Byzantine and Catholic in the Secular Northwest

An interview with the Very Reverend Fr. Richard Janowicz, pastor of Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield, Oregon, and Apostolic Administrator of the Eparchy of St. Nicholas of Chicago.

Fr. Richard Janowicz is celebrating his 35th anniversary at Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield, Oregon, 34 years of which he has served as pastor.  It is a small, Eastern Catholic parish which celebrates the Byzantine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  While it is essentially the same Eucharistic celebration with which Latin rite Catholics are familiar, its outward expression differ in many ways: the Liturgy is sung without any instrumental accomponiment, many prayers are in English but some are in Slavonic, Holy Communion is given by intinction, there is a significant use of icons and gestures and a different emphasis on the practice of spirituality.  

Fr. Janowicz is of Polish descent, and grew up in Ohio.  He attended Pontifical College Josephinum, a seminary in Columbus, and was ordained a Catholic priest for the Byzantine-Ruthenian rite in 1980.  He is today under the authority of the Ukrainian Catholic Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Nicholas, Chicago. Its bishop, Richard Seminack died on August 16, 2016, and the See is currently vacant, with Fr. Janowicz serving as Apostolic Administrator.  

The first Ukrainian bishop assigned to the United States was Soter Ortynsky, whose eparchy included the entire United States.  He was appointed to his position in 1913, but died of pneumonia in 1916.  Today, there are four Ukrainian Catholic eparchies in the United States under the authority of the Bishop of Rome, which serve nearly 50,000 Ukrainian rite Catholics.  As administrator of the Eparchy of St. Nicholas, Fr. Janowicz oversees 38 parishes, five missions and two monasteries in a geographic region that includes 27 states in the West and Midwest, an area seven times the size of Ukraine (to the astonishment of visiting bishops from Ukraine, he noted.)  He recently spoke to CWR.

CWR: As a Polish, Latin rite Catholic, what drew you to Eastern Catholicism?

Fr. Janowicz: As I was growing up, I learned that my grandfather was an Eastern rite Catholic.  That caught my interest.  At the time, I was unaware what that was all about.  I did some research, and discovered it was culturally similar in many ways to my own Polish Catholic upbringing.  It was a continuation of what I had already experienced.  I think the Liturgy in particular drew me in.

(photo: nativityukr.org)

CWR: And the Ukrainians, like the Polish, suffered much persecution for their faith as well.

Fr. Janowicz: Yes, but the Ukrainians had it even worse, most especially under the Communist regime.

CWR: How is it that you came to Oregon to start Nativity parish?

Fr. Janowicz: I was ordained for the Byzantine Catholic Church, a sister church to the Ukrainian Catholic Church.  My ordaining bishop asked me to start a mission in Eugene, Oregon.  I agreed, and headed West.  When we started, we had only 14 people at our Sunday liturgy.  Most attending were Ukrainian, so I asked the bishop of the Ukrainian eparchy in Chicago if he’d take the parish under his care.  He agreed, and we became a Ukrainian Catholic parish.

CWR: Even though you yourself do not speak Ukrainian?

Fr. Janowicz: Yes.  It has been a limitation sometimes. But the immigrant parishioners I served spoke English, so really there was not a pressing need to learn the language, and after they passed away, no opportunity to practice.

CWR: Where did your original parishioners come from?

Fr. Janowicz: The Ukrainian Catholics that were originally part of our founding were people who came to the United States after World War II.  Many came from Germany, with some forced to go there to do slave labor.  Our pioneers are mostly gone; today we have only two parishioners who speak Ukrainian. 

CWR: You’ve had the same assignment for 35 years.  Is it unusual to be in one place for so long a time?

Fr. Janowicz: Not necessarily.  And, as founding pastor, I wanted to see my work through.  Also, there ought to be a real relationship between a pastor and his flock.  Today, I’m baptizing the children of people I baptized many years ago.

CWR: You are unmarried.  Was this a requirement for Eastern rite priests when you were ordained?

the late bishop richard seminack (left) with fr. janowicz, at nativity parish in september 2015 (photo: nativityukr.org)

Fr. Janowicz: In 1980, the year of my ordination, it was almost impossible to be ordained as a married man in the United States.  What some of our priests did was move to Ukraine and stay there for a time and be ordained.  They were then “loaned back” to the United States.

This was due to Cum Data Fuerit, a decree approved by Pope Pius XI in 1929.  It declared that “priests of the Greek-Ruthenian Rite who wish to go to the United States of North America and stay there must be celibates.”  Hence, it led to a general prohibition of the ordination of married Eastern Catholics to the priesthood in North America.  It almost crushed our church in the U.S. and Canada.  The decree was enforced until only very recently.  

