The first Byzantine Catholic priest to immigrate to the United States
was Father Ivan Volansky who pastored Saint Michael’s Greek Catholic
Church in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Approximately 70 Shenandoah
families (Rusyn and Ukrainian) in 1882 petitioned for a European priest
to follow them to America. In November 1884, Father Ivan Volansky
(John Wolansky) departed Europe with his wife and family. He arrived in
Shenandoah PA on December 10, 1884. He asked the Polish priest, Father
Lenarkiewicz for permission to celebrate the first Divine Liturgy in the USA
at Saint Casimir’s Roman Catholic Church but was denied. Temporarily,
he quickly built an altar and formed a chapel in Kern’s Hall and celebrated
the Vesper’s on Wednesday December 18, 1884 honoring Saint Nicholas
which was celebrated on December 19 (old calendar). In 1885, Father John
commenced the building of the first Greek Catholic Church in America.
The local Roman Catholic bishop refused to recognize Father Wolansky
as a Catholic priest and suspended him. The Roman Catholic priest even
denied the Greek Catholic faithful from being buried in their cemetery.
Father John, with funds from the Shenandoah families, led the efforts to
assist in building Churches in Pennsylvania, Shamokin -1886, Hazelton -
1887, Kingston - 1888, Olyphant - 1888, Minersville - 1986. Unfortunately,
with protests from local Roman Catholic bishops and priests, Father John
Wolansky with family was forced to leave America. After spending pastoral
time in Brazil, Father John returned to Shenandoah in 1892, but again, under
duress, Father John Wolansky departed (Europe). LORD HAVE MERCY.
LORD HAVE MERCY ……………………………. 1893
Father Alexis Toth born on March 18, 1854 in Hungary was ordained
a Greek Catholic priest on April 18, 1873. In 1881, he was appointed
a professor of church law and church history at the Presov seminary.
On November 15, 1889 he arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota
and found himself in conflict with Roman Catholic Bishop John Ireland.
The conflict emerged because Father Alexis Toth was a widower and
unacceptable to Bishop Ireland. On March 25, 1891, he was united with the
Holy Orthodox Church via the Russian Orthodox Church in San Francisco..
In 1893, Orthodox Father Alexis Toth organized the Orthodox Church
in Wilkes Barre, PA. Father Alexis Toth was instrumental in accepting
additional Churches into the Orthodox fold. The additions were located
in Edwardsville, Allegheny, Osceola Mills, Scranton, Old Forge, Lopez,
Catasauqua, Berwick, Philadelphia, all in Pennsylvania, plus Streator -
Illinois, Bridgeport - Connecticut, Passaic - New Jersey, and Yonkers - New
Two years before Father Alexis Toth died in 1909, he was asked to become
bishop. He declined the honor because of his age and health. LORD HAVE
LORD HAVE MERCY ………………………… 1907
In the time period before 1907, most of the USA acts of persecution toward
our Greek Catholic married priests were conducted locally by either Roman
Catholic bishops or priests, but now the immigration from Austria Hungary
increased to larger numbers annually and married priests were located in
many parishes. The USA Roman Catholic bishops pressured Rome to
formally impose a formal document to suppress the USA Byzantine
Catholic Church and to Latinize them. The Roman Bulla, Ea Semper, was
proclaimed on June 14, 1907 by Pope Pius X in which he established a
Ruthenian Rite bishop in the USA. The document reflects Latinization in its
most astute format, beginning with each parish being responsible to the local
Roman Catholic ordinary bishop and required the Ruthenian bishop to
obtain written permission of the Roman Catholic diocese ordinary bishop
even to visit his own Ruthenian parish. There are 36 articles in Ea Semper
and it is the most punishing document to my Rusyn Catholic Church. Article
12 specifically requires the Ruthenian priest to be celibate. Article 10, None
except celibates, either now (1907) or in the future, will be able to be
advanced to Holy Orders. Article 14, Ruthenian priests living in America
are completely prohibited from administering the Sacred Chrism to the
newly baptized. Should they do otherwise, they will have administered the
sacrament invalidly. Throughout Ea Semper, Rome condescends to the USA
Roman Catholic bishops to be fully in control of any Byzantine Catholic
faithful residing in a Roman Catholic diocese with but limited religious
For example. Article 27, Marriage between Ruthenian and Latin Catholics is
not forbidden, but a Latin husband may not follow the rite of his Ruthenian
wife, nor a Latin wife that of her Ruthenian husband. (Must they go to
separate Catholic (universal) churches?) (LORD HAVE MERCY).
