Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 11, 2002
St. Josaphat celebrates 100 years
Cathedral bears testament to Ukrainian struggles and successes
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Ask Victor Fedyna how important St. Josaphat's Cathedral is for him and he would say, "It's a place where we were born and this is where we are going to die."
His grandparents attended this parish when its original church was built in 1904. His parents were married in this parish and in 1931, he was baptized.
"I look upon this cathedral parish as an ambassador for all Ukrainians in Alberta and NWT," Fedyna told the WCR.
With its evocative architecture and rich display of divine art inside, St. Josaphat's on 97th Street and 108th Avenue is a city landmark. But for Ukrainian Catholics in Alberta, it is not a simple landmark. It is the monument of their faith, since it is the mother church of Ukrainian Catholics in the province. The parish is the fruit of the hard labour of Ukrainian pioneers.
To mark the parish's centennial, Bishop Lawrence Huculak will consecrate the altar of the cathedral on Nov. 9 while Archbishop Michael Bzdel will lead the people in a pontifical Divine Liturgy of thanksgiving on Nov. 10.
They will also commemorate the arrival of the first permanent Ukrainian Catholic clergy and religious to settle in Alberta and the first liturgy in Edmonton.
The parish was built when the Ukrainians settling the Prairies in the 1890s felt a need for their own church and their own priests. That longing for the familiar spiritual atmosphere would not be fulfilled immediately.
It took 12 years before they celebrated the first official Ukrainian liturgy at St. Joachim Church with the coming of Ukrainian missionaries in October 1902.
One month after their arrival, the then bishop of St. Albert Diocese, Bishop Emile Legal, acquired land in Edmonton for the Ukrainians.
The missionaries built a church 18 metres long and 12 metres wide. While construction was going on, St. Joachim was the temporary home of the Ukrainian parish.
Although the church was built in 1904, the interior needed work. It was impossible to hold services in winter since there was no money to purchase a furnace or coal. Records show one parishioner helped mine coal from the banks of the Saskatchewan River for use in the church. To finish the interior of the church, a local lumber dealer provided many materials on long-term credit.
More and more Ukrainians moved in and by 1910, there were 300 families and 500 children in the parish.
Fedyna said, "It's a nucleus that has begun, has grown and has kept us respecting and kept us loyal patriotic people, who eventually want to be with God in eternity."
Like other Edmontonians, parishioners of St. Josaphat endured many trials, like a typhus outbreak in 1906 and Spanish influenza in 1918. Nevertheless parish life continued to flourish and at the 950th anniversary of Christianity of Ukraine in 1938, the construction of the monumental church (the present cathedral) in Edmonton was proposed.
Designed by Oblate Father Philip Ruh, construction of the new church began in 1939 and the building was dedicated in 1947 by the-then secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Eugene Tisserant.
The church has seven octagonal copper domes, each topped with a cross symbolizing the seven sacraments. The walls are red bricks with pilasters of darker bricks and ornamental yellow bricks in the upper sections.
When the eparchy of Edmonton was created in 1948, the church was named as the seat, earning the title of cathedral. Said Father Mihajlo Planchak, "The cathedral is an important church because it's the mother parish within the eparchy."
When Bishop Lawrence asked him to be the pastor four years ago, he was reluctant. "I was scared in a way, but honoured at the same time."
In 1950, to create the full Ukrainian liturgical atmosphere, the interior of the cathedral was painted with murals depicting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and other spiritual realities like the last judgment. Prof. Julian Bucmaniuk and his son Bohdan completed the work in 1956.
An iconostasis and liturgical fixtures including a square black marble altar, sanctuary lamps, vestment tables and sanctuary chairs were installed to complete the desired liturgical environment.
Planchak said the parish is transforming as it uses the Ukrainian language less in its liturgy. "We do have many people that are not from Ukraine who like our way of worshipping."
Parishoner Ed Kostyshen said, "It's the centre of our spirituality: We have an obligation to maintain it and make this community grow."
But being a member of this parish has its social benefits too, Kostyshen said. "You meet caring people who support you emotionally and spiritually."
Music minister Melanie Turgeon calls this parish home. "Knowing that this is your place to come in thanksgiving and worries - in any type of situation you have this place, you have this family to support you - is comforting."
For Catherine Chichak, St. Josaphat Parish is the focal point where she is reminded of the spiritual values she needs and wants.
Being a member of this parish since 1951 deepened her faith in God. "We need the spiritual, especially now that the world is so materialistic.
"The celebration of its centenary tells us how our faith has grown. It reminds us of the story of our forefathers, who built this church and sacrificed their lives."