|The Episcopacy of Bishop Basil Takach|
For eight years, the Greek Catholics in the United States waited in eager expectation for the appointment of a new bishop. Finally, Rome acted. On March 8, 1924, the Holy See of Rome unexpectedly announced the establishment of two exarchates for Greek Catholics in the United States. Simultaneously with this action, the Holy See appointed Father Basil Takach to be the Bishop of all Greek Catholics in the United States who were of Carpatho-Rusyn, Hungarian, Slovak and Croatian descent while Father Constantine Bohachevsky was named bishop of all Greek Catholics of Ukrainian descent. The Holy See’s appointment of Father Takach as bishop put an end to more than thirty years of ecclesiastical disputes, foreign interventions and intrigues, and assorted ethnic rivalries which were at times so bitter and divisive that the survival of Eastern Rite Catholic churches in America was seriously in doubt.
Basil Takach was born in a small village in Maramorosh County on October 27, 1879. Following the example of his father and his uncle, young Basil entered the Užhorod Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in December 14, 1902. After nine years of service as a parish priest, Bishop Julius Firczak appointed Father Takach as the controller of the Eparchial bank and executive officer of its printing society. In addition to these weighty responsibilities, Father Takach was named the superior of the “Alumneum,” the Eparchy’s boarding school. Father Takach’s honesty, dedication and kindness made him one of the most loved and respected priests in the Mukačevo Eparchy.
After World War I, Father Takach assumed even a more prominent role in the affairs of the Eparchy: spiritual director of the seminary, professor of religion at the Eparchial teacher’s college, member of the matrimonial tribunal and diocesan consultor. It was in the midst of performing these important duties that Father Takach received the surprising news of his selection as the new bishop for the newly established Greek Catholic Exarchate in the United States.
The news of the appointment of Father Takach was greeted with resounding joy and approval by the faithful in America. Almost immediately, plans were made by clergy and laity to greet their new leader’s arrival at a familiar destination for the immigrant Carpatho-Rusyn community: New York City.
Father Takach was consecrated as a bishop in Rome on Pentecost Sunday, June 15, 1924. Less than two months later, Bishop Takach set sail aboard the liner Mauretania for the United States. On August 13, 1924, a huge and enthusiastic throng crowded onto the pier of New York Harbor to catch a glimpse of the new bishop. After leading a service of thanksgiving at St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church in New York and being welcomed at a banquet at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel, Bishop Takach set about the arduous task of organizing the new Exarchate and giving much needed leadership to his dispersed and sometimes unruly flock.
One of the initial decisions confronting Bishop Takach was the location of a permanent episcopal seat and residence. In the papal bull appointing Father Takach as bishop, it was expressly stated that the episcopal seat of the new Greek Catholic Exarchate would be New York City. New York, however, was not an acceptable location because it had a much smaller Carpatho-Rusyn population than other regions of the country. Thus, Bishop Takach established temporary residences, first in Trenton, New Jersey and later, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, as he considered a more suitable location for his episcopal seat.
Within weeks of his arrival in Uniontown, representatives from St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church in Homestead/Munhall, Pennsylvania, a “steel town” suburb of Pittsburgh, presented Bishop Takach with a formal written proposal offering land and financial assistance if he would establish his residence and episcopal seat at the parish. Given the parish’s close proximity to the main offices of the Greek Catholic Union, the oldest and largest fraternal organization serving the Greek Catholic community, the bishop accepted the generous offer and designated St. John’s as the cathedral of the new Greek Catholic Exarchate .
In December 1925, the bishop’s residence and chancery, described as “one of the finest in Western Pennsylvania,” at long last were completed. In February 1926, Bishop Takach moved to Munhall and officially took up residence across the street from his new cathedral.
On July 5, 1926, the bishop’s residence and the chancery were solemnly dedicated amidst long and impressive ceremonies attended by thousands. Following a formal blessing service conducted at a temporary altar erected in a large vacant field just south of the Cathedral Church and near the newly constructed residence, Bishop Takach, accompanied by Bishop Constantine Bohachevsky of the Ukrainian Exarchate of Philadelphia, Bishop Dionysius Nyaradi, the Apostolic Administrator of the Prešov Diocese, Bishop Hugh C. Boyle, the Latin Rite Bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese, and more than one hundred priests, processed into the Cathedral for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
Another important initial task of Bishop Takach was the establishment of canonical order and ecclesiastical discipline in the new Exarchate. To achieve this objective, the bishop made several key decisions. First, Bishop Takach created an administrative structure for the governance of the Exarchate. Father Theophilus Zhatkovich of Trauger, Pennsylvania was named the first Chancellor of the Exarchate while Father Julius Grigassy was appointed as the head of the Matrimonial Tribunal and secretary to the bishop. A six member board of consultors also was created. The first Board of Consultors included: Father Gabriel Martyak of Landsford, Pennsylvania, Father Valentine Gorzo of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Father Victor Mirossay of Cleveland, Ohio, Father Nicholas Chopey of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Father Joseph Hanulya of Cleveland, Ohio and Father Victor Kovaliczky of Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
Bishop Takach also undertook a strenuous parish visitation program for the dual purposes of meeting the faithful and creating regional governing districts or deaneries for the Exarchate . Starting with St. John the Baptist Parish in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where he blessed a newly erected parochial school, the bishop visited sixty parishes in various parts of the country in a period of about five months. Based upon the recommendations of the board of consultors and the geographic locations of the parishes, Bishop Takach divided the Exarchate into thirteen deaneries having the following seats: New York City, Jersey City, Philadelphia, Scranton, Hazleton, Johnstown, Punxsutawney, Pittsburgh, Homestead, Uniontown, Youngstown, Cleveland and Chicago.