So when I was younger, going to Ukraine to be ordained was a way around the decree.  Today, we’re seeing more and more married men among our priests in the U.S.

CWR: When did significant numbers of Ukrainian Catholics start coming to the United States?

Fr. Janowicz: A large number began coming in the late 19th century, from about 1880 to 1920.  It was then that you saw our first Ukrainian Catholic bishop appointed to the U.S.

There have been three other waves since, including after World War II and at end of communist rule in Ukraine.  There is a fourth wave occurring now.  It can be difficult when one has to minister both to the newer immigrant, who wants to hear the Liturgy in his own language, as well as to those who were born here and may be unfamiliar with the Ukrainian language.

Also, our population moves around.  They may start out in an ethnic-based community, but then move away for work or school.  Or, they may marry a Latin-rite Catholic and begin attending Mass with them.  Also, because of our relatively small numbers, we cannot have a parish in every city where there are Ukrainians.

(photo: nativityukr.org)

Regardless, we must be a community open to all in order to survive, not just to Ukrainians.

CWR: Bishop Richard Seminack, who headed the Eparchy of Saint Nicholas in Chicago, died last August of cancer.  How has this affected your eparchy?

Fr. Janowicz: Without a bishop, we are fatherless.  We don’t know when the new bishop will be named, but in the meantime, I’m serving as administrator.  I do the same administrative functions of the bishop, without being a bishop.  I’m trying to ensure that things run smoothly in the meantime.  I still serve as pastor of Nativity, returning to Chicago every other week for my administrative duties.

CWR: What are some basic differences in the liturgy of the Ukrainian Church and the Latin rite?

Fr. Janowicz: Our Liturgy is sung a cappella, as a dialogue between priest and people to God.  There is a traditional pattern of how our music is sung (and how are churches look) so that we don’t have the need of innovation or input from the outside.

The priest joins the people in facing East.  We make use of icons, which is our only church art.  An icon is a representation of Christ, Mary and the saints or of important events in our faith, but one that is not just a historical/physical aspect of the person or event but which conveys the spiritual reality of the person or event.  It is an art that offers something deeper than the physical.

Our spirituality comes from a long tradition, without innovation or elements thrown in from different people or groups.  We don’t have a Dominican, Franciscan or Carmelite spirituality.

(photo: nativityukr.org)

CWR: What is Nativity parish in Springfield like?

Fr. Janowicz: We are a small community, with 110 who are regular parishioners.  We do get some visitors from Ukraine, but most parishioners are not of Ukrainian descent.  They come because they love our Liturgy and spirituality.  Or, they may be converts to the faith, or have fallen away from the practice of religion and have returned through our parish.

CWR: Most Latin rite parishes offer daily Mass.  Does Nativity offer its liturgy daily?

Fr. Janowicz: No, but other Ukrainian Catholic parishes do.  At Nativity, we have Liturgy on Sundays and feast days—I should note, we have many feast days!

CWR: Is it difficult maintaining a small parish?  Do you get the income you need to cover your bills?

Fr. Janowicz: We have done well at Nativity, as our people are generous.  However, it has been a problem at some other small parishes.  But big parishes have their problems, too.  If you have a big parish, you need more money to hire people to run it.

And, one of the strengths of a small parish is that you tend to know the people with whom you worship.

CWR: Gallup surveys place Oregon and the Pacific Northwest among the most “unchurched” regions of the country.  How is it being a priest in a largely secular environment?

Fr. Janowicz: It is difficult.  I was surprised when I came in from Ohio.  There was a huge difference between the two, even within the Catholic culture.  Catholics in Oregon tend to be aware that the region has a history of anti-Catholicism, both from Protestants and those who are secular.  In the early 20th century the Ku Klux Klan was a significant presence here.  We had few African Americans here, so they could turn their attention towards Catholics.  I think some followed the KKK because they thought they were patriotic.

We had a famous court case here in 1925, Pierce v. the Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.  It struck down an Oregon statute requiring Oregon children to attend public schools.  Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in our favor.  I think you’d find the Klan had a role in passing that statute. 

CWR: You have few Ukrainians at your parish, but how connected are you to events in Ukraine?

Fr. Janowicz: While greater interest to those who are Ukrainian, we all feel connected to the country and people due to our faith. And we pray for them and the Church in Ukraine frequently.

CWR: It is worth noting that all at welcome at Nativity, whether Ukrainian Catholic or not.

Fr. Janowicz: Yes.  The same is true of all of our parishes.  We are not just a church of Ukrainians.  We have booklets available for visitors to help them participate in the Liturgy.  We think we offer something that people of all backgrounds can appreciate and from which they’ll benefit.

(Photo: nativityukr.org)

About Jim Graves 134 Articles

Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.