A catalyst of spiritual, educational and community activity
On July 14, 1961, Pope John XXIII signed a Papal Bull erecting the Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago for Ukrainians to serve the escalating numbers of organized Ukrainian Catholics in the Midwest and West. The content of this document was revealed to the community on September 29, 1961. The eparchy would be responsible for all states west of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, including Hawaii and eventually Alaska. Appointed as the first Bishop was Most Reverend Jaroslav Gabro, a Chicago-born native son of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Parish, newly designated a Cathedral.
Bishop Jaroslav was consecrated by Metropolitan Archbishop Ambrose Senyshyn, OSBM, on October 26, 1961, in Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Philadelphia, Pa. His co-consecrators were Bishop Isidore Borecky and Archbishop Joseph Shmondiuk. He was solemnly installed in St. Nicholas Cathedral on December 12, 1961, in the presence of His Eminence Egidio Cardinal Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate to the U.S., and many members of the hierarchy and clergy.
The Bishop immediately tackled his pastoral Episcopal duties by getting to know the parishes in his eparchy, their history, achievements and problems. Among his initiatives were the focus on religious vocations and the spiritual growth of the faithful. When the eparchy was founded there were 35 parishes and missions, 25,000 faithful, and 31 clergy (including 10 religious priests of the Order of St. Basil the Great).
The Reverend Monsignor (Walter) Volodymyr Paska served as Chancellor of St. Nicholas Eparchy from 1961 to 1971. Reverend Monsignor William M. Bilinsky fulfilled the duties of Chancellor from 1980 until his retirement.
From 1963 to 1965, Bishop Jaroslav traveled frequently to Rome, where he was involved with the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council. Concurrently, in 1964, a grave controversy erupted over the announcement that the Cathedral parish would change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. A large segment of the congregation formed a committee in defense of the traditions of the Ukrainian Catholic church. His Beatitude Patriarch Josyf Slipyj resolved the controversy with the formation of a new parish – Saints Volodymyr and Olha for the faithful who chose to adhere to the Julian calendar.
Bishop Jaroslav understood the need to maintain a line of communication to every part of the territorially extensive eparchy. To accomplish this, he launched an eparchial newspaper, The New Star. The first issue went to press in January 1965. This publication was an instrument for the dissemination of information, directives and evangelization. The first editor was the Very Reverend Jaroslav Swyschuk. Mrs. Iwanna Gorchynsky succeeded Fr. Swyschuk as editor and continued to produce the publication for 35 years. The current editors, the Reverend John Lucas (Managing Editor) and subdeacon Petro Rudka (Ukrainian Editor), continue this tradition of quality and esteem. The eparchy subsequently moved to electronic communications to supplement the distribution of news, launching the eparchial website.
In the summer of 1968, Bishop Jaroslav and the Catholic faithful of metropolitan Chicago were blessed with a visit of His Beatitude Patriarch Josyf Cardinal Slipyj. This prominent Confessor of the Faith was freed by the First Secretary of the Communit Part of USSR Nikita Khrushchev on January 23, 1963, after 18 years of hard labor in the Soviet gulag. Pope John XXIII and the United States President John F. Kennedy are credited with pressuring the Soviet president to release this persecuted church leader. Patriarch Slipyj arrived in Rome in time to participate in the Second Vatican Council, where he was greeted with a standing ovation by the Holy Father and cardinals. In 1968, he also received a warm welcome when he visited Chicago.
Bishop Jaroslav was the overseer for a number of new construction as well as reconstruction projects. These included the new eparchial chancery and episcopal residence, built in 1969. In addition, from 1974 to 1977, the bishop saw the Cathedral renovated and the iconography restored to its original beauty by the iconographer Boris Makarenko. The only icon not renovated at that time was one at the rear of the sanctuary depicting Christ with his apostles and His mother. It remains as written in 1928. All the icons were patterned after the mosaics in St. Sophia in Kyiv.
Bishop Jaroslav was an ardent supporter of youth programs at the eparchial and parochial level. With his whole-hearted backing, Chicago was the site of the first Eparchial Youth Conference in 1970. The conference had a very positive response as it rotated every year throughout the larger metropolitan areas in the eparchy.
