|A Change in Status Results in Two Eparchies|
In recognition of its continued growth and development, the Holy See acted to significantly upgrade the status of Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States. By a decree issued by the newly elected Pontiff, His Holiness Pope Paul VI, in 1963, the Exarchate, which territorially encompassed the entire United States, was divided into two separate ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The first, centered in Passaic, New Jersey, included within its territory of the entire states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia, all of Eastern Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. The second jurisdiction, centered in Pittsburgh, included in its territory the remainder of the nation. In addition, the 1963 papal decree raised both jurisdictions to the canonical status of an eparchy or a full diocese.
On July 31, 1963, the two new Byzantine Catholic Eparchies were formally established with ceremonies conducted in the newly designated Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Passaic. Presiding at the ceremonies was the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, who installed the first bishop of the Passaic, the Most Reverend Stephen J. Kocisko.
Stephen J. Kocisko was born on June 11, 1915 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from De La Salle Catholic High School, young Stephen pursued his vocation to the priestly life by attending initially Nazareth Preparatory Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Later, he was sent by Bishop Takach to St. Josephat’s Seminary in Rome for his philosophical and theological education and eventually was awarded a Licentiate (i.e.-Master’s) Degree in Sacred Theology (S.T. L). Just prior to his departure for the United States, Bishop Alexander Evreinoff, the Ordaining Prelate for the Byzantine Rite in Rome, ordained Stephen Kocisko to the priesthood on March 30, 1941.
Upon his return to home, Father Kocisko was assigned to pastorates in Detroit, Michigan and in Lyndora, Pennsylvania. Besides his pastoral duties, he served as a member of the Matrimonial Tribunal and professor of Patrology at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. In April 1956, Bishop Elko named Father Kocisko as the Chancellor of The Pittsburgh Exarchate.
Due to the growing number of faithful and parishes, Bishop Elko petitioned the Holy See for an auxiliary bishop to assist in the administration of the Pittsburgh Byzantine Catholic Exarchate. The Holy See granted Bishop Elko’s request and notified him of its intention to elevate Father Kocisko to the episcopacy. On October 23, 1956, Father Kocisko was consecrated as a bishop at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Pittsburgh.
Following his episcopal ordination, Bishop Kocisko took up residence at Holy Ghost Parish on Pittsburgh’s North Side. For seven years, Bishop Kocisko served as auxiliary to Bishop Elko. In addition, he was appointed to a number of important administrative positions within the Exarchate. These positions included Rector of the Seminary and Vicar General.
As the first ordinary of a newly created Eparchy of Passaic, Bishop Kocisko had the awesome task of starting a diocese from the ground up: providing for his residence and the Chancery Office, setting up an administrative organization for the operation of the new diocese and starting various eparchial commissions and agencies. In order to provide better news, information and overall communication within the new eparchy, Bishop Kocisko launched the publication of a new weekly newspaper to serve the Passaic faithful. This new publication was named The Eastern Catholic Life.
Starting with its second session in the fall of 1963, Bishop Kocisko also took an active part in the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council. Upon his return from the Council, Bishop Kocisko took an active role in implementing all of the Council decrees including its noteworthy one which instructed the Eastern Catholic Churches to return to their authentic traditions and practices.
Upon the recall and subsequent resignation of Bishop Elko, the Holy See appointed Bishop Kocisko as new bishop of the Pittsburgh Eparchy on December 22, 1967. Bishop Kocisko’s return to Pittsburgh would herald even greater recognition and honors for the American Byzantine Catholic Church.