Putting Down Roots
The Founding of the Basilian Novitiate in Canada
Athanasius McVay, OSBM
The year 2002 marked the centenary of the Order of Saint Basil the Great in Canada 1. This centenary is commonly associated with the town of Mundare, Alberta, which has come to be regarded as the first centre of the Basilian mission. Actually, the first missionaries did not go to what is today the town of Mundare. Nonetheless, the Basilian Monastery in Mundare did become the mother-house, headquarters of the Basilians in Canada and seat of the its first training centre or novitiate. Some of the events leading to this being the case are outlined in this article.
The first Basilian in Canada was an itinerant missionary, Father Damascene Polyvka, who established St. Nicholas Church in Winnipeg, in 1899 2. Following Polyvka's departure to the United States, Father Basil Zoldak, Secretary to Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, arrived in Winnipeg as a Visitator to assess the spiritual situation of the Ukrainian 3 immigrants, and to act as a mediator between Ukrainians and the local Roman Catholic Hierarchy in Canada. Local Catholic bishops were anxious to obtain clergy to serve the Ukrainians according to their own church rite. One solution, proposed by the bishops, involved training Latin Rite priests to celebrate in the Ukrainian Rite 4.
Bishop Légal, of the diocese of St. Albert (Edmonton), Alberta was foremost in efforts to obtain Ukrainian clergy to serve the Ukrainians in his diocese. At the turn of the century, the Edmonton area contained the largest concentration of Ukrainian immigrants in Canada. Bishop Légal sent his Vicar General, Father Lacombe, to Austria, to obtain the needed missionaries. Father Lacombe spoke to civil and religious leaders, notably Emperor Francis Joseph and newly appointed Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky 5.
Beaver Lake 1902
The Bishop's efforts were rewarded with the arrival of four missionaries from the newly-reformed Ukrainian Basilian Order, the only religious order existing in the Ukrainian Church at that time. Led by Father Platonides Filas, the small group consisting of Basilian priests, a Basilian brother, and four Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, passed through Edmonton, and established a mission centre near Beaver Lake, which is close to the present-day town of Mundare. Later, a small chapel and residence were constructed and from this centre, the Basilians were able to serve the pockets of Ukrainian settlers in the area, many of which began building chapels or churches in or near their own communities. The superior of this mission, Father Filas, resided at Beaver Lake until his appointment as Provincial Superior of the Basilians, in 1904 6.
Winnipeg-St. Boniface, Capital of Western Canada
Canadian Church leaders were already taking notice of the success of the Basilian mission in Alberta. Since 1895, Adélard Langevin had been Archbishop of St. Boniface, the de facto primate of the Catholic Church in Western Canada. Initially, due to his inexperience with the Eastern Churches and a bad example given by itinerant clergy, Langevin was opposed to importing priests from Galicia 7. The successful missions of the Basilians in Alberta and new instructions from the Vatican 8, brought about a change of heart and prompted him to seek missionaries from Austrian Galicia in much the same way that Bishop Légal had done. Langevin quickly established a rapport with Father Filas of Beaver Lake and soon obtained two Basilians to work in Winnipeg, in November 1903 9.
Langevin was quick to perceive that the Basilian Mission would become the corner-stone of the Ukrainian Catholic mission in Canada 10. In addition, he noted that the number of Ukrainians in the Winnipeg area was increasing, and by 1910 had eclipsed that of the Edmonton area. In view of this, Langevin convinced Filas to establish the Basilian headquarters at Winnipeg, in Langevin's own archdiocese; the hub of the Church in the West 11. However, before this transfer could take place, Filas was recalled to Galicia to assume superiorship of the entire Basilian Order.
Father Athanasius Filipow assumed Filas' duties at Beaver Lake, but he was not appointed superior over the other Basilians in Canada. Filas attempted to personally direct the Canadian mission from Galicia as best as he could. This situation was problematic from the start, as the Fathers could not follow the guidance of both the local Archbishop and a religious superior who was thousands of miles away. Langevin, in his letter of August 28 1906, begged Filas to appoint one of the local missionaries to be superior in Canada. Such a superior or "Vice-Provincial" could coordinate the apostolate directly with the Archbishop 12.
