By Jayne L. Buryn, Communications Coordinatior, Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton; with files from Kathryn Cymbaliuk, online website created by Bohdan Hrynyshyn, and excerpts from UCWLC: BUILDERS OF HOME, FAITH AND COMMUNITY (Lena Sloboda, HLM, 2016)
On November 20, 2016, the Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League (UCWLC) of New Kiew celebrated an amazing 70th anniversary since its inception in March of 1946.
How it all began
In 1903, a little farming community, in the great northeastern Alberta landscape of the Vegreville area, came together to create the New Kiew Ukrainian Catholic Parish of St. Nicholas. Three years later a little log chapel began life there.
By 1918 the congregation was ready to grow bigger ventures. That year, the parish name was changed to New Kiew Ukrainian Catholic Church of Holy Ascension and a larger church was completed.
On March 3, 1946 the Holy Ascension branch UCWLC was launched by a group of 27 women. With a talent for focusing on the needs of the community around them, the ladies organized their first formal event: a blessed communal banquet for veterans who had returned from World War II.
“The women looked after the religious, social, cultural, economic and spiritual needs of their parish,” wrote Lena Sloboda, HLM, in her recently-published book, UCWLC: BUILDERS OF HOME, FAITH AND COMMUNITY. This continues to be the mission of the New Kiew UCWLC.
The branch began work with Anna Samoil as president. Fr. Myron Daciuk OSBM was parish priest at the time. (In 1991, Father Myron was appointed bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton, the second of two priests who had served the New Kiew parish to be appointed bishops. The first was Fr. Jerome Chimy, OSBM, ordained bishop in September of 1974 to serve the Eparchy of New Westminster.)
From 1949 on, the venue for Eparchial UCWLC conventions was often New Kiew, attracting delegates from branches surrounding the Vegreville and Edmonton regions. The parish hall was renovated in 2009 and provided the local branch with an even larger facility for its valuable activities.
As pillars of the surrounding community, the New Kiew UCWLC continues to carry out its formation mission.
- Throughout its history, UCWLC members have hosted the parish priest in their homes after each service. They continue to do so today. Organization members also hosted the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate (SSMI) when they provided catechism classes in the summer.
- The organization caters to all types of religious, social, ethnic and economic functions: Harvest dances, Halloween dances, Pre-Lenten suppers and New Year’s Eve banquets, for example.
- New Kiew UCWLC sponsors Divine Liturgy for the parish’s sick, hospitalized, those undergoing surgery, or the deceased.
- The ladies are also the key fundraisers for the local parish. At local auction sales, members sell lunches. They sponsor various raffles, one of which is for a handstitched quilt made by the organization’s members. The New Kiew League also organizes and manages the parish’s main fundraisers: the spring and fall potato pancake suppers.
- New Kiew UCWLC has donated to many charitable causes, such as for hospital equipment and in support of STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society).
- Organization members supplied lunches to parish volunteers during construction of new parish hall in 1961.
- The one-week, summer New Kiew Children’s Camp has been sponsored by the New Kiew UCWLC since 1999. This annual event provides children with spiritual and cultural education, crafts, songs and fellowship. It “continues to be one of the most anticipated events of the year, with children that participated in the early years as campers, returning as helpers to assist with the camp,” says New Kiew UCWLC’s Kathryn Cymbaliuk.
- The membership holds parish potluck meals (which Father Jim says are “world famous”, notes Kathryn) for Graveyard Services, in support of the annual children’s camp, the St. Nicholas Day event and family New Year’s Eve celebrations.
- They are also happy to donate an Easter basket to the parish priest, currently Fr. Don Bodnar.
Praise for the excellent relationships the New Kiew UCWLC nurtures, and for the work it does comes from long-time and more recent members. Ina Kachmar, UCWLC 60-year member, finds joy even today in the welcome she received from the New Kiew branch when she first arrived: “I remember how the community welcomed me. I was a new bride and didn’t know anyone. Coming in as a stranger, they took me under their wing.
“There was so much love and giving of these original members,” Ina continues. “They were all so friendly; they made me feel at ease. All functions were so much fun to
work together. It was truly a place where neighbors became friends.”
Past president and 50-year UCWLC member Irene Cymbaliuk agrees. “It was wonderful, with such a sense of community and the fellowship provided by this group. It continues to today.”
Michelle Palsitt has been a member for 15 years and is current president bringing renewal to the organization: she has taken over the reins from the older generation. Michelle is Irene’s daughter.
“It is such a great honour to be president of this organization, to promote our faith while carrying on the traditions and sharing the values that were instilled by those original members,” she says.
Unfortunately, with the changes that came to farming communities and rural life, New Kiew membership numbers declined. According to Lena Sloboda: “In the early 1950s, the branch had a membership of 60 women.” By 2009 there were only 11 members. “Current membership consists of those who remain on the family farm.”
Today, the New Kiew branch may be small, but it is full of life, “with dedicated women who love their church and who are committed to the preservation and development of Ukrainian culture as it pertains to our faith.” As Lena notes: “with God’s blessing, this branch is looking forward to continuing to maintain the … needs of the parish for many years … laying a foundation for future generations.”