From the very beginnings of Christianity, the Blessed Virgin Mary has held a distinct position of admiration, devotion and love among Christians. This devotion stems from her virtues, her willingness to help those in need and her pre-eminent role in the salvation of humankind In order to foster this devotion to the Mother of God, on September 8, 1972, Bishop Jaroslav blessed the Traveling Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv, which began a pilgrimage around the Cathedral parish. This devotional program is administered by Cathedral parishioners. To this day, private homes continue to host this icon for families and friends to join in prayer. Many other parishes have embraced this apostolate as well.
After the unexpected development of serious ill health, Bishop Jaroslav Gabro passed away on March 28, 1980. Throughout his life, he had been an obedient, devoted servant of Christ, His Church and His people.
The Chancellor, Rev. Monsignor William M. Bilinsky, was appointed administrator of the eparchy until the next bishop was elected.
On December 22, 1980, Very Rev. Innocent Lotocky, OSBM, was appointed Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Nicholas. The announcement was made public on January 29, 1981. The new bishop was consecrated in St. Sophia’s in Rome on March 1, 1981, by His Beatitude Patriarch Josef Slipyj and co-consecrators Archbishop Stephan Sulyk and Bishops Basil Losten and Neil Savaryn, OSBM. The Holy Father specially greeted the Bishops at a private audience held for those who had traveled from the U.S. for this jubilant event.
Bishop Innocent was installed at the St. Nicholas Cathedral on April 2, 1981. The Cathedral parishioners warmly welcomed Bishop Innocent back to Chicago, where he had been the Ihumen (Superior) of the Monastery and a popular Pastor of St. Nicholas in the 1960s.
Bishop Innocent recognized the imminent necessity to motivate young people to be of service to Christ’s Church. He called for prayers for an increase in priestly and monastic vocations. The number of clergy reaching the age of retirement was staggering, confronting the eparchy with a future of parishes without pastors. It was apparent that the situation needed to be remedied. Bishop Innocent zealously searched, identified and supported - both spiritually and financially - young candidates for the seminary. His efforts bore fruit, as during his tenure, he presided at the ordinations of 15 priests, 21 deacons and 15 subdeacons.
In 1983, a Youth for Christ rally was convened in Chicago in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1933 youth rally held under the auspices of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky in Lviv, Ukraine. On November 11 to 13, an impressive cohort of clergy, religious and some 300 young participants from all over the United States and Canada gathered in Chicago. The convention, initiated by the Very Reverend Mitred Archpriest Marian Butrynsky under the patronage of Bishop Innocent, was planned by the youth of the eparchy. During the weekend, participants were given the opportunity to attend workshops on such themes as religious persecution in the Soviet Union, Christian ethics, religious themes in contemporary films and the future of our the Ukrainian Byzantine Church in Ukraine and the diaspora.
Participants were joined by the Chicago community at a large and inspiring rally, candlelight procession and prayer service at Holy Name Cathedral to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Great Famine in Ukraine. His Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, ordinary of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, attended the service with Ukrainian Catholic Bishops Innocent Lotocky, Basil Losten, Isidore Borecky and numerous other representatives of other denominations. This event was so successful that, in consecutive years, Youth for Christ conventions were held in Philadelphia, Stamford, Conn. and Omaha, Neb.
His Beatitude Josyf Cardinal Slipyj was summoned by the Lord on September 7,1984. Representatives of St. Nicholas Eparchy attended his funeral in Rome. His co-adjutor, Metropolitan Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky, succeeded him as head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The following year, the faithful of the eparchy were honored with the visit of His Beatitude to Chicago. He visited a number of parishes in the Eparchy and imparted his blessing upon the people and their work for Christ and His church.
The Eparchy marked its 25th Jubilee year in 1986 with a triduum of prayers and activities. As part of the preparations, the renovation of the cathedral sanctuary and iconostas were completed.
On September 27, 1986, Bishop Innocent led the faithful in celebrating a Solemn Divine Liturgy of Thanksgiving to commemorate the Silver Jubilee. Present at the celebrations in the Cathedral and at the Westin Hotel were Chicago’s Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, Metropolitan Archbishop Stephan Sulyk, 30 Bishops, and many clergy, religious and faithful.
