Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 3, 2003
In search of Sts. Cyril, Methodius
Fr. Ruh built faith -- and churches in the East and West
St. Cyril - Feast Day - February 14
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
St. Catharines, Ont.
An unusual, Ukrainianspeaking Oblate priest arrived in Edmonton in 1913. While ministering to settlers over vast areas in Alberta, he became involved in the building of much-needed churches. Constantly in demand, his architectural talents almost compromised his parochial duties as his churches grew larger and further afield.
And his creativity culminated, far to the east, with the dedication of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Church in St. Catharines, Ont.
Born into a religious family in Lorraine on the French-German border, Philip Ruh was accepted into the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) at age 15.
He received his "special calling" when his talents were sought for missionary duties in Western Canada. Clergy were needed to satisfy the spiritual needs of large numbers of newly-arrived Catholics from Ukraine. Two years were spent at the Basilian monastery in Buchach, Ukraine, learning the language and the traditions of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, before he travelled to Canada.
By the 1950s, this well-liked, respected "convert" had endeared himself to his parishioners and became involved in the building of churches from Alberta to Ontario.
And after 49 years in Canada, the holy and dedicated missionary priest left a legacy of more than 30 houses of worship and an admiring populace of new Canadians.
Compared to Western Canada, the industrial, fruit-growing Niagara Peninsula had a much later influx of newcomers from Ukraine, often refugees from political persecution, following the Second World War.
Before 1944, Masses for the scattered, small community were celebrated in private homes by visiting Basilian fathers. In that year, construction was begun on Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church. Father Isidore Borecky, first resident pastor, returned in 1950 as first bishop of the new Eparchy of Toronto to consecrate the church.
It's in an attractive, almost rural setting, on a slight wooden rise overlooking the intersection of Niagara Street and the QEW. With its several copper-sheathed domes, it has features in common with Father Ruh's St. Josaphat's Cathedral in Edmonton - broad entrance steps and patterned brick facing.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius, "Apostles of the Slavs," were brothers, born in Greece in the ninth century. Possibly no other religious figures have left such a permanent mark on the culture, literature and Church liturgy of Eastern Europe.
They incurred the enmity of local Church leaders by promoting the use of the vernacular to replace Latin in the liturgy. But Pope Adrian II supported them, so that many Eastern churches still use Old Slavonic. Their efforts to translate the Scriptures for more general use gave rise to a pre-cursor of the Cyrillic alphabet, named for Cyril.
Later, Cyril became a monk just before his death in 869 while Methodius went on to become an archbishop in Czechoslovakia. Today, the graves of both are venerated by visitors to Rome.
The interior of their Ontario church is a study in iconography, with few wall surfaces not adorned with images and religious symbols by artist Igor Suhacev. The four evangelists frame the central dome, while other icons depict, for example, the Resurrection, the Nativity, the Virgin of Borosiv, Holy Sophia and St. Glib.
And the elaborate three-tiered iconostasis between the church's nave and sanctuary is a gilded wonder, displaying images of Christ, Mary, Old Testament personages and the church's namesakes.
Despite the serenity of the church's setting, and its peaceful interior, Sts. Cyril and Methodius is an active faith community with daily and weekend Ukrainian, English and bilingual Masses. Hymns and the liturgy are by tradition rendered a cappella led by a cantor.
Year-round observances commemorate the feasts and saints' days of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. And a multitude of active parish organizations exist. The church has a history of publishing fine anniversary booklets honouring the participation of parishioners in both liturgical and other activities.