Bishop Basil Takach: Commemorating the Fortieth Anniversary of his death

5A TRIBUTE TO BISHOP BASIL TAKACH ON THE OCCASION OF THE FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH
(May 13, 1948-1988)

“The life of Bishop Takach is an open book, in which every page is written by him with love and dedication.” DUSHPASTYR, 1924, p. 152

The Holy Spirit reminds us to remember our spiritual Shepherds who preached the word of God to us and kept watch over us and, reflecting on their lives, “to imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13-7)  Most Reverend Basil Takach, our first Bishop in the United States, was truly a Shepherd whose unshakable faith and dedicated love deserve our admiration and imitation. It is most proper, then, on the occasion of the Fortieth Anniversary [May 13, 1988] of his death, to remember him and to pay a well deserved tribute to him.

1. Bishop Takach was born into a priestly family on October 27,1879 in Vuchkovo, a scenic village of the Marmarosh District. Orphaned in his tender years, he was reared and educated under the loving care of his maternal uncle, Canon Nicholas Dolinay. Upon the completion of his studies in the Eparchial Seminary in Uzhorod, he chose to serve our Lord as an unmarried priest. He was ordained to the holy priesthood by Bishop Julius Firczak on December 14, 1902.

After several years of pastoral work in the villages of Lazy and Malyj Rakovets in the Ugocha District, during which time he proved himself as a loving and dedicated shepherd, Father Takach was transferred, in 1911, to an administrative position in Uzhorod. He was appointed comptroller of the Eparchial funds and Executive Director of the Printing Society, “Uno'” where most of our liturgical and school books were printed. The following year, Father Takach was initiated into educational work by being appointed the Director of the Eparchial Boarding School, “Alumneum,” and Instructor of Religion at the Eparchial Teachers College for Girls. At the end of World War I, in 1918, he was appointed Spiritual Director of the Eparchial Seminary in Uzhorod where he captivated the hearts of the young seminarians with his kindness, honesty and dedication.

The years between 1918 and 1924 were the years of adjustment for the Carpatho-Ruthenian people to a new political situation after joining the newly-formed Republic of Czechoslovakia as an autonomous province. Father Takach, together with a group of dedicated priests, took an active part in this political readjustment of his people, supporting their national interests and protecting the rights of the Church. He was always ready to promote the interests of his Ruthenian people whom he loved so dearly.

2. In the midst of his intense activity, Divine Providence summoned Father Takach to a new and more responsible office. He was called to be the first Carpatho-Ruthenian Bishop in America and was consecrated a Bishop on Pentecost Sunday, June 15, 1924, in the St. Athanasius Greek Church in Rome. Upon his arrival in the United States, Bishop Takach was received with great joy and jubilation by his people. They finally, after such a long struggle, received a Bishop “of their own blood.” He made his temporary residence at the St. John’s rectory in Uniontown until March 1926, when he transferred his Epicopal Residence to Homestead, Pa.

From the very beginning of his administration, Bishop Takach was aware of the immense problems he was to face in his new assignment. But he had complete trust in God and His providence and an abounding faith in our people. Inspired by his great love for his people, he began to lead them and promised to elevate them to the “spiritual, cultural, and national level of other progressive ethnic groups” in the United States. However, he insisted that “to make any noticeable progress and to assure for our Church a brighter future, we must foster mutual love, understanding and unity among ourselves.”

Bishop Takach was determined to make good his promise and put his sentiments into action. Once canonical discipline was established in the Diocese, great spiritual progress followed. Statistics indicate that during his dedicated administration, the number of faithful doubled, many new parishes were founded and an entire new generation of dedicated priests were ordained. Under his guidance and encouragement, many parochial and evening schools were established, new church organizations organized, and a diocesan press was begun.

Bishop Takach also was the prime mover in starting the annual Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Perpetual Help at Mount Saint Macrina in Uniontown, now in its fifty-fourth year [in 1988].

As a Good Shepherd, Bishop Takach wanted to see the faithful of his diocese as devout Christians, loyal members of the Catholic Church, and honest American citizens who would be in every respect an asset to their newly adopted homeland.

While Bishop Takach was laying strong spiritual and canonical foundations under his Episcopal Administration, a tragic religious upheaval, generally referred to as the celibacy fight, erupted with passionate fury and wielding unjust accusations against him.

3. In 1929, under pressure from the American hierarchy, the Holy See imposed a strict law of celibacy on the Byzantine Rite Clergy in America. Bishop Takach vehemently protested and used all possible means to have this unwarranted decree revoked, but to no avail. Finally, under the order of the Holy See, (cf. Letter of the Oriental Congregation, dated March 12, 1931, No. 572/30), in 1931 Bishop Takach announced that he will ordain only unmarried candidates to the priesthood. Some priests and laymen, who already resented the Bishop’s authority, grasped the opportunity and started an open campaign against him and holding him personally responsible for the introduction of celibacy.