When the eparchial Silver Jubilee celebrations were completed, Bishop Innocent, the clergy and faithful looked forward implementing the jubilee resolutions. They also began preparation for the commemoration of the Millennium of Christianity in Ukraine, an event marked by Ukrainian Christians throughout the world. In preparation for this important event, 1987 was devoted to evangelization and spiritual growth. Pilgrimages were made by the members of the eparchy to each parish in their deanery. All of our parishes and deaneries expressed their gratitude to God in their own unique but very successful ways for the glorious gift of our Christian faith.
Representatives of the eparchy participated in the international millennium celebrations in Rome. On July 10, 1988, His Holiness Pope John Paul II offered the Divine Liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica. Bishop Innocent also addressed a large and inspiring evening candlelight service in St. Peter’s Square.
On July 31, 1988, at the commemoration in Chicago, the faithful filled the upper and lower levels of the St. Nicholas Cathedral, spilling into the streets. The Divine Liturgy, offered by one Cardinal, 32 bishops, and numerous clergy, was sung by a 100-voice Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky Choir under the direction of Jurij Jarymowych.
In the afternoon, at an enormous and prayerful assembly in Olive Park on the lakefront, a vibrant pageant reenacted the 988 A.D. mass baptism in Ukraine that signals its Christian beginning. Noteworthy celebrations were held in every parish or deanery.- Detroit, California, Denver, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Texas, Indiana and Arizona.
Bishop Innocent celebrated his 75th birthday in 1990 and submitted his resignation as bishop in accordance with canon law. The resignation was not accepted until 1993. While Bishop Innocent was in Rome with Cardinal Bernardin on a mission of mercy, it was announced on July 3, 1993, that Reverend Michael Wiwchar, CSsR had been appointed the third Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Nicholas.
Bishop Michael, a skilled educator and caring pastor, was consecrated as Bishop of Chicago’s Eparchy in St. Nicholas Cathedral on September 28, 1993.
During his tenure, Bishop Michael focused on pastoral, parish and parishioner issues, as well as on energizing the growth of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Being a person of great zeal, he also took on the duties of pastor of the Cathedral. He paid particular attention to caring for the sick and homebound, setting an example by making care of the needy a priority.
In 1995, Bishop Michael convened a very successful Eparchial Conference in Chicago, with delegates from every parish in the Eparchy. The Conference featured speakers and discussions concerning administrative, financial and spiritual stewardship in the church and parish. This conference proved to be so popular, that it was convened annually for seven years.
The conferences provided leadership training to ensure that lay people in each parish were prepared to carry out their share of responsibility for assuring the growth of the Church and spiritual and evangelical growth of the faithful of the eparchy in the new Millennium.
Having received the request of the monks of Holy Transfiguration Skete, Society of St. John, in Eagle Harbor, Michigan, to accept the monastery into the eparchy, Bishop Michael advised that they spend time at Holy Transfiguration Monastery at Mt. Tabor in California to contemplate this decisive step. Upon completion of this period, Bishop Michael warmly received them into the St. Nicholas Eparchy.
Serving as Chancellor, Very Rev. Archpriest Mychajlo Kuzma was given the critical task of establishing the Office of Child Protection at the request of Bishop Michael, who guided this important and essential step. Serving as Econome was Father Abraham Miller. After Father Miller’s resignation to take on pastoral duties, Rev. Theodore Wroblicky was appointed the Econome. A Development and Stewardship Office was established at the eparchy, headed by Mrs. Barbara Wroblicky.
On November 29, 2000, Bishop Michael was appointed Eparch of the Saskatoon Eparchy in Saskatchewan. He was installed on February 12, 2001, at St. George’s Cathedral in Saskatoon. On December 9, 2000, to bridge the transition to a new Ordinary in Chicago, Bishop Michael was also appointed Apostolic Administrator of St. Nicholas Eparchy in Chicago.
To accommodate the welfare of both eparchies, Bishop Michael divided his time between the Saskatoon and Chicago eparchies. At this time, 52 clergy (including 9 monastic Fathers of the Order of Saint Basil the Great and 3 monks from the Holy Transfiguration Skete) in the eparchy served 34 parishes and 4 missions.
The announcement of the designation of a new bishop, Rev. Monsignor Richard S. Seminack, of Holy Trinity Parish in Carnegie, Penn., was made on March 25, 2003. The necessary preparations were immediately set into motion for the Episcopal Ordination and Installation of the new bishop to take place on June 4, 2003.
