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A Pivotal Year: 1918

A Pivotal Year: 1918: une année charnière

By Paul Laverdure, M.A., Ph.D.

Director of Library, Archives and Technology Services, University of Sudbury

Speech given 15 September 2018

In the context of the special event “Celebrating One Church: Two Rites Together/ Célébrer une église – deux rites ensemble” at the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Saint-Boniface

In commemoration of the 200thanniversary of the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in Western and Northern Canada, the 150thAnniversary of the birth of Fr. Achiel Delaere, Founder of the Yorkton Province of the Ukrainian Catholic Redemptorists and the Establishment of a Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy.

Your excellencies, Messeigneurs, Reverend Fathers and Sisters, Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, mes amis. Мені честь бути запрошений тут. Багато, дуже дякую, що дозволили мені поділитися своїм святом і радістю. Comme je viens de le dire en Ukrainien, je suis très honoré par votre invitation de participer avec vous dans la joie à cette belle célébration. If there is one phrase I want everyone to know by the time I finish, it is «Вічная пам’ять» : mémoire éternel, eternal memory.

This is said at the end of the Byzantine liturgy commemorating the dead: eternal memory refers to God, who is eternal, not to us, because we forget. Nous prions que Dieu se souvienne de la personne décédée et que cette personne serait toujours avec Dieu. This is one of the important lessons of Church History. Vichnaya Pamiat’, belongs to God. We only tryto remember. Today is one of those days where we try to remember and know God WILL remember infinitely better than we do.

Two hundred years ago, the first steps were taken in the creation of what became the Archdiocese of Saint-Boniface and we have spent the year trying to remember and praising these pioneers. One hundred and fifty years ago, in Belgium, was born Achiel Delaere who worked in the Archdiocese, and today glory surrounds the name of this pioneer priest.

Qui étaitDelaere? His colleagues painted him as a man of perseverance, but not of much academic talent. Born in 1868 in Lendelode, Belgium, il fut fils d’un fermier flamand. He was Flemish and he had very little formal education, because his father often kept him on the farm. Le jeune homme s’est joint aux Rédemptoristes en 1889 et après des études de rattrapage, et de théologie, il fut ordonné en 1896. Il resta rude dans ses manières: he told people exactly what he thought of them. Even Canada’s Apostolic Delegate learned about Delaere’s straight talk. Delaere once told him that only liars and scoundrels wrote to complain to the Apostolic Delegate. The Delegate blandly replied that, besides priests such as Delaere, usually Bishops and Archbishops wrote to the Apostolic Delegate. Many people stated Delaere was more comfortable around horses than people.  One of his closest co-workers described him as a conqueror and a builder, letting others take care of the details. “It was just too bad for you if in his rush, he insulted you or stepped on your toes.” His zeal and his capacity for work, however, made him indispensable. He got along with those who worked as hard as he did. They were rare.

One hundred years ago today, in 1918, he was fifty years old, and he was halfway through his working life. Il pouvait contempler vingt ans de travail derrière lui et il ne savait pas, mais il avait encore vingt ans devant lui.

What did the previous 20 years show?

Delaere had been chosen twenty years earlier for the new mission field of Brandon, Manitoba, where thousands of immigrants were coming in waves. Archbishop Adelard Langevin had begged for missionary priests. The bishops of Western Canada also wrote to Pope Leo XIII. Bishop Pascal wrote: « Il faut du zèle, du dévouement, de l’abnégation: or seuls les religieux possèdent pleinement ces vertus apostoliques. »Well, that was then and the bishops were buttering up the religious congregations to convince them to come. It worked!

The Redemptorists answered the call and were assigned to Hun’s Valley with Brandon as their central monastery and parish. The Redemptorist founder, Godts spent his family’s fortune to build the neo-gothic jewel that is Brandon’s church. Delaere, who was inspired by Godts to join the Redemptorists, was sent to Poland to learn Slavic languages. He spent only a few months on Slovak and then a few more months learning Polish. That’s all the time he had. His trip to Canada was eventful; the shipwreck of the Scotsman on which he sailed and the death of several passengers were widely reported. Delaere was rescued from a barren island after a few days of exposure, and was immediately put on a train for Brandon in 1899. He was welcomed as a modern Saint Paul and put to work. He travelled on foot, by cart, by horse and by sleigh through tracts of prairie and wilderness, finding the settlers, organizing them into parishes, getting them to build chapels.

