|The Faith Transformed: The Parish Moves into the Modern Era|
With Monsignor Michaylo’s departure to became the rector of the newly established SS. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary, Bishop Ivancho named one of his seminary classmates, Monsignor Nicholas T. Elko, as the new pastor of St. John’s Cathedral Parish. 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, 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, Elko, along with the future Bishop Ivancho, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Takach on September 30, 1936 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. Thus, in the summer of 1954, Monsignor Elko and Monsignor Michaylo essentially swapped assignments - the rector of the Seminary for the rector of the Cathedral.
Monsignor Elko’s tenure as the pastor of the 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 ths 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, the newly appointed pastor of St. John's Cathedral Parish, 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. On that date, Bishop Elko was officially named as the Exarchate's third bishop.
Although his tenure as the pastor of the Parish was very short, Elko would maintain a presence in the Parish for many years to come. As bishop, Elko returned to the Parish on a regular basis to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and to lead the special services during the most important holydays of the Church year such as Christmas, Holy Week and Easter. More significantly, Bishop Elko would exert a continuing influence on his former Parish by the constant use of his episcopal authority to assign and transfer priests to the Parish.
Bishop Elko chose as his immediate successor as the pastor of St. John's Cathedral a quiet, soft-spoken priest who had been serving as the director of the Greek Catholic orphanage in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania. His name was Father George Bonchonsky.
Father Bonchonsky was born on August 9, 1909 in Pittston, Pennsylvania. After attending the Pittston public schools, young George Bonchonsky attended Saint Thomas College in Scranton. Receiving his theological training at the Užhorod Seminary, George Bonchonsky was ordained to the priesthood on September 8, 1935. Father Bonchonsky assumed his new duties as pastor of St. John’s Cathedral in March 1955.
Father Bonchonsky's first official function as the new pastor was to attend the monthly meeting of the Parish school's parents organization, the St. John's P.T.G. At that meeting, Father Bonchonsky was officially welcomed to the Parish by Mrs. Mary Magnes, the Vice President of the P.T.G. After a short response by the new pastor, all in attendance enjoyed a social hour and refreshments.
It was perhaps fitting that Father Bonchonsky's initiation to the Parish was one sponsored by an organization concerned with children. Given his former assignment as the director of Saint Nicholas Orphanage in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania and his work with the Sodality and the Catholic Boy Scouts, Father Bonchonsky was especially fond of and solicitous of the concerns and needs of the children of the Parish. Thus, it was not unheard of for Father Bonchonsky to give his own money to the school children to make sure that they had a new basketball or other sports equipment to use during the recess period. The children of Parish, in turn, responded in kind to Father's personal generosity and quiet and gentle demeanor.
After a brief two year tenure, Father George Bonchonsky was relieved of his duties as pastor at St. John's Cathedral and given another assignment by Bishop Elko. On June 28, 1956, a new priest took over the reigns as pastor: Father John Pipik.
Father John Pipik was born in Donora, Pennsylvania on September 27, 1908. After attending the local public schools where he achieved widespread acclaim as a standout football player, John Pipik pursued a vocation to the religious life. He attended St. Procopius College in Lisle, Illinois and later St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania where he received a bachelor of arts degree and a teaching certificate. After his graduation from college, John Pipik was sent to Rome by Bishop Basil Takach for his theological training. While in Rome, he attended the Ruthenian College, the Angelicum and the Propagandi Fidei in Rome. At the direction of Bishop Takach, John Pipik was ordained to the priesthood in Rome by Bishop Alexander Stojka, the bishop of the Mukačevo Eparchy, on March 29, 1936.
A stocky built man who sported a trademark crewcut, Father Pipik was not unacquainted with the Parish or its history. A close friend of Monsignor Michaylo, Father Pipik had assisted in the efforts to start the Parish's school in 1936. Taken by his affable and gregarious ways and his fun-loving personalty, Father Pipik came to be regarded within a short period of time by the parishioners of St. John's as a man with a heart of gold, a good hearted priest who could never do enough to serve and to help his people.
Monsignor John B. Gernat was born on March 24, 1914 in Windber, Pennsylvania. Upon graduation from Windber High School in 1930, young John Gernat went to Philadelphia to attend the School of Journalism and Finance at Temple University. After two years at Temple, however, young Gernat felt a call to the religious life. He then transferred and completed his collegiate education at Saint Procopius College in Lisle, Illinois. Upon his receipt of his undergraduate degree, young John Gernat attended the University of Budapest and the Magyar Kiralyi Kozponti Seminary in Hungary. The Most Reverend Alexander Stojka, the bishop of Mukačevo, ordained John Gernat to the priesthood in the Cathedral Chapel in Užhorod on March 21, 1941.
Following his ordination, Father Gernat served as the pastor of a number of Byzantine Catholic churches in Ohio, Michigan and Western Pennsylvania. In addition to his pastoral assignments, Father Gernat was the director of the Sodality Union and the business manager and managing editor of the Byzantine Catholic World. Just prior to his appointment as the Rector of St. John’s Cathedral, Father Gernat was named a papal chamberlain to Pope John XXIII with the title of Monsignor. Monsignor Gernat began his pastorate at St. John’s on November 1, 1959.
