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Alexander Baran, one of the recent historians on Ukrainian settlement in Canada in his work entitle Religion and Social Problems of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada writes:
“The creation of the Catholic lay organization Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood has best contributed to the full rebirth of church life in Canada.” Then he continues: “In 1941, that is during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Ukrainian settlement in Canada there were no more priests than there were in 1931. However, during those 10 years the number of Ukrainian Catholic parishes grew from 250 to 350. We can safely say that such growth was exclusively contributed by the Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood.”
Our first settlers in Canada the majority of which were peasants from Halychyna, quickly fell victims to the indoctrinations of other religious denominations and ideologies, since they did not have any strong leaders among themselves both in the church nor in. the community to counteract such organized action. It was only in the later decades due to frequent requests of the faithful and the intercession of Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky that a small number of priests came to Canada along with the newly ordained bishop Nicetas Budka. The church structure and administration slowly began to develop, but a new opposition appears, so called social radicals who began to act against the church authority and even put forward the idea of a creation of a new Ukrainian Church independent from Rome. Thus in the 1920s began one of the decisive battles which divided our church in Canada. But as our folk proverb says: “When the suffering is the greatest, then God’s help is the closest.” Therefore, in order to help their Catholic faith, its rebirth and full renewal, the mobilization of our active laity contributed in the rise of the Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood of Canada.
The Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood is an organization of the laity of our church, which sprung up in the prairie province of Saskatchewan in Canada in 1932. A young newly arrived priest from Ukraine, Rev. Dr. Stephan Semchuk became its ideologist. He was able to convince a small group of teachers and active farmers and got them involved in the life of the Church in accordance with the Catholic Lay Movement, so-called “Catholic Action,” which prevailed in Europe at that time. This was the apostolate of the faithful, which together with the priests, had as its goal the enlightenment of people to their faith and to stand in defense against all those who wanted to entice the immigrants into their ranks. The new Ukrainian bishop of Winnipeg, Vasyly Ladyka, satisfied with the enthusiasm of Rev. S. Semchuk, entrusted him to initiate the organized laity movement. All practicing Ukrainian Catholics of both sexes could become members of the Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood of Canada or UCBC in short. A statute was drawn up, and it soon became the directive and the regulator of the organization and its work. Reverend fathers were to be its spiritual guardians and advisors.
The main objective or principals of the work of the Brotherhood became:
1. Catholic religion: to further Catholic religion in the Byzantine rite, together with the priests to organize parishes and build churches, support church institutions, clubs, organizations, etc.
2. Ukrainian culture: organize and support Ukrainian schools, further the knowledge of the Ukrainian language, literature and music and all forms of art, further and support the Ukrainian Catholic press.
3. Canadian citizenship: become familiar with Canada, be its faithful and loyal citizens, strengthen spiritual growth and moral values of the Canadian life.
4. Social work: organize orphanages, old age homes, hospitals, summer camps, educational centers for youth, sports competitions; all this in the spirit of Christian justice and love.
As the ideas of the Brotherhood were put into practice it quickly led to the growth of church life and to the organizing of separate branches not only in Saskatchewan, but also in the provinces of Manitoba and Alberta. In 1934 the first All-Canadian Central Executive was formed. The number of Ukrainian Catholic parishes grew. There is no doubt that such success can only be attributed to the Brotherhood.
In the 1940s the Brotherhood was divided into three parts: men (UCBC), ladies (UCWLC) and youth (UCYC), a division which was necessary with the demands of each individual group. Each of these groups work within the framework of their separate statutes, which are based on four common principles: Ukrainian Catholic religion, Ukrainian culture, Canadian citizenship and social work. Organizational structure is also common to all.
The Brotherhood has its branches in each of the five Eparchies of Canada, namely the Winnipeg Metropolitan Archeparchy, Toronto, Edmonton, Saskatoon and New Westminster. The location of the National Executive is established by the Ukrainian Catholic Congress held every three years. The location rotates among the five eparchies. Each of the eparchies has its own Eparchial executive.
The UCBC of the Edmonton Eparchy was founded in Mundare in 1933 and is involved in many projects and conducts fund raising in order to financially secure the following projects: the weekly Brotherhood radio program, Ukrainian Bilingual schools in Alberta, Heritage Days festivities in Edmonton, cantors workshops, “Help for Ukraine” collection, publication of catechetical materials for schools in Ukraine, orphanages and disabled individuals in Ukraine, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky Hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, etc.
The Brotherhood played a great role in the community with the creation of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee, now called the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (CUC) and also was one of the cofounders of the World Congress of Ukrainians (WCU). The president of UCBC, Rev. Dr. W. Kushnir, was also the first president of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee and the first president of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians (WCFU).
After the Second World War and after the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church and after the downfall of the godless Soviet empire, after the attainment of freedom and the independence of the Ukrainian nation, new problems and new needs arose. The Brotherhood of Ukrainian Catholics and its organizational structure can serve as an example of work by the laity for the Ukrainian Church in Ukraine and in the Diaspora.
The heritage of religious growth in our nation for over a thousand years is part of our great riches. Therefore the laity should stand as active participants in the work of the church and not be its passive members.