Quite obvious, the Latinization was now formalized and the Byzantine
Churches (all 9 particular sui iuris Churches) were to eventually be destined
to be Romanized in the fullest of compliance. LORD HAVE MERCY.
LORD HAVE MERCY …………………………….. 1929
After “botching” the Roman appointment of a particular bishop reigning
over more than one particular sui iuris Church, Rome confirms one of the
base wrongful acknowledgements of Ea Semper via the 1929 Roman Bulla,
titled, “Cum data fuerit” proclaimed on March 1, 1929 by Pope Pius
XI. The decree was published on March 1, 1929, renewed on November
30, 1940, and again on November 23, 1950. Cum data fuerit acknowledges
the Roman past attainment of Peter’s Principle and appoints
two ordinaries (one Rusyn in Pittsburgh and one Ukrainian in Philadelphia).
The obvious 10-year renewal of the decree has not occurred after 1950 and
in 1998, the Rusyn archbishop Justin Procyk obtains permission directly
from Pope John Paul II to ordain married men. The Roman Curia strongly
reacts to the point that the USA Rusyn bishops (fearfully) incorporate
celibacy in the particular Norms of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolia and
the Latinization is completed. HOSPODI POMILUI.
The rapid decline in the number of faithful from 316,000 in 1965 to 94,000
in 2007 coupled with a near empty seminary for too many years, it is but a
matter of time before MY Rusyn Church is reduced to nothing but a glow
in the ashes of what was a Church built by obedient priests and faithful
parishioners. HOSPODI POMILUI.
What goes around comes around, unfortunately for the USA Roman
Bishops. Today, the priest shortage crisis in the USA has reached an
epidemic status with but 10% of the required seminarians during the last 20
years, and the priest shortage resulting in an Exodus of 20,000,000 Roman
Catholics (PEW FORUM STUDY). The closure of many Roman Catholic
parishes, partially due to the shortage of celibate priests, finds the remaining
Roman faithful becoming lax and restless. LORD HAVE MERCY.
Also unfortunate, my Byzantine Catholic Rusyn Church has been debilitated
by the 1884, 1893, 1907, and 1929 Roman actions, noted above, and our
seminary, ONCE FULL, has been near-empty for too many years and the
number of priests calculated for 2047 totals 16 to 24 priests. A skeleton of
my magnificent particular Church evolves in my own lifetime. Even my
tears find it difficult to fall. HOSPODI POMILUI.
The Lord surely CALLS the number of vocations required to “teach all
nations.” And surely, our Catholic bishops will eventually (hopefully, in my
lifetime) recognize that only one of the twelve apostles was a celibate. A
goodly portion of the first millennium Popes were married men and today
the priest shortage is not the fault of our holy celibate priests but the inability
of our bishops to CHOOSE the married men that Our Lord CALLS.
One objective of my USA Byzantine Catholic Rusyn Church is to look East
to Our Land of Rus and witness that we too can rise from the ashes and
prayerfully evangelize the Romans. LORD HAVE MERCY.
GO WITH GOD,
Joseph P. Bonchonsky in his review of our history notes that many
of our USA Rusyn heroes have been persecuted by Roman actions
of unawareness. Unfortunately, the lack of “catholicity” by the
oppressors has reached deep into our USA particular Church. As
a people who practice their customs and traditions that differ than
the particular Roman Church we have paid a very high price but
more importantly, the impact has backfired on the Roman Church.