Headquarters at Winnipeg 1906
Finally, in 1906, Filas appointed Father Sozontius Dydyk as Superior of the Basilians in Canada, upon the recommendation of his Basilian confreres and Archbishop Langevin 13. Dydyk established his headquarters at Winnipeg, next to Saint Nicholas Church. At that time, Athanasius Filipow was transferred from Beaver Lake to become Parish Priest at St. Nicholas Church in Winnipeg.
Until the arrival of Bishop Budka, at the end of 1912, Basilian Superior Sozontius Dydyk coordinated much of the apostolate in Manitoba. At this same time, through the encouragement of Archbishop Langevin, Belgian Redemptorist Father Achilles Delaere transferred to the Ukrainian Rite. A handful of Latin Rite priests had also adopted the Ukrainian Rite and were serving in Manitoba 14.
In the same year the that the Basilian headquarters was established at Winnipeg, a group of Ukrainians left the new St. Nicholas Church that had been built by Langevin. They returned to the first church, which had been abandoned. Certain circles in the Ukrainian community felt that the Basilians were too exclusive in their spiritual focus and too close to the Roman Catholic authorities 15.
Indeed, in hindsight, both criticisms were valid, but were conscious decisions by men who were convinced that the iron dedication and spiritual rigor, particular to their newly-reformed Order, were the necessary means to preserve the simple people in their faith 16. Further, while some of the Ukrainian intelligentsia were looking for a style of spirituality that was more patriotic and perhaps somewhat xenophobic. While not always agreeing with the Roman Catholic hierarchy 17, the Basilians were at pains to keep the relationship cordial and to coordinate their mission with the legitimate Catholic authorities. The fruit of such diplomacy was the whole-hearted support of the Catholic Hierarchy and various organizations of catholic relief, such as the Catholic Extension society 18. Without the financial and moral support our people would not have been able to afford to construct the many religious and cultural edifices that they required for the preservation of their ethnic and religious traditions.
Mundare Town and Church 1910
In 1902, there was no town of Mundare, neither was there a Province of Alberta. The Beaver Lake area was still within the Northwest Territories. The town of Mundare sprung-up along the Canadian Northern railway line, which came through the area in 1905. Mundare was a boom-town and began to grow very rapidly. Ukrainians settled there immediately and constructed a beautiful church in 1910. The Basilians also aquired the land surrounding the church. This Church became the largest parish in the area, all of which was served by the Basilians of the Beaver Lake mission 19.
The changing mission 1910-1920
The Basilian mission had its successes and its failures. Although most of the missionaries were extremely dedicated, they did not have a significant appeal to the intelligentsia's nationalistic and cultural aspirations; the goals of the Basilians were mainly spiritual and church-orientated 20.
Also, not all of the missionaries remained in their calling, particularly the lay brothers 21. The adaptation to a new land of freedom and democracy was too much for a few of them. Their departures depleted the small ranks that had to serve many thousands of immigrants. In addition, the early missionaries, despite their indefatigable zeal, were not quick to adapt to the local culture, particularly with respect to mastering of the English language 22. By 1920, a generation of Ukrainians had been born and raised in Canada. They had acquired new attitudes that would have been better served by indigenous clergy 23. A local training centre would have been desirable, yet despite requests to establish one, the Order, continued to import missionaries from Galicia.
The correspondence of the early missionaries reveals the apprehension that they felt toward the new conditions in Canada 24. One of the most important differences between Canada and the Old Country was religious freedom. In Austrian Galicia, the Catholic Church was state supported; even the Orthodox Churches (mainly in Bukovyna) were established and financially sustained. In Galicia, the Basilians were preaching to people who rarely questioned their authority. In Canada, if someone didn’t agree with them, they would form their own church or religious denomination. All of the immigrants from Galicia were nominally Catholic, but not all remained so in the new land. This must have been a discouraging factor for the Basilians, one that made them consider whether or not to continue their mission to Canada 25.
Putting down roots in Canadian soil
Platonides Filas had made the overseas missions a priority for the Basilian Order 26. Unfortunately, the outbreak of war put an end to sending missionaries to Canada. Although his term of office ended in 1917, due to the death of the new Provincial Mark Haluschynsky, Filas continued to govern the Order until 1920. That year, Anastasius Kalysh was elected Protohegumen and the following year made an important visitation to Canada.
Previously, in 1909, at the Plenary Council of Quebec, Canadian Superior Father Sozontius Dydyk had suggested that the establishment of a Basilian Novitiate be a priority for the wellbeing of the Ukrainian Church in Canada 27. The new Ukrainian Catholic bishop Nykyta Budka had also proposed that that Basilians establish a training centre immediately 28. However, due to "all sorts of difficulties not dependent on their own volition" 29, financial difficulties and the onset of the First World War, this project had to be postponed.
At the beginning of 1921, Superior General Kalysh asked permission of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church 30 to establish a permanent novitiate training centre, for the Basilians in Canada 31. The purpose of this novitiate was "to facilitate the entrance into the [Basilian] Order to the Ruthenians established in this Dominion" 32. The first thing that the Sacred Congregation did was to ask for a report from the Vatican liaison, the Apostolic Delegate 33, Archbishop Pietro Di Maria.
Archbishop Di Maria was somewhat acquainted with the situation of the Ukrainian Church in Canada. Indeed, Bishop Budka had personally visited the Apostolic Delegation several times, informing the Delegate of his precarious financial situation and the lack of clergy 34. Nonetheless, Di Maria confidentially wrote to the following people, asking for their opinion: Bishop Budka, Archbishop Sinnott of Winnipeg, Thomas O'Donnell, President of the Catholic Extension Society and Father Achille Delaere, Superior of the Ukrainian Redemptorists in Canada 35.
The replies were all strongly in the affirmative: "Convinced of the need to augment the number of priests, secular or religious, in order to come to the aide of the many Ukrainian Catholics… all recognize the great opportunity of opening a novitiate of the Basilian monks" 36. However, there were some reservations concerning the location of the novitiate.
Although the first Basilians had migrated to Alberta, only a few years later, at the suggestion of Archbishop Langevin, the Basilian centre of command was established in Winnipeg. Having the Canadian Basilian Superior at Winnipeg allowed for more effective coordination of the vast apostolate. One of Langevin's concerns, which later became Budka's, was to avoid the overlapping of missionary work. One priest should not serve where there was effective pastoral service already being provided by another priest 37. There were so few Ukrainian priests in Canada (thirty five in 1921) and Budka wanted to more efficiently organize the Church in Canada.
Bishop Budka was pleased that the Basilians were going to open a novitiate because, in his words: "this means that they [have] decided to stay in Canada." Budka's plan was to focus the Basilians' mission in Alberta and the Redemptorists in Saskatchewan. He viewed Winnipeg as being a mission more adapted to the secular clergy 38.
The first to respond to the Apostolic Delegate's query, Archbishop Sinnott of Winnipeg was not so favourable towards the Basilians. He also felt that the Basilians should concentrate their efforts in another place, but nonetheless should definitely open a novitiate. Not being a Religious himself, Archbishop Sinnott was perhaps not well disposed to the privileges of exemption purposely conceded to the Basilians by the Apostolic See 39. Happily for the Basilians, Sinnott also suggested that the Apostolic Delegate contact the president of the Catholic Extension Society, Father Thomas O'Donnell 40.
The replies of Father O'Donnell and Redemptorist Father Delaere were very positive towards the Basilians. An ecstatic Delaere felt that the novitiate idea was "not only good and excellent but, at the same time, completely necessary to have a novitiate and also a juniorate in Canada for their Order." The Redemptorist Superior judged the Basilans to be indispensable to help maintain the Ukrainians in their faith 41.
Father Thomas O'Donnell, as president of the Catholic Extension Society, was well positioned to know the Ukrainian situation in Canada. His organizaion was responsible for the financial aid and informal direction of Catholic missions in need. The Extension Society allocated major funding to the Ukrainians, and was kept informed by them as to their particular needs.
O'Donnell's report to the Apostolic Delegate represents a significant analysis of the situation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, in 1921. His attitude to Ukrainians in general is very positive, perhaps too much so: "Everyone who has come in contact with them admire[s] their simple Faith and strong Catholic instinct." The report identifies the principle tasks for the Church to be: obtaining clergy; providing good Catholic newspapers and appointing more bishops. Among the remedies he proposes, O'Donnell recommends that Canadian-born Ukrainians be trained in Canada and that "The Basilians should receive every encouragement to have a novitiate and seminary for Ukrainian Canadians" 42.
Based on the opinions received from Sinnott, Budka, Delaere and O'Donnell, Archbsihop Di Maria highly recommended to the Oriental Congregation the erection of a Basilian novitiate. Not knowing where Basilian Superior Kalysh intended to locate the novitiate, and respecting the wishes of Bishops Budka, Di Maria recommended that this novitiate be established outside Winnipeg. Citing O'Donnell, Di Maria's significantly recommended that the Church rely on the Religious Orders for the Ukrainian Canadian mission, and the appointment of one or even two bishops to assist Bishop Budka 43.
Visit by the General Superior 1921
In order to assess the situation of the Basilians in Canada and to make some important decisions as to its future, General Superior Anastasius Kalysh visited the Canadian Basilian mission, from July to October, 1921. Kalysh brought the news that the Oriental Congregation had granted permission to build a novitiate, but not in Winnipeg 44.
The news of the permission to open a local novitiate must have been heralded with great joy by the Canadian Basilians, and perhaps also with some regret. It was the Church authorities that had suggested the Basilians assume the Ukrainian Catholic mission in Winnipeg and move their headquarters there 45, so they were expecting that they would recommend the erection of the novitiate in Winnipeg. The Fathers maintained their Winnipeg parish, but it was inevitable that the headquarters of the mission be re-located and the novitiate home be erected elsewhere, as the Church had commanded.
Father Kalysh consulted with Canadian Basilian missionaries regarding a suitable location for the proposed novitiate. It was agreed that Mundare, Alberta would be the ideal location, as the Order already had both a mission and land there. Before leaving Canada, Kalysh consulted with Bishop Budka and, on October 17, met with Apostolic Delegate Di Maria in Ottawa. From Montreal, on his way to the Basilian mission in Brazil, Anastasius Kalysh wrote a formal letter to the same Archbishop Di Maria, informing him of the Order's intentions 46.
Later that same year, 1921, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky was able to visit Canada for a second time. Sheptytsky had also come in 1910 and was instrumental in obtaining the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop, in the person of Nykyta Budka. Evaluating the work of the Basilians, the Metropolitan commented that they were "working with great apostolic zeal… unfortunately they have too few priests… All five of the Basilians are remarkable monks and good missionaries." Metropoltan Sheptystsky encouraged the Basilians to build their novitiate in Mundare 47.
The Mundare Monastery 1923
On August 28, 1923, the completed Mundare Monastery was blessed by Father Naucratius Kryzhanovsky, Sozontius Dydyk's successor as superior of the Canadian Basilians. Three days later, the Novitiate was officially inaugurated with a solemn Divine Liturgy, and five Canadian-born candidates were formally received as novices. That day marked the end of one era, as the new Basilian superior moved his headquarters from Winnipeg to the new monastery in Mundare. It also marked the beginning of another era, for many young Ukrainian Canadians would pass through the doors of the Mundare Monastery, in preparation for the monastic life and the priesthood 48.
The Canadian Basilian mission of the Order was granted the status of a full Province of the Order, in 1932, and Father Kryzhanovsky became the first Protohegumen—Provincial Superior. His headquarters was the same Mundare Monastery. Although the Provincial headquarters moved, first to Edmonton, in 1948, and then back to Winnipeg, in 1958, the Mundare Monastery is still considered the "mother house" of the Canadian Province; most Basilian Fathers and Brothers began their monastic life there.
As we celebrate one hundred years of glorious missionary zeal, let us remember the words of Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, head of the Oriental Congregation, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Order in Canada: "One can even say that the first Basilian Religious, who came to Canada fifty years ago must be considered pioneers of the Catholic Faith… a large portion of the credit belongs to the Basilian Fathers, who laboured so successfully" 49.
This article may not be re-published without the express written permission of the author.