A longtime institute on Eastern Christianity has played a pivotal role in restoring the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church after the fall of communism, and it now has a new home in Toronto. Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Saint Vladimir the Great of Paris, said the Sheptytsky Institute is “the window through which North America, especially Canada, can see the Eastern Christian world in all its diversity.” He was quoted in a report from St. Michael’s College.
The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies now resides on the campus of the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. The institute becomes a part of the Toronto School of Theology, which has three Catholic graduate facilities asd well as theological faculties representing the United Church of Canada and the Presbyterians. Students seeking Master of Divinity or Master of Arts degrees through the institute may study topics including liturgy, church history, and systematic theology.
While the institute’s foundation is in the Ukrainian Byzantine tradition, it has an interest in all forms of Eastern Christianity, including Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, and Assyrian. “We want to be a place that allows the Copts to tell their story at one of the great universities of the world – a story of martyrdom, a story of perseverance,” said Father Andriy Chirovsky, the institute’s founding scholar. He founded the institute “to help the rebirth of our Church in North America” as well as to help other Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, he said.
Instructors from the institute began to teach in Ukraine shortly before the Soviet Union’s unexpected collapse. Their work continued after Ukraine became independent. When the institute was founded in 1986, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was still illegal in its homeland.
Harsh Soviet laws were enacted in 1939, at a time when the Church had 3,000 priests. In 1986, there were only 300 priests remaining. Their average age was 70 years. After the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, Soviet rule mandated the forced liquidation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, but after the fall of the Soviet Union the Church witnessed rapid growth. The Sheptytsky Institute’s director, Father Peter Galadza, said the number of Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests is once again at pre-World War II levels.
The institute’s namesake, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, is said to have predicted both the annihilation of his Church and its resurgence. His cause for beatification is being pursued. Metropolitan Andrey was born to a polonized Ukrainian aristocratic family in 1865. He became metropolitan at the age of 36 and lived under seven successive governments before his death in 1944 at the age of 79.
Bishop Gudziak described Venerable Sheptytsky as “one of the greatest churchmen of the last hundred years.” His Church had 3 to 4 million members whose communities are now found across the entire globe: Siberia, Egypt, Western Canada, and Argentina. Metropolitan Andrey visited his flock in Western Europe and the Americas.
The institute that bears his name was founded at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and moved to St. Paul’s University in Ottawa in 1990. Its new home is Windle House, a Victorian mansion built in 1897. The house includes offices for professors and administrators, a seminar room, a reading room, and a student lounge.
About 500 people attended the July 25 blessing and garden party that welcomed the center and rededicated Windle House. Attendees included Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto. Cardinal Collins, a member of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, said the institute’s ministry reflects “the richness of the Catholic Church, the diversity and the beauty.”
Bishop Gudziak, who is also president of the Ukrainian Catholic University, said the institute will help advance the example of its namesake in meeting the challenges of the 20th century. In the bishop’s view, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has become “an unwilling expert” at “how to stand up to authoritarianism and totalitarianism.”
“Today there is, globally, an increase in authoritarian rule … Whether it’s for Christians of the Middle East, or Christians in the former Soviet Union, or Christians in the Far East, whether it’s people of good will in many countries and contexts today — the issue of human dignity, of human freedom, is foremost,” said Bishop Gudziak, according to The Catholic Register.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Kyiv-Halych is the patron of the Sheptytsky Institute and a former student. In the spring 2017 edition of the institute’s newsletter, he said the institute’s professors “have played an important role in forging a way forward for our Church in the world.”
“Our Church of Kyiv is now a global Church, with structures on five continents. It is incredibly significant that the Sheptytsky Institute will now be located at one of the world’s top research universities. This is a sign of our Church coming of age.” He said the institute provided “invaluable assistance” to the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, which was founded in 1994.