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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BYZANTINE RITE CATHOLICS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BYZANTINE RITE CATHOLICS. The Byzantine Rite Catholic Church resulted from efforts by the Roman Catholic Church to convert Eastern Orthodox Christians in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire during the 16th and 17th centuries. A new institution was preferable to direct absorption into Roman Catholicism, unacceptable to many from EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCHES. Initially the name Uniate designated the union of the two faiths; later, Greek Catholic or Byzantine Rite Catholic church was preferred. The Byzantine Rite Catholic Church retained various practices of the Eastern church while acknowledging the supreme leadership of the pope. Masses were performed in Old Slavonic rather than Latin; the Julian calendar (rather than the Gregorian) was observed; the Eastern form of the cross (3 crossbars, the lowest oblique) was retained; and marriage of clergy was permitted. This latter practice caused an uproar among Latin Catholics in the U.S. around the turn of the century, with the arrival of Byzantine Catholic immigrants and their married clergy. A decree in 1907 permitted only celibate priests to be admitted to America. As a result, thousands of U.S. Byzantine Rite Catholics defected to the Russian Orthodox church. The majority of Cleveland's early Russian Orthodox churches were built by these former Byzantine Rite Catholics in cooperation with the city's Carpatho-Russian Orthodox immigrants. Eventually the celibacy decree was modified. As of 1924, married priests could enter the country, but married men could not be ordained as Byzantine Rite clergy in America, although clerical marriage continued among European Byzantine Rite Catholics.

In 1916 the Vatican established 2 separate ecclesiastical administrations for Byzantine Rite Catholics in the U.S. Reflecting this bifurcation, Cleveland has 2 dioceses, the Diocese of the Ruthenian (Rusin) Byzantine Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Diocese of St. Josaphat. The ethnic groupings reflect historical divisions in European homelands. Prior to World War I, 2 separate groups existed among Byzantine Rite Catholics in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Sixty percent were Rusins (Carpatho-Ruthenians whose region was annexed by Czechoslovakia between the world wars), and the remainder were Ukrainians (Galician-Ruthenians whose region was annexed by Poland between the world wars). Although Rusin and Ukrainian immigrants at first cooperated in the new land, their regional allegiances and national differences soon made it impossible to maintain unity, and each group rallied around its own ecclesiastical administration. The Ruthenian diocese (est. 1969) has included 11 Greater Cleveland churches, with Rusins and some HUNGARIANS, SLOVAKS, and CROATIANS as members. The Ukrainian diocese, established in 1984, includes a majority of UKRAINIANS with some Lemkos. Each diocese was located in PARMA in 1995.


The oldest Rusin church in Cleveland in 1995 was St. John the Baptist Byzantine Rite Catholic Church. The parish was established in 1898, and a triple-domed church edifice was erected in 1913 at 2036 Scovill Ave. The structure was razed in 1961 to make way for the INNERBELT FREEWAY, and the church relocated to Parma. In 1969 St. John's was established as a cathedral. During the 1960s and early 1970s, a Byzantine Catholic high school was located on the church grounds. Although enrollment peaked at 600 in the late 1960s, the school closed in 1975. In 1995 it housed offices of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Diocese of Parma and a Byzantine cultural-heritage institute. The largest Rusin parish in the 1950s was Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, with approx. 3,000 members. It dates to 1909, when west-side parishioners left St. John's and built Holy Ghost Church on W. 14th St. and Kenilworth Ave. The structure was topped with 3 of the "onion" domes characteristic of Byzantine churches. From 1918-62, Rev. JOSEPH P. HANULYA† was assigned to Holy Ghost. He started the Rusin Elite Society there (1930s), wrote the first history in English of Rusin literature (1941), and later organized the Rusin Cultural Garden (see CLEVELAND CULTURAL GARDEN FEDERATION). Under his leadership, Holy Ghost School was built in 1958. Hanulya wrote the required texts for grammar, reading, Bible history, and catechism, all in Rusin. In 1986 Holy Ghost church was still at its original address, but the school had been sold. In 1986 other churches under the jurisdiction of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Diocese of Parma were St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church (State Rd. and Biddulph Ave.), St. Gregory the Theologian (Quail Ave., LAKEWOOD), St. Joseph's (originally at 9321 Orleans Ave.) in BRECKSVILLE, and 5 other churches in the SUBURBS: St. Emilian, St. Eugene, Holy Spirit, St. Mary Magdalene, and St. Stephen. Most parishes were made up of several different nationalities by the 1980s. The diocese publishes a newspaper, the Horizon.