Simultaneously with the creation of the administrative structure for the new Exarchate, Bishop Takach ordered the clergy to take a much needed census of all of the parishes. The results of this census showed that the new Pittsburgh Greek Catholic Exarchate consisted of almost 300,000 faithful organized into 155 parishes and mission churches served by 129 priests.
From the start of his episcopacy, Bishop Takach was motivated by a burning desire to elevate the Greek Catholic Church in America to the “spiritual, cultural and national level of other progressive nationalities.” In pursuit of this salutary goal, Bishop Takach advocated the establishment of new organizations and activities to spiritually enrich and unify the faithful. Under the bishop’s leadership, various religious organizations such as the Altar Society, the Sodality and the Rosary Society were introduced and promoted among the parishes of the Exarchate. In addition, in conjunction with the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, the bishop instituted an annual pilgrimage in honor of the Most Holy Mother of God, first at the St. Nicholas Orphanage in Elmhurst and later at the Sisters’ newly established mother house at Mt. St. Macrina in Uniontown. This annual Labor Day event quickly became a popular event among the faithful of the Exarchate and brought together thousands of worshipers from throughout the United States.
Bishop Takach clearly recognized the vital importance of a Catholic press. With the support and financial generosity of the United Societies, one of the Greek Catholic fraternal organizations, numerous forms of religious and devotional materials were printed and disseminated. Additionally, the support of the United Societies enabled the Exarchate to begin the publication of a monthly religious magazine called the Queen of Heaven ( “Nebesnaja Caroca”). To spread knowledge of the Byzantine Rite among American Catholics, a monthly called “The Chrysostom,” and a weekly entitled “The Eastern Observer” also were published with the moral and financial support of the bishop.
Bishop Takach took special interest in the Sisters of St. Basil the Great. Viewing the teaching ministry of the sisters as crucial to the future growth and development of the Greek Catholic Church in America, Bishop Takach wholeheartedly supported all their efforts and activities. During Bishop Takach’s episcopate, the Sisters of St. Basil established and staffed ten parochial schools and six catechetical schools throughout the Exarchate.
Unfortunately, the administration of Bishop Takach as the first bishop of the Greek Catholic Exarchate of Pittsburgh was not without controversy or conflict. In 1929, the Holy See issued a decree known as Cum Data Fuerit. In this decree, the Holy See reiterated its previous position that the Greek Catholic clergy in America must be celibate. Bishop Takach vehemently opposed the new decree and used all possible means to persuade the Holy See to reverse its decision. When the Holy See rebuffed all appeals, Bishop Takach insisted that the celibacy decree must be obeyed. Using the celibacy decree as a rallying cry to allegedly safeguard traditional Eastern rite traditions, some priests and laity started an open campaign against the bishop and attacked his authority to govern the Exarchate. Many parishes were drawn into the conflict and numerous legal battles for control of church properties ensued. Regrettably, the conflict produced a schism within the Exarchate and lead to the formation of an Independent Greek Catholic Church. Despite this sad turn of events, the Pittsburgh Greek Catholic Exarchate, under Bishop Takach’s firm and determined leadership, regained its momentum and continued to grow and establish new parishes.
Bishop Basil Takach’s pioneering twenty-four year tenure of loving service as the first bishop of the Pittsburgh Greek Catholic Exarchate ended with his death on May 13, 1948. At the time of his death, he was sixty-nine years old. After a solemn Pontifical Requiem Liturgy at St. John’s Cathedral attended by seven bishops, three abbots, more than one hundred and eighty priests and numerous civic, fraternal and cultural leaders, the bishop was buried in Calvary Cemetery at Mt. St. Macrina. Through his dedication, patience and unparalleled zeal, Bishop Takach succeeded in placing the Greek Catholic Church in America on a firm foundation for years to come.