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Bishop Ortynsky, although a gifted preacher, was nevertheless a friend of the Ukrainian nationalist movement fearing the suppression of their national and religious traditions in the New World, the Ruthenians, led by the Greek Catholic Union protested. It is estimated that nearly 100,000 people sought refuge in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Following the Bishop’s death in 1916, the Holy See established two separate Byzantine Catholic administrations. One jurisdiction was established in Philadelphia for those Byzantine Catholics who emigrated from Galicia (Ukrainians). A second was created in Pittsburgh for those Byzantine Catholics from Hungary (Ruthenians).In 1924, the Holy See elevated each administration to the dignity of apostolic exarchate. A priest of the Eparchy of Munkacs in Czechoslovakia, Father Basil Takach, was consecrated in Rome as bishop of the new Ruthenian exarchate. Ironically, this exarchate did not embrace Ruthenians alone. One of the Bishop’s first tasks was to take a census of each parish. Where the majority of parishioners were of Ruthenian, Slovak, Hungarian or Croatian origin, parishes were to be governed by the Ruthenian Catholic Exarchate of Pittsburgh. Those parishes in which the majority were of Ukrainian descent were placed under the mantle of the Ukrainian Catholic Exarchate of Philadelphia.

The apparent calm that settled with the erection of the exarchate did not last. In 1929, the Holy See issued a new decree, Cum Data Fuerit, which considered the administration of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church. Cum Data Fuerit enforced clerical celibacy and the episcopal ownership of property.

This decree precipitated widespread dismay in the entire Eastern Catholic community. An assembly of priests, led by the Rev. Orestes Chornock (1883-1977), met in Pittsburgh in 1937. In a petition to the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople, they asked to be received into the Orthodox Church as a distinct eparchy. The ecumenical patriarch granted the request and placed them under the spiritual care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. At present, the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese, led by Bishop Nicholas in Johnstown, Pa., numbers more than 110,000 Ruthenian-Americans.

An estimated 250,000 Ruthenian-Americans – the descendants of those immigrants who embraced the pro-Russian movement – belong to two additional Orthodox jurisdictions: the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States.

Despite these bewildering conflicts, the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church in the U.S. has flourished. Interestingly, and perhaps in response to its ethnic trials, the bishops of this church have emphasized its American and Byzantine Catholic character.

A historian of the Ruthenian community, the Rev. Athanasius B. Pekar, O.S.B.M., notes that 1950 was a turning point for the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church in the U.S. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life, which have been attributed to the efforts of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Conception and the Basilian and Benedictine sisters, were numerous. A sign of the church’s prosperity and maturity was the opening of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh in 1951.

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Tags: Church history Immigration Carpatho-Rusyn