Bishop Richard set about departmentalizing the areas of work within the eparchy. Very Rev. Mitred Archpriest Wayne Ruchgy of Dearborn Heights, Mich., was named Vicar General. Very Rev. James Karepin, O.P., was appointed Chancellor. Mr. Serge Michaluk was named director of the Office of Child Protection and the Office of Stewardship and Development. Very Rev. James Karepin, O.P., also heads the Office of Ecumenism and Evangelism, while Rev. Leonard Korchinski is the Director of the Faith Formation Office. Subsequently, Subdeacon Petro Rudka was apointed Vice Chancellor and Mr. Nazar Sloboda was appointed private secretary to Bishop Richard.
During Bishop Richard’s tenure, the business operations of the Eparchy have continued to be centralized with Jaroslaw Hankewych serving as the Financial Officer. Following the recommendation of a specially convened committee by the Bishop, a three-year plan was designed for St. Nicholas Cathedral School to bring the school into financial sustainability. The plan benefited from substantial moral and financial support from the Eparchy and numerous sponsors. Bishop Richard also worked hard to ensure that parishes experiencing substantial economic distress are not closed for that reason.
The year 2006 was a milestone for the Cathedral Parish and Bishop Richard. St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral Parish conducted a year-long Centennial Celebration with events planned for every month throughout the year. They culminated in a spectacular two-day commemoration, emphasizing the theme of the celebration to “Reflect, Renew, Commit.”
On Saturday, November 4, more than 1,000 guests attended a centennial banquet at Chicago’s historic Navy Pier. Attendees came from every corner of North America and from Ukraine. His Beatitude Patriarch Lubomyr Husar gave a stirring keynote address in which he called on the faithful to join in praying and working for Christian unity.
On Sunday, November 5, the celebration continued with a procession to the cathedral led by altar servers. They were followed by representatives from Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization, the Ukrainian American Youth Association, children from St. Nicholas School, parish organizations with banners, parishioners and friends of the cathedral parish.
The Pontifical Divine Liturgy was co-celebrated by Patriarch Lubomyr, Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka, Bishops Richard Seminack, Innocent Lotocky, Paul Chomnycky, Nicolas Samra, Basil Losten, Ivan Bura and Thomas Paprocki, as well as Bishops Raymond Goedert, Thad Jakubowski, and Timothy Lyne, emeritus auxiliary bishops of Chicago. Archbishop Vsevolod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Chicago Diocese, also was present. A capacity crowd of more than 1,500 representing all segments of the Ukrainian community attended the service.
On November 15, 2008, Bishop Richard participated with Chicago metropolitan organizations and residents in a procession and service commemorating the 75th anniversary of Holodomor, the genocide-famine in Ukraine that occurred in 1932-1933. Francis Cardinal George, head of the Chicago Archdiocese, gave the homily at a solemn ecumenical requiem held at a capacity-filled Holy Name Cathedral.
The St. Nicholas Eparchial Conference on evangelization started a year-long and eparchial-wide series of events to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the St. Nicholas Eparchy. Bishop Richard, along with the Detroit Deanery, welcomed 200 participants to an eparchial weekend on June 4 – 6, 2010, in Warren, Michigan. Clergy, parish members and the faithful of the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy joined in prayer, celebration, and discussion. Dynamic speakers led the Saturday conference on evangelization. The conference was followed by a Pontifical Divine Liturgy, a banquet, and the blessing of the Jubilee icon written to mark this glorious milestone. This icon embarked on a pilgrimage to every parish across the eparchy, arriving at the cathedral for the Jubilee Celebration on September 24.
The Eparchy, with Bishop Richard at its helm, is prepared to serve as a catalyst of spiritual, educational and community activity. The Eparchy of St. Nicholas works to preserve not only the traditions of the past, but to stimulate the growth of our spiritual and temporal existence as an Eastern Ukrainian Catholic Church in this world.
The Holy Father Pope Francis on April 20 appointed Bishop Venedykt (Valery) Aleksiychuk as Bishop of the Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Eparchy of Chicago.
Bishop Venedykt was preceeded as Bishop of Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Eparchy by Bishop Richard Stephen Seminack, who died Aug. 16, 2016.
Since the death of Bishop Richard, Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Eparchy had been served by Fr. Richard Janowicz as administrator.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite which is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome.