In the early twentieth century, because of the impoverished economic and social conditions in their homeland, peasants from Ukraine were forced to move to the New World. They were lovers of nature, and it was precisely this that was lacking at home. Canada, on the contrary, was giving away large tracts of land to those who were willing to cultivate it. Such an opportunity was not to be scoffed at. Thousands of Ukrainian farmers poured into Canada each year and began settling in the boundless plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
However, apart from the free land they received, these pioneer settlers of Western Canada possessed no other material goods. Their homes were improvised mud huts, not furnished with even the most primitive necessities and comforts of life. The early years of this pioneer life were extremely difficult — the battle against adverse forces of nature was not an easy one.
If the material trials were exhausting, the religious and spiritual conditions were even more deplorable. In their homeland the entire life of these Ukrainian peasants was centred around the parish church. In the New Land they were deprived of all spiritual care: they had no priests, no churches of their own, no spiritual comforts whatsoever. From this point of view they were completely abandoned in the wide prairies of Western Canada.
Archbishop Langevin, in search of priests who would care for the wide variety of peoples who had settled in his extensive diocese, visited the Provincial Superior of the Belgian Redemptorist province at Bruxelles in July of 1898, earnestly beseeching him to send missionaries to care for the various Slavic peoples immigrating to Canada. The earnest plea of the zealous Archbishop did not fall on deaf ears. The young energetic Achille Delaere, C.Ss.R., who had been ordained in 1896, was appointed to the task of caring for the Slavs in Western Canada. He immediately left for Tuchow, Poland, in order to make a linguistic preparation for the work ahead of him.
Following several months of study of the Slavic languages, Father Delaere left for Canada. He and Father Joseph Coppin, also a Redemptorist, sailed from Liverpool on the “Scots-man.” The date was 14 September 1899. By 11 October 1899, Fr. Delaere had arrived in Brandon, Manitoba. He established a Redemptorist house without delay, and put himself to work in his new field with a truly apostolic ardour.
It soon became obvious to him how much in need of religious attention were the Ukrainians around the Brandon area. In the face of such an immense field of labour he saw himself overwhelmed. Adding to the difficulties was his Latin Rite. The Ukrainians were very loathe to accept his services: in matters of rite they had sad experiences in their motherland and were suspect of Fr. Delaere’s intentions.
In the autumn of 1901, the great Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky sent his secretary, Fr. Basil Zoldak, on his behalf as an Extraordinary Visitor to Canada. Fr. Zoldak visited Father Delaere’s mission centres in Manitoba. In his report to Archbishop Langevin, Father Zoldak had high praise for the zealous and sacrificial work of the young Redemptorist among the Ukrainians. He recommended to the bishop that it would be very useful to confide to the care of Father Delaere the Yorkton—Canora district, since schismatic priests were causing havoc among the Ukrainian Catholic population of that region. Two years later, on 13 January 1904, the first Redemptorists, including Father Delaere, made their permanent residence in Yorkton, Saskatchewan.
By this time Father Delaere was feeling more and more the inconvenience of being of the Latin Rite. In spite of his generous and self-effacing sacrifices, some of the Ukrainians would not accept his spiritual services. Finally, on 9 March 1906, Father Delaere obtained permission from Pope Pius X to practice the Byzantine Rite ad quinquennium, but at the same time prohibiting him all exercise of the Latin Rite during that period. Having spent several months in preparatory study, Father Delaere celebrated Mass in the Byzantine Rite for the first time on 26 September 1906.
During the next 5 years several more Belgian Redemptorists followed Fr. Delaere and adopted the Oriental Rite. Strengthened and encouraged, these young and energetic missionaries set about helping establish Churches and chapels in many centres of Ukrainian settlement. In 1910, Metropolitan Sheptytsky accepted the invitation of Fr. Delaere to visit the Ukrainian settlements in Western Canada. This visit to Yorkton was the Metropolitan’s first close contact with the Redemptorists labouring in the Byzantine Rite. It was the first time he had seen religious, members of the same Congregation, but practicing two different Rites, living together in the same community. He was an eyewitness of the great spiritual good produced by these religious among the Ukrainian settlers of Western Canada.
The Founding Of A Ukrainian Province
The experience was a ray of light for the great prelate. Could not this be done on a larger scale? His keen and perspective mind foresaw immense possibilities for the Oriental Church in such a venture. He immediately began forming plans to transplant a community of these religious into the fertile lands of the Ukraine. Thus he hoped to solve the acute problem of a shortage of Ukrainian priests in Canada and instill new blood in the Church back home.This subject recurred frequently in the many letters written by the Metropolitan. On 24 October 1911, before leaving for Rome, he wrote to Father Delaere: “I expect to visit your Father General. I will be happy if I can do something for your mission and for you.” Then writing again to Father Delaere from Rome on December 29, he said: “I visited your Father General and emphatically asked him to found a monastery and with time also a Ukrainian province.” On this occasion the chronicler of the Yorkton house noted: “those were also the fervent desires of the Redemptorists working among the Ukrainians in Canada.”