He found that most of the Slovaks and Hungarians he had expected had moved on while Ukrainian Catholics had moved in. While there were Polish-speaking immigrants, and many of the Ukrainian-speaking immigrants from Austria understood Polish, Delaere had barely mastered that language. As a priest, he was nonetheless welcome. According to Propamiatna Knyha, the fiftieth anniversary volume of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, Delaere organized 12 Greek Catholic parishes in the Brandon district, and helped with several of the Roman Catholic parishes.

But in Canada and the United States, Roman Catholic Bishops, including Langevin of Saint-Boniface, were afraid of diversity which seemed to divide the Catholic Church in the eyes of the majority Protestants. This diversity included the Eastern rite and its married clergy. Langevin and his brother bishops barred all married, even widowed clergy from working in their jurisdictions. Since most eastern-rite clergy are married, the shortage of clergy became a major problem as the population grew.

The Ukrainians, although grateful for Delaere’s efforts at first, were caught up in the growing nationalisms of the day. In disappointment at Roman Catholic unwillingness to accept their married priests and their rite, they turned to the Russian Orthodox and to Protestants, such as the Presbyterians, and they accepted imposters, self-styled priests and anyone who provided services in the rite they knew. Furthermore, the bishops, relying on Roman Catholic canon law, to gain assets on which they could borrow money to help pay for the new churches, and to protect the properties from falling into the hands of imposters or protestants or the Russian Orthodox, required that any property used for Catholic church purposes be transferred to the Archepiscopal Corporation, otherwise liturgies would not be celebrated. Now I quote the former Catholic cantor who became a Presbyterian minister, John Bodrug: When the Archbishop asked for the deeds, “All Hell Broke Loose.” Ukrainian settlers who had provided the land, the lumber, the labour, and the furnishings saw the Archbishop’s move to incorporate the properties as another Roman Catholic attempt at assimilation, something which both Poland and Austro-Hungary had tried to do. Archbishop Sheptytsky of Lviv sent Father Basil Zholdak to help, but one priest wasn’t enough. I came across a couple of references to a few Ukrainian parishioners shooting guns in the church over Delaere’s head. The message was clear. Roman Catholics weren’t welcome. Otherwise, the Ukrainian settlers were likely to lower their expectations.

Perhaps 1/3d of all Ukrainian Catholics were lost to the Church in Canada. It is hard to know exactly, but Ukrainians went from almost entirely Catholic in 1901 to about 70% Catholic in 1931. The phenomenal growth of the Orthodox was not due to immigration but to schism. Langevin was at his wits’ end and declared that they would save as many as they could and the rest would go to Hell – which in his mind meant to the Protestants and to the Orthodox.

He asked if Delaere could adopt the rite. Delaere agreed. To everyone’s shock, it wasn’t bi-ritualism that was granted. It was decided in Rome that to reassure Eastern Catholics that Rome did not intend to assimilate anyone, Delaere had to dedicate himself entirely to the rite. Delaere became the first, in 1906, to transfer to the Byzantine rite, leaving the Latin rite behind. Quel sacrifice! Mais le people en avait besoin de son sacrifice et il est devenu prêtre eet religieux pour cela. Il a eu sa première celebration byzantine dans la chapelle privée de l’archevêque de Saint-Boniface.Archbishop Langevin then asked him to take over the Yorkton district from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Delaere was already traveling there once a month, by horse, of course,

Despite his sacrifice, most still considered him a French and Latin priest, although he was Flemish and, now, Byzantine. One year later, the United States received an eastern-rite Bishop, but he had limited powers, and Ukrainian nationalism had another grievance. More Catholics became Orthodox. Delaere proposed that Saint-Boniface have an auxiliary bishop of the Eastern rite, not because he believed that this was an ideal solution but one which he believed the Roman Catholic bishops of Canada would accept. His young colleague, another Flemish Belgian, Hendrik Boels, the second Redemptorist to transfer to the eastern rite, argued openly and boldly (and with Delaere’s permission) for an eastern-rite Bishop for all of Canada, one with full jurisdiction over all eastern Catholics, unlike in the United States. Nykyta Budka, Metropolitan Sheptytsky’s former secretary, was consecrated for Canada and arrived in late 1912. So, from 1906 until 1912, until Budka’s arrival, Delaere and his confreres worked under the Archbishop of Saint Boniface and after 1910 until 1912, Winnipeg and Regina. In 1912, Delaere was overjoyed to see his new bishop.