John Bilock was born in McAdoo, Pennsylvania on June 20, 1916. After graduating from the public schools in McAdoo, he pursued his collegiate and theological studies at St. Procopius College and Seminary. On February 3, 1946, Bishop Basil Takach ordained John Bilock to the priesthood in the bishop’s private chapel in Munhall, Pennsylvania.
In addition to serving as a parish priest, Father Bilock was given a wide variety of special assignments. While he was assistant pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Father Bilock was appointed the Director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Sodality Union. In 1950, after his appointment as pastor of St. John Chrysostom Parish in the famed “Russka Dolina” neighborhood in the Greenfield section of the City of Pittsburgh, Father Bilock was appointed Notary of the Matrimonial Tribunal. In 1953, he was named choral administrator of the Western Pennsylvania Byzantine Catholic Chorus.
In 1955, Bishop Nicholas Elko appointed Father Bilock as his personal secretary, secretary to the Board of Consultors and a member of the Diocesan Building Commission. One year later, Father Bilock was named to the Board of Consultors. On May 7, 1957, Pope Pius XII named him a papal chamberlain with the title of Monsignor.
On September 12, 1963, Monsignor Bilock was appointed Rector of St. John’s Cathedral in Munhall. As the rector, Monsignor Bilock upgraded and improved all of the church properties, paid off the parish’s indebtedness and generally reinvigorated its spiritual life.
On July 15, 1969, Archbishop Kocisko appointed Monsignor Bilock as Vicar General of the Archeparchy. Later that same year, he was made a prelate of honor to Pope Paul VI.
On March 8, 1973, His Holiness Pope Paul VI named Monsignor Bilock to serve as an auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Kocisko. Monsignor Bilock was consecrated as a bishop on May 15, 1973 at Holy Spirit Church in Pittsburgh.
Another noteworthy activity of Bishop Bilock was his use of modern mass communication to create a Byzantine Catholic radio and television apostolate. Through Bishop Bilock’s tireless efforts and foresight, the Divine Liturgy was broadcast every Sunday to a radio audience of thousands. Gradually, this apostolate was expanded to include televised Divine Liturgies and radio broadcasts of Christmas and Holy Week services.
Though he himself was in declining health, Bishop Bilock nonetheless accepted the unanimous selection of the Board of Consultors and assumed responsibility for the administration of the affairs of the Archeparchy. Bishop Bilock served as Archeparchial Administrator from April 20, 1993 until his death on September 8, 1994.
For more than two-and-a-half years, the clergy and faithful of the Pittsburgh Archeparchy waited for the Holy See’s selection of a new archbishop. Finally, the long anticipated announcement was made. On November 14, 1994, Pope John Paul II announced the selection of Monsignor Judson Procyk as the third Archbishop of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Province and the sixth ordinary of the Pittsburgh Byzantine Diocese.
Judson Procyk was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania on ______________. After graduating from high school, the future archbishop answered the call to serve God as a priest in the Byzantine Catholic Church. His first two years pursuing this vocation were spent at St. Procopius College. With the opening of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, young Judson Procyk continued his studies at Duquesne University and was awarded his bachelor of arts degree in 1953. On May 19, 1957, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Nicholas Elko.
After serving successful pastorates at several churches throughout the Pittsburgh Exarchate and Eparchy, Father Procyk was named Assistant Chancellor of the Eparchy and secretary to then Bishop Kocisko in 1968. One year later, he became Rector of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary. As rector, Father Procyk directed the re-opening of the Seminary’s theology department and implemented the guidelines of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation. In recognition of his priestly service, Father Procyk was named chaplain to His Holiness Pope Paul VI with the title of Monsignor. In March 1975, he was elevated to prelate of honor with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor.
In July 1973, Monsignor Procyk succeeded Bishop Bilock as the Rector of St. John’s Cathedral in Munhall, Pennsylvania. Monsignor Procyk would hold this position for twenty-two years.
During his tenure as Cathedral Rector, Monsignor Procyk undertook the awesome task of relocating the Cathedral Parish to new and modern facilities. The highlight of this long relocation project was the construction of a new and magnificent Cathedral Church. The new Cathedral, which was modeled after the ancient Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, was solemnly dedicated on June 12, 1994 by Bishop Michael Dudick, the Acting Metropolitan and Bishop Bilock, the Archeparchial Administrator.
On February 7, 1995, Monsignor Procyk was consecrated as a bishop and installed as Metropolitan Archbishop in the Cathedral that he was so instrumental in constructing. Serving as the ordaining bishops were the three bishops of the suffragan eparchies of the Metropolitan Province: Bishop Michael Dudick of Passaic, Bishop Andrew Pataki, then of Parma, and Bishop George Kuzma of Van Nuys. Performing the official installation was Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States. Presiding at the ceremonies was His Eminence Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua , the Archbishop of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In attendance were twenty-nine Eastern Rite and Latin Rite bishops, including four bishops from the European eparchies from which American Byzantine Catholics trace their roots, as well as scores of priests, religious, representatives from various Protestant and Orthodox Churches, and hundreds of faithful, many of whom watched the proceedings on closed circuit television from the basement hall of the Cathedral.