Father C. Van de Steene, the Belgian Provincial, writing on 29 January 1912, to Father General, Patrick Murray, announced that Father Delaere was about to embark for Europe and would also go to Rome to discuss in full the possibility of an exclusively Oriental Rite foundation in Canada or what would be even better, in Galicia. (As mentioned before, Redemptorists of both Rites had been living in the same house and sharing the same church for services of either Rite.) The General of the Redemptorists, Patrick Murray, writing to Father Delaere on 12 June 1912, told him to visit Metropolitan Sheptytsky and investigate the possibilities in Galicia.
In the beginning of July, Father Delaere, accompanied by his Provincial, Father Van de Steene, fulfilled the General’s wishes. They were cordially received by Metropolitan Sheptytsky, whose desire it was that the Redemptorists should open as soon as possible a house of the Eastern Rite at Lviv. Because of unforeseen difficulties, these plans were not immediately executed, and a month later Father Delaere returned to Canada.
Upon his return, Father Delaere immediately began planning an Oriental Rite foundation in Canada. Such a foundation, naturally, required the approval of the local Ordinary. It was willingly granted with a letter of 23 January 1913, and confirmed soon after on 18 March, in a letter of Msgr. Budka to Father General, Patrick Murray. The document gave the Redemptorists full liberty to found Eastern Rite houses in Canada, to have a minor seminary and novitiate, preach missions and live according to their rules and privileges.
During his visit to Rome in February, 1913, Metropolitan Sheptytsky returned to Rome and visited Father General, personally requesting a foundation of Redemptorists in Ukraine. Soon after, Metropolitan Sheptytsky and Father Murray completed an agreement, which was signed by the Metropolitan at Lviv on 27 May and by the General on the 31st of the same month. The Holy See approved this pact on 11 June 1913, with a letter from the Congregation of the Faith for the Affairs of the Oriental Rite. The following year, on 27 April 1914, the document was legalized by the same Congregation.
Expansion & Development
By 5 June 1913, Father Delaere began construction of a magnificent Eastern Church and Redemptorist monastery. The church, called St. Mary’s, was consecrated by Bishop Budka on 23 August l914. This foundation gradually became an important centre of religious life among the Ukrainians of Canada. To provide the future needs of the Congregation, in 1920 a new wing was added to the monastery and a minor seminary was begun. However, the overworked missionaries were forced to close down this institution several years later, but reopened it in 1935. In 1922, the first two Ukrainian-born Redemptorists arrived in Canada: Fathers John Bala and Stephen Bachtalowsky. 1928 saw the arrival of two more: Fathers Gregory Shyshkovich and Nicholas Kopiakiwsky. Still others arrived in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Several of our confreres from the Yorkton Province have been called to serve the Church as Bishops:
- +Archbishop-Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk, CSsR (1950 – 1993: Metropolitan Archbishop of Winnipeg)
- + Bishop Vladimir Malanchuk, C.Ss.R (1961 – 1983: Ukrainian Exarch in Paris, France)
- + Bishop Michael Rusnak, C.Ss.R. (1965 – Byzantine Slovak Eparchy in Canada)
- + Bishop Michael Hrynchyshyn, C.Ss.R. (1983 – 2012: Ukrainian Exarch in Paris, France)
- + Bishop Michael Kuchmiak, C.Ss.R. (1988-2002: Exarch of Great Britain)
- + Archbishop-Metropolitan Michael Bzdel, C.Ss.R. (1993-2006: Archbishop-Metropolitan of Winnipeg)
- Bishop Peter Stasiuk, C.Ss.R. (1993-present: Eparch of Australia & Oceania)
- Bishop Michael Wiwchar, C.Ss.R. (1993-2000: Eparch of St. Nicholas in Chicago, U.S.A.; 2000-2008: Eparch of Saskatoon)
- Bishop John Pazak, C.Ss.R. (2000-present: Byzantine-Slovak Eparchy in Canada)
- Bishop Bryan Joseph Bayda, C.Ss.R. (2008-present: Eparch of Saskatoon)
The Yorkton Province Today
The Yorkton Province Redemptorists have experienced a great deal of change in the last 40 years. In the 1950’s, 60’s and into the 70’s the numbers of the Province increased steadily. However in the 80’s and 90’s this trend has reversed. This decrease in numbers has led the community to discern and re-evaluate its mission. As a result of numerous Dialogues with young people, the Redemptorists have re-focused their mission in Canada.
Since 1991 the Province has sponsored a S.E.R.V.E. program, (Summer Endeavor in a Redemptorist Volunteer Experience), where for a few weeks each summer, young adults along with Redemptorists involve themselves in the welfare of those living in poverty. In 1993, an exciting project was undertaken in the ‘core’ area of Winnipeg. The Welcome Home, a collaborative effort where Redemptorists and lay people live in community to provide evangelizing presence among the poorest of the poor in Winnipeg.
With the downfall of the Communist Regime, the Redemptorists in Ukraine have experienced a re-birth, and have seen a normalization of their life and community as well as an increase in numbers of members. This development has led to increased cooperation with Redemptorist confreres in Ukraine, and has already resulted in the presence of several Redemptorists from the Lviv Province among us in Canada and the United States.