The Roman impact on our USA Byzantine Catholic Rusyn Church has
resulted in approximately one million of our people being denied their religious
practice. The Roman persecutors on the other hand have impacted tens of
millions of Roman Catholics. In this article we will first highlight a few of our
USA Rusyn heropriests and therein reflect the wrongful impact on both the USA Rusyn and
Father Alexis Georgevich Toth was born in Hungary on March 18, 1854.
He completed his primary (elementary) school in 1865, gymnasium (high
school) in 1872, military duty in 1873, and theological school in 1877. He
was ordained on April 18, 1878 and in 1881, he was appointed as a professor
of church law and church history in the Presov seminary. On Nov.
15, 1889, he arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota to pastor a Rusyn Catholic
church and a conflict of “obedience” with the Roman Catholic bishop
John Ireland resulted in Father Alexis Toth seeking allies with the Russian
Orthodox bishop in San Francisco. Many other Rusyns (priests and faithful)
unhappy with the Roman demands initiated a movement into membership
with the Russian Orthodox Mission in America.
North American Roman Catholic bishops succeeded in achieving an
agreement with the Roman Curia as follows:
1.Every married Greek Catholic priest would be recalled from America.
2.All Greek Catholic Churches and property would be registered in the
name of the Roman Catholic bishops.
3.All priests who were ordained by the Greek Catholic Church would no
longer be accepted in America.
The influence of the Russian Orthodox spread among the Slavs in the United
States. The Rome breaking of the agreement with the Rusyns to keep their
married clergy, their customs and traditions resulted in many Rusyn Catholic
parishes joining Father Alexis Toth as he traveled in many States.
In reading the personal letters, articles, papers, and sermons of Father
Alexis Toth as recorded in two volumes (translated and edited by George
Soldatow), one is anguished as a practicing faithful of the Byzantine
Catholic Rusyn Church that our Roman Catholic brothers, from the time
of jailing our founders Saints Cyril and Methodius in 863, that our priests
Called by Jesus are treated like sub-Catholics.
The title “priest hero” is not awarded to Father Alexis Toth simply because
he “stood tall” against the Roman Catholic bishops’ level of incompetence
but the title was earned by his daily contact with Our People who were in
need of priestly support and leadership for adherence to their interpretation
of our particular Church. To be denied shepherding your faithful because
you were a “widower” is tantamount of being treated like an infidel. To be
denied your valid sacrament of Holy Orders because our bishops ordained
married men is at the height of Peter’s Principle exercised by Roman
Catholic bishops. I was born in Pittston, Pennsylvania and I have seen many
of the magnificent Russian Orthodox Churches in Wilkes Barre, Old Forge,
Scranton. Freeland, Kingston, Edwardsville, etc., and to know that Roman
Intolerance with Father Alexis Toth resulted in Rusyn Catholics as one of
the primary faithful of those “sister” churches exhudes “pity” to my Roman
Today, the Roman Catholic Church in America pays a high penalty for their
persecution of my Rusyn Catholic Church. The shortage of USA Roman
Catholic priests because of their manmade mandate on “celibacy only” has
come to roost in their yard. In the meantime, my Orthodox priest friend in
Chicago informs me that with their oversupply of newly ordained priests
they have overloaded their parishes. How un-Christian acts by some Roman
Catholic bishops have turned upon them. The 2008 PEW FORUM STUDY
reports 20,000,000 Roman Catholics have departed from the USA Roman
Catholic Church. In my humble opinion, the shortage of Roman Catholic
priests to properly educate their unschooled is high on the Roman cross.
Father Alexis Toth in his humble way “tried” to educate the Roman Catholic
bishops in the understanding that there were twelve apostles “to go forth and
teach.” Today, Rome goes it alone and Our Lord weeps. The tears flow in
my USA Byzantine Catholic Rusyn Church knowing that Father Alexis Toth
was but the first to feel the anguish of USA Roman Catholic bishops and the
Roman Curia bishops persecution in its cruelest form.