Later, a more objective opinion concerning celibacy was given by a leading layman, who understood the problem with greater clarity than even some of the clergy. He writes:

“The first message of our beloved Bishop Takach was Peace be to you! This greeting warmed up the hearts of our people, fostering a spirit of brotherly love among us that renewed our religious life and our dedication to our Byzantine Catholic Church. However, because of the envy of the evil one, a discord was sown among the people, falsely accusing the Bishop of all kind of charges, For a topic of their wicked campaign against their own Shepherd they chose the issue of the celibacy of the clergy. The Bishop was unjustly accused of having introduced this new discipline, which, in fact, was imposed on our Byzantine Rite Clergy by the Holy See.”

How accurate this observation was can be seen from the Letter of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, addressed to Bishop Takach on July 23, 1934. It reads:

“It is certainly not without profound pain that the Holy See received the information that among the Catholics of the Ruthenian Rite in the United States and, in particular, among the faithful and clergy of the Subcarpathian Ruthenian Diocese, strong agitations and deplorable rebellion are taking place, motivated by the pretext that his Sacred Congregation is threatening the rights and privileges of the Ruthenian Church.

“This regulation arose not new but anew, from the peculiar conditions of the Ruthenian population in the United States. As the situation has matured, it seemed well that the decree, Cum Data Fuerit of March 1,1929, should explicitly state again that which in fact had never been recalled. And more so, since the regulation in question doesn’t concern only the Ruthenian clergy, but it equally applies to the clergy of all Rites. The Holy Father, the Guardian of ecclesiastical discipline, desires the exact observance of these regulations of the Sacred Congregation on the part of the Ruthenian Church in America as the most worthy proof of its Catholic Faith.”

In view of this unquestionable disposition of the Holy See, how can some writers, even today, condemn Bishop Takach for his “wavering” stand, holding him responsible for accepting celibacy for his clergy. What about the discipline of celibacy imposed by the Holy See on the clergy of other Eastern Rites in the United States? Should Bishop Takach be held responsible for them also?

5. During the vicious and stormy campaign against his person and his Episcopal Authority, Bishop Takach manifested great patience and humility. There were rumors of his removal from his Episcopal See, but the Lord vindicated His faithful servant. Under the leadership of Bishop Takach, the religious life of the Byzantine Catholic Exarchate of Pittsburgh once again regained its momentum and attained unprecedented growth. It flourished as never before.

Bishop Takach, suffering from terminal cancer during the last two years of his life, was given a coadjutor in the person of Bishop Daniel Ivancho, who was consecrated on November 5, 1946. Bishop Takach passed to his eternal rest on May 13, 1948 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery on Mount Saint Macrina in Uniontown, Pa. At his funeral, Bishop Ivancho, his successor, eulogized the moral and physical sufferings of Bishop Takach in a most moving manner, saying:

“God loving Bishop Basil, during your episcopacy you suffered greatly because of our ingratitude. In spite of your numerous, most painful afflictions, you did not lose your composure, trying to fulfill your pastoral duties and obligations. You patiently carried the sins of your people on your shoulders. You suffered for all of us. Only now do we realize what a great treasure we lost in your loving person.”

As we stand in silent respect at the forty-year old grave of Bishop Basil Takach, we can hear his fatherly admonition:

“Love your Church and your beautiful Byzantine Rite. Respect your ancestors and treasure the heritage they left behind. Be proud of your national roots and love your Ruthenian people. Love one another, since we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is also my commandment that you love one another just as I loved you!”

Bishop Takach loved his people and he loved his Church. His commandment of love should become a sacred trust for all of us.

VIČNAJA JEMU PAMJAT !

FROM BISHOP TAKACH'S FIRST PASTORAL LETTER

(September 30, 1924) “God demands from us love, love that is sincere, grateful and supernatural. With such love you should love your church superiors, as St. Paul admonishes: ‘Obey your superiors and be subject to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account for your souls.’ (Heb. 13, 17)  Love your holy faith and do not permit the merchants of souls to lead you astray from the church of your ancestors. Love your beautiful Byzantine Rite, your spiritual and national traditions, and your mother tongue, and never be ashamed of your religious and cultural heritage.”

FROM BISHOP TAKACH'S LETTER ON CELIBACY

(October 25, 1934) “The Holy Father has spoken definitely and decisively, and now only one thing remains for us – to promptly obey, as becomes faithful children of Holy Mother the Church. My dear Fathers, together with the Vicar of Christ, I also place my full confidence in you. I am certain that the agitation which unfortunately has caused much harm to our diocese, will now subside.”