And what was Saint-Boniface’s contribution up to Budka’s arrival? Langevin paid for all of the Ukrainian-speaking minor seminary students in St. Boniface and in Brandon, Manitoba and the major seminary students in Toronto and Montreal. The Saint-Boniface Archdiocese had given over $38,000 in donations for the students, for the Ukrainian newspaper and for the building of a minor seminary. Today, that would be close to a million dollars. The Redemptorists of French Canada and of Belgium had sent another $75,000, equivalent to over two million dollars. The Archbishop of Winnipeg also took up the cause for the Ukrainian chapels and students in his archdiocese and sent Budka money.

By 1918, most of the great events of Delaere’s life had already happened, it seemed, yet he thought everything was falling apart. He begged his Belgian superiors to accept his resignation and he begged God to send him to his grave. He could not go on. A hundred years ago, 1918. A terrible year. A pivotal year. Why was Delaere like this?

A hundred years ago, at exactly the midpoint between the first missionary arriving to establish what became the Archdiocese of Saint-Boniface and today, the world was going to hell in a handbasket. Many thought the end times had arrived. One of the best-selling novels was a reprint of the Spanish classic: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.Pope Benedict XV is known mainly for his failed efforts to end the war. The new Archbishop of Saint Boniface, Arthur Béliveau, has never had a full-length biography, partly because as the secretary and then the chancellor and hand-picked successor he never entirely emerged from the long shadow of Archbishop Adélard Langevin. Another reason is that a century needs to pass before many archives are available to the historian. So, 2018 may be a very good year for historians and perhaps for Béliveau’s future biographer. Still, he was less involved in the Ukrainian missions than his predecessor.

In 1918, the population of Canada was just under 8 million people, and at one point during the war over half a million people was in uniform, many of them overseas, and several hundred thousand more were in war industries. They had left their homes and the depopulation of rural Canada had begun. After the war, Canada would no longer be the rural country in which Delaere was comfortable. Over sixty thousand Canadians in uniform died in the war, Three times that number, over 170 thousand men, returned to Canada wounded. So, a quarter million Canadian men in that population of 8 million were killed or wounded in the First World War. Around the world, somewhere between 20 and 100 million people were dying of the flu. At home, the Spanish flu was killing another thirty to sixty thousand Canadians, the young, the old, the sick, the injured, almost as many as died in the war. We cannot be more precise about the death toll, because too many people died too quickly to be counted. Isolated farms where everyone had died were abandoned. Delaere’s younger confrere, Hendrik Boels, also caught the Spanish flu and died suddenly. Delaere went into shock.

The Canadian government arrested 4000 Ukrainian Austrian citizens, mainly single men, and registered 80,000 others who were to report to the police weekly. Most of the arrested Ukrainians were then paroled into the care of farmers and factories to provide forced labour for the war. This stain on Canada’s history reflected the general ignorance and fear other Canadians had for eastern Europeans, although most had left Europe and that loyalty behind. Many Ukrainian Catholics, Delaere’s parishioners, were rounded up and shipped away.

New Redemptorists, such as the Ukrainian priest Joseph Bala, Bishop Budka’s former secretary, who wanted to join Delaere in Canada, was prevented by the Canadian government from coming to Canada, because he had an Austrian passport. Fake news of his death at the hands of the Soviets brought Delaere to suffer a nervous breakdown and he was found crying in his room. He had counted on having Bala help him with the Ukrainian settlers. The pressure of work in Yorkton had become too much. He was sent to the small town of Komarno, in Manitoba, closer to Winnipeg and its hospitals.

Delaere tried to build a Komarno monastery to match Yorkton, but he was spending most of his time either in hospital or recuperating at home, partly from exhaustion, partly from depression, and partly from other health problems, such as infections, and hernias. He and Father Louis Van den Bossche (or Bosky as he was sometimes called), were nonetheless taking care of the entire area between Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg. Hatred of strangers and the jingoist atmosphere of war-time Canada resulted in both Bishop Budka and Van den Bossche being arrested in July 1918 on trumped-up charges of sedition and treason while they were preaching a parish mission. Other Ukrainian Catholic priests were also arrested during the war. Although the trial exonerated both for lack of evidence, the arrests were part of a pattern of petty persecution of all things foreign, including the Belgians who were working with the Ukrainians.

Bishop Budka, like Delaere, also suffered from ill-health and exhaustion. Ten years later, he was forced to resign because of his continuing ill-health, personnel and financial difficulties which had begun during the war. Canada was too large for a single Eastern-rite Bishop. Budka’s failures hit Delaere very hard.

In summary, Delaere’s bishop, his confreres, and he were being constantly harassed. Boels had died. Bala was reported dead. Priests were being arrested, jailed and fined. Delaere himself was in hospital in Winnipeg for operations and was trying to ward off another nervous breakdown, all the while building Komarno and a string of churches in the interlake district. Some of the churches he had built and parishes he had organized had gone over to the Orthodox and to the Protestants. It seemed as if his work was falling apart around him as soon as he built it.

Yet, when Delaere arrived there had been almost nothing. By the end of the war, there were 41 eparchial priests, Manitoba had 82 churches to serve 65,000 eastern-rite Catholics, Saskatchewan had 69 churches and 75,000 eastern-rite Catholics, Alberta, another 39 churches, Ontario 11, and Quebec, 2. In 1918, the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Canada was a western Church. Its existence was due to immigration and the work of religious such as Delaere in the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface and dioceses that had once been part of the Archdiocese.

While the Ukrainian Catholic Church had a hard time to recover from schism during the early part of the twentieth century, Delaere and the Roman Catholic Church of western Canada had made sure that most Ukrainians were and remained Catholic. And for this the Archeparchy of Winnipeg and we remember and celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface and the 150thanniversary of Delaere’s birth.

After the War, Delaere’s superiors told him to get a car and to stop traveling by horse. He built several more mission chapels, churches and parishes in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba. He turned Yorkton’s horse barn into a Press. With Louis Van den Bossche, Joseph Bala and later Redemptorists, he began the publishing hundreds of thousands of pamphlets, magazines and books in Ukrainian and in English to reach where he could not physically go either by horse or car. Renamed superior of the Redemptorists, Delaere led them in a massive expansion, sent missionaries into the United States, received Ukrainian Redemptorist refugees from Europe, and built yet another church and monastery in Ituna, Saskatchewan. With the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate and the Brothers of the Christian Schools, schools and orphanages in both Yorkton and Ituna were built and expanded. He worked until he died. He was buried in Yorkton just before the world again exploded in another World war. He was 71.

His momentous step, accepting the eastern rite at the urging of Saint-Boniface’s Archbishop, was the first step in creating a new wing to Canada’s Catholic Church.

I say 1918 was a pivotal year, because Delaere had fallen into despair because of his health, his seeming failures, at the death of his confreres, at the state of his Church, and of the world. There was always too much work. With the help of the Archdioceses of Saint-Boniface, and of Winnipeg, with his confreres, his fellow religious, priests, and sisters, he persevered, just as the world did, just as his church did, just as his mission did. When we say Vichnaya Pamiat’ we ask that all of them be remembered.

There are moments which test us all to the breaking point and beyond, but faith and fellowship carried Delaere for another twenty years, while the world seemed to be heading straight for Hell again as the Depression wiped out people’s work, the Nazis shattered the peace, and the Communists starved Ukraine and drove Ukrainian Catholics underground. And today, we, our people, our church and our world also face terrible crises and know there will be more, but that there is a resurrection. We, too, today, are in the very middle of things. Nous sommes un people en marche, en pelerinage. We can look backwards at our failures and our accomplishments which seem to be crumbling all around us. Just as 1918 was only halfway for Saint-Boniface and half-way for Delaere, we must have faith that we here, today, are only half-way in our pilgrimage of faith. We remember the past and have hope in the future.

Vichnaya Pamiat’! Vichnaya Pamiat’! Vichnaya Pamiat’!

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