|The First Metropolitan Archbishop|
Archbishop Stephen Kocisko was installed as the first Metropolitan ever in the history of the Carpatho-Rusyn people by the Most Reverend Luigi Raimondi, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, in Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh on June 11, 1969. Following the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Kocisko promptly set about the task of moving the Church generally and Pittsburgh Archdiocese in particular back to its authentic religious traditions. To achieve this important goal, Archbishop Kocisko undertook an number of important initiatives.
Under Archbishop Kocisko’s providential leadership, the theology department of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, which had been closed for two years, reopened. In accord with the guidelines set forth in the Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation, the Seminary instituted new programs in pastoral and field ministry for seminarians and placed renewed emphasis on Eastern theological tradition and practices. These new programs were implemented under the direction of the Seminary’s new director, Father Judson Procyk.
To encourage lay participation and to improve congregational singing in our Church’s services, Archbishop aided the establishment of an institute to provide formal classes for the training of cantors serving throughout the Archdiocese.
Keenly aware of the need for increased knowledge and understanding among the faithful of their religious traditions and heritage, Archbishop Kocisko made religious education a top priority during his episcopate. An Office of Religious Education was immediately established. This new office took the lead in publishing and providing catechetical materials for the instruction of the youth in their faith and in the Byzantine Rite. Included within the many instructional materials produced by the Office of Religious Education was the acclaimed “God With Us” series. This series of catechism books was specifically developed for instruction of children in the first eight grades and eventually was used by all Eastern Rite dioceses in the United States and Canada.
Another important instructional material championed by Archbishop Kocisko was the Byzantine Leaflet Series. Published four times a year, these eight pages pamphlets, printed in color and extensively researched, proved to be an invaluable resource in explaining the liturgical services, customs and traditions of the Byzantine Catholic Church.
Preservation of religious and cultural materials was a matter of major importance for Archbishop Kocisko. In 1971, the archbishop directed the establishment of an Archdiocesan Museum for the purpose of preserving and maintaining religious articles, icons, books, paintings and other items of historical interest. Realizing the archival importance of newspapers, books and other artifacts produced by numerous Americans of Carpatho-Rusyn origin, Archbishop Kocisko facilitated the efforts of scholars at some of America’s leading universities in collecting and microfilming these materials for preservation and study by future generations.
Archbishop Kocisko also undertook an active and prominent role in promoting the Eastern Rite not only on a national level but also in highest deliberative bodies of the Catholic Church. Two efforts in this regard are of particular note.
First, with the cooperation of the other hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the entire Metropolitan Province, Archbishop Kocisko erected a beautiful chapel in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. during the Archdiocesan Golden Jubilee celebration in 1974. Designed in traditional Eastern style with an iconostasis and colorful mosaics, the chapel would serve as impressive reminder to the many visitors to the Shrine of the presence of Byzantine Catholics in the United States.
Second, as the head of a Metropolitan Province, Archbishop Kocisko was designated by the pope to represent the Byzantine Rite in the Synod of Bishops, the highest consultative body of the Catholic Church. Through his participation at these Synod sessions, Archbishop Kocisko was not only able to express the opinions of the Eastern Rite Churches on the many issues faced by the Church in contemporary life but also to acquaint the Church Fathers from all over the world of the history and importance of the Byzantine Church in America.
Though privileged to have the rank of a metropolitan archbishop, Archbishop Kocisko was not neglectful of his pastoral role as leader of the Pittsburgh Archeparchy. With his active support, a number of new parishes and missions were established. Following the people, these new parishes were located in expanding Pittsburgh suburbs like Upper St. Clair, North Huntingdon and Gibsonia and in the Texas cities of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Additionally, an annual liturgy and program at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church on Pittsburgh’s North Side honoring couples who were celebrating their twenty-fifth and fiftieth wedding anniversaries was instituted.
Being a former rector, the status of the Seminary was a matter of special concern for Archbishop Kocisko. To secure the financial well-being and support of this important institution for future years, the archbishop used the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of his priestly ordination and twenty-fifth anniversary of his consecration as a bishop to establish a Seminary Endowment Fund. The archbishop started the Fund with his own substantial gift of funds.
In February 1990, with repressive Communist rule finally ended in Central and Eastern Europe, Archbishop Kocisko, despite his advancing years, lead a delegation of American Byzantine Catholic hierarchs to the Eparchies of Prešov and Mukačevo to show support and solidarity with the persecuted brethren who were enjoying freedom after forty years to worship publicly again according to their historic Greek Catholic faith. This historic journey had an enormous positive moral and spiritual impact on the faithful and hierarchs in the “Old Country”homeland.
In compliance with the traditions of Vatican II, Archbishop Kocisko tendered his resignation as Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh to Pope John Paul II on June 11, 1990, the date of his seventy-fifth birthday. The archbishop’s resignation concluded fifty years of service to the Church as a priest and thirty-five years as a bishop. After a lengthy illness, Archbishop Kocisko died on March 7, 1995.