Ukrainians who do not use the term "Byzantine" but "Ukrainian" to describe their churches initially joined St. John the Baptist Byzantine Rite Catholic Parish when a number of Ukrainians first arrived from Galicia at the turn of the century. Nationality differences led the Ukrainians to secede from St. John and organize their own parish, SS. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church, in 1909. Located at W. 7th St. and College Ave., near the Ukrainian immigrant settlements, the church played an active role in community life. It sponsored drama productions and concerts, conducted Ukrainian language classes, and organized adult literacy drives. Parish growth following World War II occurred under the leadership of Rev. Dmytro Gresko. In 1947 he started an all-day parish school; a new convent was completed for the Sisters of St. Basil in 1953;, and in 1956 both the interior and exterior of the church underwent major renovations. In addition, Rev. Gresko organized 3 new parishes: St. Mary's (originally on Kinsman Rd., later in SOLON), St. Josaphat's (State Rd., Parma), and St. Andrew's (Hoertz Rd., Parma). Another parish, Prokova, on Broadview Rd. served the community in 1995.

St. Josaphat's, completed in 1959, included a convent for the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, the St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Elementary School (K-Grade 8), and the Astrodome (a Ukrainian cultural center). A church surmounted by 5 golden-crossed domes was constructed by St. Josaphat's parish in 1984; it became a cathedral for the new Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Diocese of St. Josaphat. The parish consisted of approx. 1,000 families in the 1980s.

Byzantine Rite Catholic churches identified with ROMANIANS, Croatians, and Hungarians also exist in Greater Cleveland. Two of the city's churches under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Exarchate of Canton, OH, are ST. HELENA ROMANIAN BYZANTINE CATHOLIC CHURCH (founded in 1905) and Most Holy Trinity Romanian Catholic Church (dedicated in 1916 at 2650 E. 93rd St., and relocated to 8549 Mayfield Rd. in Chesterland). The Croatian Byzantine Catholic parish of St. Nicholas, organized in 1901, was the first Croatian Catholic Church of Byzantine Rite in America. It was still at its original site (Superior and E. 36th St.) in 1995. The congregation of St. John's Hungarian Byzantine Catholic Church organized ca. 1892 and 16 years later built a church at Buckeye Rd. and Ambler Ave. In 1954 a new church was constructed on the site, and the first Hungarian Byzantine Catholic elementary school in the U.S. was completed. In the 1980s, St. John's relocated to Solon. St. Michael's Hungarian Byzantine Catholic Church, established in 1925 on Cleveland's west side (4505 Bridge Ave.), no longer existed by 1986.

In the U.S., Byzantine Rite Catholics have generally been a small minority in comparison to Latin Rite Catholics. The fact that Byzantine Rite Catholics have their own hierarchy has helped to resolve some of the problems faced by Eastern Rite Catholics in America. At times, though, the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church has lost members who regard certain traditions as unacceptable. Cleveland has retained a sufficiently large Byzantine Catholic population to support Byzantine Rite Catholic churches and elementary schools separate from Latin Rite Catholic institutions. In 1986 it was estimated that 8,000 Ruthenians and 6,000 Ukrainians belonged to Greater Cleveland's Byzantine Rite Catholic churches.

Nicholas J. Zentos

Lorain County Community College

Wendy Marley

Cuyahoga Community College


Last Modified: 10 Jul 1997 02:30:58 PM

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