops, they left Canada and returned to their native land. This caused more than a few misunderstandings and suspicions as well as the loss of morale among the Ukrainians; and it gave their enemies new opportunities to do harm. They promptly took advantage of the situation and convinced at least a hundred families to abandon their faith. This went on until, by Divine Providence, two Basilian priests arrived in Alberta.
In the beginning the Basilians encountered difficulties of various kinds, but due to their fervent and selfless work they were able to overcome the difficulties. The Lord blessed their work. Not only was the turn to the schism halted, but fifty families returned to the flock and there is hope that others will follow. The Basilian Fathers have established nine chapels in various parts of their large mission territory in the St. Albert diocese. Last year, 1904, one of the Basilian Fathers went into the Saskatchewan Vicariate where he is serving four Ukrainian churches.
Due to the efforts of Your Eminence, two Basilian Fathers were sent to the Archdiocese of St. Boniface. The Archbishop entrusted them with the mission in the city of Winnipeg, where it was essential that a church be built. The Fathers immediately went to work and have completed the building of a beautiful church. On the 15th of last month, to the great joy of the Ukrainians, Rev. Father Filas solemnly blessed the church. The Archbishop participated at the throne, surrounded by many priests who came to take part in the celebration. The church was packed with people, approximately 1300 Ukrainians. This event, especially when one considers the struggle with the Latin Rite bishops as well as the lack of trust of the Catholic Ukrainians, should be seen as a triumph of Church unity."9
Following his narration of this joyful event, Archbishop Langevin asked for more Basilian priests, so that he could place in their care three additional centres of approximately a thousand families each:
"Father Filas understood the needs and is well disposed to do everything possible to prevent any further misfortunes. Convinced as I am of the great good that can be done for the Ukrainians in this country, I fervently recommend this matter for favourable consideration by Your Eminence.
Here also, may I be so bold as to express my own opinion. I believe, if we consider the constant attention required of the growing needs of these people, it is absolutely necessary to encourage Ukrainian children born in this country to enter the religious life. To this end, in my opinion, it would be fitting that the Basilian Fathers found an educational centre. It would also be very desirable that these Fathers found a novitiate for those Ukrainian young men who feel called to the religious life. It seems to me that this is all the more desirable when one considers the fact that besides the 60 thousand Ukrainian Catholics here in Canada.”10
On June 29, 1905, Number 2044, Archbishop Sbaretti, having presented his report on the situation, added the following considerations for Cardinal Gotti:
"From the information presented, it appears that in the large diocese of St. Boniface, there reside approximately twentyfour thousand Catholic Ukrainians, of which there are two thousand in Winnipeg. In this city there reside two Basilian priests, who periodically visit half of the remaining inhabitants in various locations. The other half are served by Latin Rite priests to whom the Ukrainians are not favourable disposed. The schismatic leaders take advantage of this situation, in order to sow weeds, saying that this is an attempt to deprive the Ukrainians of their Rite... In the meantime, to more easily overcome the present difficulties, it would appear necessary to obtain additional priests of the Ukrainian Rite, especially Basilian priests; it would also be appropriate to appoint one of them as Vicar General for the Ukrainian Catholics."11
At that time, Father Matthew Hura was the Parish Priest of St. Nicholas Church in Winnipeg; Father Kryzhanowsky was the visiting pastor of three important centres: Stuartburn, Pleasant Home and Dauphin. Father Athansius Filipow served the area of Beaver Lake, Alberta; Father Anton Strotsky was originally in Star and later in Saskatchewan; Father Sozontius Dydyk looked after the Rabbit Hill and Edmonton missions.
On June 27, 1904, No. 2929, Archbishop Sbaretti appealed to Cardinal Gotti to intervene in this matter and not to leave 8 to 9 thousand people in the hands of the schismatics:
"Indeed, for many reasons, the idea of Father Filas not to leave monks by themselves in mission stations has merit. I would hope that they might accept the proposal of Bishop Pascal, namely that they send Father Strotsky a colleague. In this way they might avoid the inconveniences about which Father Filas complains, as well as the possible corruption. Your Eminence, in your greater understanding of the matter, will know what to say.
