|The Episcopacy of Bishop Nicholas T. Elko|
With the abrupt and unexpected resignation of Bishop Ivancho, the responsibility for leading the ever-growing Pittsburgh Greek Catholic Exarchate was entrusted to the Vicar General of the Exarchate, Monsignor Nicholas T. Elko. Monsignor Elko was born in Donora, Pennsylvania on December 14, 1909. After receiving his elementary and secondary education in the public schools of his hometown, Nicholas Elko attended and graduated from Duquesne University in 1930. Upon completion of his theological studies at the Greek Catholic Seminary in Užhorod as well graduate studies at the University of Louvain in Belgium, Nicholas Elko, along with the future Bishop Ivancho, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Takach on September 30, 1934 at St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church in McKeesport.
Following his ordination, Father Elko served as pastor in several parishes throughout the Pittsburgh Greek Catholic Exarchate. In addition, Father Elko became active in the Greek Catholic Union and served as its spiritual director for four years.
When Bishop Ivancho was consecrated as the co-adjutor bishop in 1946, Father Elko was named to succeed Ivancho as the pastor of St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church in Cleveland. In a short time, Bishop appointed Father Elko to a number of important posts within the administration of the diocese - Dean of the Cleveland Deanery, Episcopal Consultor and finally Vicar General. In 1952, His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, Elko named a domestic prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor. In that same year, he was appointed by Bishop Ivancho to succeed the bishop as the Rector of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary.
In the summer of 1954, Bishop Ivancho appointed Monsignor Elko as the Rector of St. John’s Cathedral in Munhall. Monsignor Elko’s tenure as the pastor of the Cathedral Parish, however, was destined to be a very brief one. A little more than three months after Elko’s arrival at the Parish, Bishop Ivancho abruptly resigned from his position as bishop. Following this sudden and unexpected development, the Holy See turned to Monsignor Elko, the Vicar General of the Exarchate, to administer the diocese. Thus, on December 2, 1954, the Holy See named Monsignor Elko as Apostolic Administrator “sede plena” of the Exarchate. Reportedly, Monsignor Elko received the telephone call from Rome notifying him of his appointment as Apostolic Administrator while he was supervising some parishioners who were helping to repaint the Rectory.
As Apostolic Administrator, Monsignor Elko possessed all of the powers and authority to administer the affairs of the Exarchate which were granted to a bishop with one exception: the power to ordain priests. This deficiency was soon remedied, however, by the announcement on February 16, 1955, by Archbishop Amleto G. Cicognani, the Vatican's delegate to the United States, that Monsignor Elko would soon be elevated to the episcopacy.
On March 6, 1955, with his mother and two brothers in attendance, Monsignor Elko was consecrated as a bishop in ceremonies held in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The ordaining prelate was one of the highest ranking officials in the Vatican Curia: Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, the dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals and the Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Thus, at the age of forty-six, Nicholas T. Elko, became the first American born bishop of the Greek Catholic Church. On September 5, 1955, Bishop Elko's rapid rise within the ranks of the Pittsburgh Greek Catholic Exarchate reached its inevitable conclusion when he was officially named as the Exarchate's third bishop.
Recognizing the necessity for the Greek Catholic Church to be more responsive to the needs of its now overwhelmingly American born faithful and to adapt to the conditions presented by modern American life, Bishop Elko embarked upon a course which would lead to dynamic changes within the Exarchate. In 1955, Bishop Elko sought and was granted permission from the Holy See to permit English to be used in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. To more effectively tie the vast territory of the Exarchate together, Bishop Elko established a new weekly newspaper in 1956 to evangelize and spread Church and religious news to the faithful. The name of the new newspaper, which was called The Byzantine Catholic World, was itself emblematic of the climate of change sweeping through the Exarchate. It marked the continuation of the practice started in late 1940's whereby the traditional appellation of “Greek Catholic” was replaced by the term “Byzantine Catholic” in a effort to better clarify the religious and ritual identification of the Church for American Catholics.
Bishop Elko’s tenure as bishop also was an era of tremendous growth, expansion and development of physical facilities throughout the Exarchate. Under the bishop’s direction, more than one hundred churches and schools were constructed or reconstructed. This capital expansion program, while absolutely necessary to accommodate larger congregations, in hindsight had a major regrettable consequence. In an effort to be like other American Catholic churches, many traditional Eastern rite architectural features such as iconostases were omitted or removed from the newly built or renovated churches which were during this time period.
Cognizant of the need to follow an increasingly mobile laity, Bishop Elko assigned priests to do organizational work in other areas of the country. The result of these zealous labors was the establishment of new parishes in such non-traditional locales as Van Nuys, California in 1957, in Anchorage, Alaska in 1957, and in Fontana and San Diego, California in 1958.
An accomplished speaker and writer, Bishop Elko zealously endeavored to make the liturgical richness and spirituality of the Byzantine Rite better known to and appreciated by the Latin Rite Catholics both in the United States and abroad. Bishop Elko was appointed a consultor to the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental (Eastern Rite Catholic) Churches. He also took an active part in the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council held in Rome from 1962-65.
In the summer of 1967, Bishop Elko was recalled to Rome. Shortly after his recall, Bishop Elko was elevated to the dignity of an archbishop and appointed as the ordaining prelate for the Byzantine Rite in Rome and head of the Ecumenical Commission on the Liturgy. This new assignment necessitated his resignation as the Byzantine Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh. Upon Bishop Elko’s resignation, Monsignor Edward V. Rosack, the Chancellor of the Diocese, was named as the temporary Apostolic Administrator.
After serving for several years in Rome, Archbishop Elko returned to the United States in 1970 and served as an auxiliary bishop in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio for fourteen years. Upon reaching his seventy-fifth birthday, the Archbishop retired from this position. He died on May 18, 1991.
Dynamic, but controversial, Bishop Nicholas T. Elko did much not only to sustain the growth of our Byzantine Catholic Church but also to gain its acceptance as a permanent part of the American Catholic Church. His many good works and efforts would provide a lasting basis for continued growth and even more prominence and respect for our Church in future years.