OSBM: Edmonton Education

The History of the Basilian Fathers in Edmonton’s Educational System

While the Basilian Fathers of the Roman Church developed relatively recently, as they were only established as a religious congregation in France in 1822, the Basilian Fathers of the Ukrainian Church can trace their origins to a much earlier time.

When monasticism was introduced into Ukraine in the 11th century, each monastery followed the rules of St. Basil or Saint Theodore Studite, but each had their own customs and regulations. They had no connection between them, and were under the jurisdiction of the local bishop.

In 1595 – 96, the Ukrainian Church had re-affirmed its union with the Holy Roman Apostolic See. The bishops knew that the Ukrainian Church could only be strong and united if the monasteries were spiritually strong and healthy. In 1617, Metropolitan Joseph Rutsky of Kyiv began the work of restoring the spirituality and discipline of these monasteries by uniting them into the Congregation of the Holy Trinity of the Order of Saint Basil the Great. In this, he was assisted by Bishop Josaphat Kuncevych, who was later to become the first Ukrainian saint canonized by the Pope of Rome June 29, 1867.

Arrival in Edmonton

By the 1880s the order needed reform due to both political and church pressures. At the request of Pope Leo XIII, in 1882, the Polish Jesuits led what came to be known as the “Dobromyl Reform”. This gave the Basilians a new spirit of discipline and missionary zeal, which spread throughout the Ukrainian Church. Without this reform, it would not have been possible for them go do any mission work overseas.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the French Basilians came to Canada on the invitation of Bishop de Charbonnel of Toronto. They opened St. Michael’s College in Toronto in 1852 and later Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario. From these beginnings, the Basilians spread across Canada.

In October 1902, Rev. W. Zholdak was appointed the Apostolic Administrator for Ukrainian Catholics in Manitoba, and all of north-western Canada. As a result, on November 1, 1902, three Basilian priests, a Basilian brother and four Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate (SSMI) arrived in Edmonton at his invitation to begin to minister to the Ukrainian immigrants who had been arriving in great numbers since 1891.

At that time, Ukrainian Catholics in Edmonton were supporters of the public school district.
In 1910, most Ukrainian Catholics lived around St. Josaphat Church on 97 Street. The Edmonton Separate School District held discussions with Father Matthew Hura, OSBM, and the Ukrainian rate payers about the possibility of their joining with the Roman Catholics. They agreed to pay their taxes to the separate school district if the school would agree to hire a teacher from an Eastern Catholic order. Sister Josaphata Tymochko (SSMI) was hired to fulfill this condition, thus beginning an overly Ukrainian Catholic presence in the Catholic school system go this day. As the population of Edmonton grew, parishioners moved out into the spreading city, and this condition lapsed.

On March 3, 1948, an Eastern Catholic bishop, Most Rev. Neil N. Savaryn, OSBM, D.D., was appointed Bishop Ordinary to the Apostolic Exarchate of Edmonton. This appointment and a general surge of interest by the Ukrainian Catholics in their national roots sparked a driver to preserve their culture and their religious tradition.

In 1967, a proposal to start a Ukrainian Separate School System was turned down. However, it was agreed that consultants on the Ukrainian rite would be added to the administrative level of the district. To that end, Basilian Father Joseph Skwarok was hired. Father Skwarok, who taught at St. Joseph High School since the 1950s, joined the Edmonton Catholic School District Central Office as a Religious Education consultant for the new Religious Education Program of the Canadian Catechism. Along with Margaret Zadorozny, his task was to frame the new program to meet the needs of Ukrainian teachers and students in the school system as well as to provide instruction to the entire school system about Eastern Catholicism in general and Ukrainian Catholicism in particular.

The School Ukrainian Bilingual Program

In 1974, the School Act of Alberta changed to permit instruction in languages other than French and English for up to 50% of the school day. Thanks to this change, a Ukrainian bilingual program was established that year at both St. Matthew and St. Martin schools, and later extended to include another program at St. Bernadette school. This program included a large number of students, who were being educated within the Catholic School System in both English and Ukrainian from kindergarten to grade 4. It eventually expanded to add a Junior High program at St. Kevin School and a High School program at Austin O’Brien School. In addition to the Ukrainian language, students in these schools were also taught the Eastern Catholic Rite as a part of their schooling.

The Father

Father (Joseph) Josaphat Skwarok

Born: August 25, 1918 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Ordained: August 2, 1947 at St. Josaphat Cathedral in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Taught at St. Joseph High School in the 1951 to 1952. Died: November 19, 1984 in Edmonton. He is buried in Mundare, Alberta, Canada.

Father Skwarok served as secretary to Most Reverend Neil N. Savaryn, OSBM, who served as Bishop Ordinary for the Apostolic Exarchate in Edmonton. As an educator, Father Skwarok taught at St. Joseph High School from 1951 to 1952. From 1967 to 1977, he served in the Religious Education department as a Ukrainian Rite consultant along with Margaret Zadorozny. Their task was to frame the new Canadian Catechism program to meet the needs of Ukrainian teachers and students in the school system, as well as to provide instruction to the entire school system about Eastern Catholicism in particular.