More than a year and a half ago, I spoke with Father Filas, before his return to Europe. I indicated that, in my opinion, it would be fitting for the Basilian Fathers to establish in Canada an educational centre and a noviciate. Father Filas seemed pleased with the idea, but I do not know whether he was able to do anything to begin this task and to bring it to fruition."12
On August 4, 1906, Father Filas replied to Cardinal Gotti:
"I have received the letter, dated July 30, 1906, No. 21169, from the Sacred Congregation De Propaganda Fide, which instructs me to provide two, or at least one missionary for Saskatchewan in Canada.
I will gladly fulfil these instructions from on high, but it will be necessary to wait a short while. I had intended to send two missionaries to Brazil where two of our priests are serving 40,000 souls. Because I do not have a large number of priests, and they are necessary in Brazil and in Saskatchewan, I must wait.
It is impossible for our Order to constantly send new missionaries to America from Galicia. First of all, these journeys require a great deal of money, but also, our novitiate in Galicia is barely able to supply enough workers for our local needs while before us there stands the whole of Russia."
On August 20, 1906, No. 21271, Cardinal Gotti wrote to Father Filas:
"From your letter of the 4th of this month, I am pleased to learn that Your Paternity, having accepted my advice, is prepared to send, when it becomes possible, one or two Basilian missionaries to the Apostolic Vicariate of Saskatchewan in Canada.
In 1912, Bishop Nykyta Budka was named as the first bishop for the Ukrainians in Canada. Since the apostolic work of the Basilians in Canada had already contributed, in large measure, to maintaining the faith among the Ukrainian people. Pope Saint Pius X told the new bishop, when he received him in audience:
"Your diocese is the largest in the whole world. I am pleased when I see before me such a young man. You have a very large territory, you will be able to fly. You cannot do everything; do what you can. Your people cannot perish because you have two protectors: This I know this well about the Ukrainian people; they love the Blessed Virgin and the Eucharistic Jesus.With these safeguards your nation cannot perish. Go with confidence; in Canada there are very good bishops and Catholics. They will help you."
In 1921, Metropolitan Sheptytsky travelled to Canada. In a letter from Quebec, written November 1, 1921, he wrote the following about the Basilians:
"The Basilians are working with great apostolic zeal, and their areas are reasonably well staffed. Unfortunately, they have too few priests, five in all. One resides in Winnipeg, another in Edmonton, still another in Mundare, Alberta. The two remaining serve the colonies and assist their brothers in the above-named monasteries. It is fortunate, that shortly, they will open a novitiate and that they have begun to prepare a home to accommodate the novices.
It appears that the first generation will be represented by a number of good candidates. Almost a year will pass, though, before the funds will be found to complete the building. All five of the Basilians are remarkable monks and good missionaries. Despite the unusually difficult conditions, because each of them is usually alone in the monastery or on the road between colonies, all of them are leading an exemplary life and they do not cease to work zealously.
The mission is in its nineteenth year and the number of missionaries which should have grown according to the needs of the settlers and their numbers, has remained the same as it was in the beginning. The new Provincial, Father Kalysh came to Canada this year and visited the homes. It is to be expected that these visits will bear fruit.
This is a brief collected history of the the first Basilians in Canada as it is recorded in the official documents of the Vatican Congregations and the (then) Apostolic Delegature to Canada. The work of the first four missionaries, who came to Canada at the turn of the twebtieth century, has borne much fruit, as the mustard seed in the Gospel.
His Eminence Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, in his letter of February 29, 1952, to Father Theodosius Haluschynsky, Archimandrite, expressed his best wishes on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the first Basilians in Canada. In the same letter, he appropriately notes:
"One can even say that the first Basilian Religious, who came to Canada fifty years ago must be considered pioneers of the Catholic Faith. If the Apostolic See were recently able to create in Canada four Apostolic Exarchates, a large portion of the credit belongs to the Basilian Fathers, who laboured so successfully."13