The Redemptorists of the Eastern, Byzantine Rite of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church credit their beginnings to the tireless Belgian missionary Rev. Achille Deleare, who in 1906 accepted the Eastern Rite so that he could work with Ukrainian immigrants in Canada (after leaving Ukraine at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, people lacked spiritual guidance for a long time. )
In 1910 Andrey Sheptytsky, the Metropolitan of Halychyna, participated in the Eucharistic Congress which took place in Montreal. The Metropolitan took this opportunity to visit Ukrainian settlements and this was the first visitation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics in Canada. Sheptytsky visited the Ukrainian settlements where Father Delaere and his confreres worked and was impressed with their self-sacrifice toward the abandoned Ukrainians in Canada and decided to ask Belgian priests to start similar missionary work in Western Ukraine (which at the that time was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.)
August 21, 1913 Rev. Josef Scrivers (the provincial of the missionary congregation) and five other priests and a brother came to Western Ukraine. They settled in the little village of Univ, 50 kilometers from Lviv, the capitol of Western Ukraine. Metropolitan Sheptytsky gave them land with a building in this village which the Redemptorists turned into a monastery.
At first the main goal was to learn the Ukrainian language and the mentality of the local population but after a few months Father Scrivers, who learned Ukrainian very quickly, held retreats for nuns and became their spiritual advisor.
During the Austro-Russian war the fathers felt great pressure from the Russian civil as well as religious authorities, who attempted to attach the Ukrainian population to the Russian Orthodox Church. At that time the Redemptorists were in a very uncertain situation: the Belgium province was unable to give them any help and Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky was arrested and exiled to Russia. The priests were able to breathe easier in the spring of 1915 when the Austro-German troops drove out the Russians.
When the Metropolitan returned from exile he made every effort for the further development of the young community. In 1918 he bought some land and buildings in Zboisk and gave it to the Redemptorists and later two more buildings in Holosko (1923) and Lviv (1937).
Thanks to the intercession of Sheptytsky the Redemptorists received a church in Ternopil which became a place of numerous pilgrimages.
In 1920, at the request of Bishop Hryhorij Khomyshyn, the fathers founded yet one more monastery in Stanislaviv. At first they only served the parish but with time they bought a building and built their own chapel in the center of town. This building became an important center of missionary activity and the residency of the Arch-Brotherhood of the Mother of God of Perpetual Help, which in 1938 numbered close to 100,000 members.
The field of activity of the Redemptorists in Ukraine was not limited to the territory of the Galician metropolis. October 19, 1926 the fathers founded a center in Kostopol in Volyn. From there they went to different places in the Volyn region to provide spiritual care for the faithful, to conduct retreats and to establish new parishes. In 1927 this center was moved to Kovel after which the fathers became even more active in Volyn, Kholmshchyna and Polissia. It was in the center of Kovel that Bishop Nicholas Charnetsky, the apostolic nuncio for Catholics of the eastern Rite beyond the boundaries of the Galician metropolis, resided.
The Belgian superiors understood that in order for the missionary work to be successful among the Ukrainian people it was necessary to include Ukrainian priests. In 1922 they opened a small seminary for Ukrainian youth who wanted to become Redemptorist missionaries in the future. The seminary was located in Zboisk – a township near Lviv, where Metropolitan Sheptytsky gave the Redeptorists yet one more piece of land with buildings where in 1919 they moved from Univ. At that time they also had a novitiate there for those who wanted to become a Redemptorist priest or brother. In order to continue their studies after their novitiate the Redemptorists traveled abroad to Beauplateau or Leuven in Belgium, but they were working on a plan for their own seminary. They opened an academy in Zboisk in 1934. In 1836 this was moved to the monastery of St. Alphonsus in Velyke Hоlosko which was two kilometers from Zboisk (this land and buildings was yet another generous gift from Metropolitan Andrey which he gave the Redemptorists in 1926.) The seminary operated and developed there successfully for another five years – until the beginning of the Second World War.
Due to the growing number of vocations to the Order and to an expanding network of houses a vice-province of Eastern-Rite Redemptorists was created. At first it had various different names: Ruthenian, Belgian-Ruthenian, Galician. In 1931 at the request of the superiors and in agreement with the congregation of Eastern Churches the Redemptorists in Ukraine joined with the Canadian Redemptorist homes and started searching for a permanent name of the vice-province. And at the General Chapter in 1936 they were given the name of “Lviv Province.”
In 1938, the year of the “silver jubilee” of the Ukrainian Redemptorists, the Lviv Province had 6 homes, 51 priests, 20 students, 34 brothers, 12 novices, 2 postulants and 115 students of the minor seminary.
In 1938 Western Ukraine was occupied by the Red Army and persecution of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church began. Many secular and religious leaders (among them also many Redemptorists) were arrested and sent to Siberia or killed. The seminarians of the Lviv Redemptorist Province moved to Tykhiv in Poland and continued their studies there until the Red Army lost to the German invasion and left Western Ukraine in 1941. Though the situation of the Church and the Redemptorists became a little better during the German occupation (confiscated monasteries were returned to the fathers and they even started to conduct missions) in 1944, when the Red Army returned, persecutions resumed with a vengeance. Communist special forces tried to force the Redemptorists to join the Russian Orthodox Church but the Redemptorists firmly held their ground. As a result all of the Redemptorists were arrested, some of them were thrown in prison and others were sent to Siberia. There they served long prison terms as enemies of the Soviet state. After their release most of them were allowed to return to Western Ukraine but were forbidden to take part in any kind of apostolic activity. In the years of persecution the Redemptorists, together with other clergy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, continued to bring the light of Christ’s teachings to the people and did not allow an atheistic darkness to prevail in their souls. The confreres usually lived in twos. They faithfully adhered to the charter of the congregation and exercised their spiritual practices in private homes.
The fathers worked with the faithful tirelessly and zealously: they organized services in closed churches, forests and private chapels. They ran an underground spiritual seminary with R. Bachtalowsky, P. Mayik, Y. Pelekh, P. Dmukhovskyj, V. Mykhajlyuk and others as lecturers. For a long time the obligations of the Prefect of Students and the Magister of the Novitiate were carried out by Rev. M. Lemishka, Rev. Y. Smal, and Rev. M. Vynnytskyj. Bishops M. Charnetsky, V. Velychkovsky, F. Kurchaba, and V. Sternyuk ordained those seminarians who were properly prepared and recommended for priesthood.
Between 1947 and 1990 the Provincial of the Lviv Redemptorist Province was Father (and later Bishop) Filimon Kurchaba; he has earned great praise from both his congregation and the Church.
After our Lord gave the Ukrainian people the gift of freedom, the Redemptorists and other monastic congregations started demanding the return of property which they had before the arrival of the communist regime. These demands have partially been met: the Redemptorists got back some of their homes and churches but they still had to build quite a few monasteries and churches in the places where the Redemptorists once were, since unfortunately these places were destroyed during the war.
The Redemptorists understood that the formation of a new generation of their congregation was far more important than the renewal of material possessions so they worked at raising a highly educated new generation that was ready for selfless work. And that is why, in continuing an age old tradition, they tried to give good training to the new generation.
The Redemptorists in Ukraine serve in Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kamyanets Podilsky, Kovel, Kokhavyn (in the region of Lviv), Novoyavorivsk (in the region of Lviv), Chernihiv, Berdiansk and Crimea. The Redemptorists also serve Ukrainians in the US, Canada, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Belarus, Great Britain and New Zealand.