Published in Progress Ukrainian Catholic News, no.21/2150 (16 November 2008), page 13. Also available on RISU.
On 27 October 2008, in the student monastery of Brukhovychi outside of Lviv, Father Isydor Ivan Patrylo, former general superior of the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat, passed to his eternal reward. He was eighty-nine years old, had lived seventy-six years in religious life, and served sixty-six years in priestly ministry.
Born in Sudova Vyshnia, Lviv region, Ivan Patrylo was sent to the prestigious Basilian boys college in Buchach. In 1933, at the age of fourteen, he entered the Basilian Order at Krekhiv, taking the monastic name of Isydor. He made simple vows after only two years, but because of his youth was required to wait an additional six years before becoming eligible to profess solemn vows. Patrylo’s normal course of studies and religious formation was interrupted by the Russian invasion of Western Ukraine in 1939. He and several of his confrères were thus sent to complete their university courses at the Latin-rite seminary in Olomouc, Slovakia. However, in 1942 the Gestapo arrested the students and forced them to perform manual labour. The German occupiers did not recognize their monastic status, so Patrylo’s superiors decided to have him and his companions ordained to the priesthood. As there was no Eastern-Catholic bishop available, they were ordained priests by the local Latin-rite Bishop on 2 May 1943.
Despite their new status, the newly-ordained priests were still obliged to perform heavy work. In latter years, Father Isydor often reflected on his days of forced labour in Slovakia, recounting that the young priests were worked to exhaustion and often had to sleep standing up. Upon his release, the following year, Patrylo remembered having slept without interruption for thirty-six hours. Despite the difficult wartime conditions, in 1944, Patrylo was able to defend his first doctoral dissertation in Prague. For the next four years, he provided pastoral care for the deported Ukrainian workers in Germany and in England. Then, in 1948, his superiors sent him to the Ukrainian missions in Argentina. As the Basilian province in Western Ukraine had been suppressed by the Soviets, Patrylo, without a homeland or a religious province, acquired Argentinean citizenship and was assigned, on paper, to the American Basilian Province.
Father Isydor had the mind of a scholar and the eye for minute details. Thankfully, in 1952, his gifts were recognized by the Basilian general superior, the saintly scholar, Archimandrite Teodosi Haluschynsky, who called Patrylo to Rome to be his secretary. This marked the beginning of a fifty-year Roman sojourn at the Basilian General Curia. Two years later, he defended his second doctorate, in philosophy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, and completed a third doctorate in 1961, this time in canon law, at the Pontifical Urban University. He returned to Argentina following the death of Haluschynsky, but was reappointed to the curia in 1955 as general bursar of the Order, and in 1962 he assumed the duties of general secretary.
Patrylo had been called to Rome because of his intellectual gifts and, indeed, his historical writings became his greatest contribution to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Over the years, he published numerous articles in the Basilian scholarly publication Analecta OSBM, of which he later became the director. Of particular note is his three-volume bibliography of books touching on the history of the Ukrainian Church. In addition, he published several significant articles on the history of the Basilian Order.
Isydor Patrylo’s second important contribution to the Church was his service as protoarchimandrite (general superior) of the Basilian Order. During the Second Vatican Council, another scholar, Father Athanasius Welykyj, had been elected as general superior. Welykyj was a charismatic figure, whose wide spiritual vision seemed the most appropriate for the new spirit of openness that emerged from the Council. However, Welykyj’s vision was not understood by many local superiors and his term of office was burdened with the effects of the postconciliar crisis in the priesthood. Due to a series of strokes, Welykyj became physically incapacitated and the General Chapter of 1976 elected longtime curialist, Father Patrylo, to assume the mantle of leadership. To be sure, this was considered a safe, conservative choice for difficult times.
Although he and Welykyj shared scholarly interests, in many ways, Patrylo’s character was the opposite of his predecessor. He was not a man of great vision but rather of small, intricate details and administration. His skills were useful for the period that followed the turbulent 1960’s, one where his Order needed consolidation and maintenance of the status quo. His frugal attitude and fundraising abilities helped the Order’s general curia through many financial challenges.
In 1963, the same year that Welykyj became protoarchimandrite, the primate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Metropolitan (later Cardinal) Josyf Slipyj was released from the Soviet gulag and came to Rome. Although Father Welykyj had been the first to draw scholarly attention to the historical idea of a Ukrainian patriarchate, the strong personalities of both him and Slipyj soon gave rise to conflict between them. In contrast, Protoarchimandrite Patrylo’s diplomatic skills helped improve relations somewhat between the primate and the Order. Indicative of this was the fact that Slipyj would make sure that Patrylo was present at any great liturgical celebration over which he was presiding.
During the Council, Patrylo headed the commission responsible for publishing Father Ivan Khomenko's Ukrainian translation of the bible. Later, as Protoarchimandrite, he guided the publication of a practical Ukrainian language volume of the divine office, entitled Molytvoslov. This text was intended principally for the Order’s internal use but it was quickly adopted by other religious and secular clergy. To this day, this book, which contains a preface by Patrylo, remains a standard liturgical text for the entire Ukrainian Catholic Church.
The 1970s and 80s, quiet and declining years for the Basilians, were followed by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Order’s resurrection in the former communist countries. Beginning in 1990, most of the Basilians’ historical monasteries, which had been confiscated by the Soviet State in the 1940’s, were returned to the Order’s ownership. Once again, Patrylo proved to be the ideal man to deal with the new situation. The fact that he was a native of Western Ukraine and had lived the first decade of his religious life there, endowed him with a unique authority in the homeland. With this authority, he was able to curb the excessive zeal of some of the underground monks, and to bring them back into communal religious life. He took special care to reestablish the Order’s formation houses, in Mundare, Canada (1982) and Krekhiv, near Lviv (1991), to name just two.
As general bursar and later as general superior, Father Patrylo made several inspection visits to the Basilian communities throughout the world. During these trips, knowledge of several languages, including English, was greatly helpful to him. Notable visitations to Canada and the United States took place in 1957, 1959, 1967, 1977, 1987 and 1993. Not confining himself to Basilian monasteries, he also visited schools (Immaculate Heart of Mary in Winnipeg in 1977), and always participated in the prayers and devotions of the parishes, showing that a religious superior leads first-and-foremost by example.
Elected in 1976 and re-elected in 1988, Father Patrylo served two complete terms (a total of twenty years) as Basilian protoarchimandrite, the longest in the history of the Order. After stepping down in 1996, he showed his profound humility in behaving as an ordinary member of the monastic community. A rule had been passed that a retired protoarchimandrite could choose the community in which he wanted to live out his remaining years, except for the monastery in Rome. This latter exception was intended to free the new protoarchimandrite of any pressure from the former general superior. Nevertheless, because of Father Patrylo’s attitude of humble detachment from the affairs of his successor, and in view of his invaluable gifts, Protoarchimandrite (now Bishop) Dionysius Lachovicz made a special exemption to this rule, allowing Patrylo to remain in Rome. For an additional ten years, Father Isydor manifested himself as not merely a scholar but also a doer. While he was still able to coordinate Analecta OSBM, the journal remained active, but with his decline in health, the journal ceased publication.
Father Isydor’s last significant contributions were his participations in the Basilian general chapters of 2000 and 2004. During these meetings, he provided invaluable expertise and experience and proved to be a most important contributor. Above all, his sympathetic, moral presence was felt and appreciated by both young and old among the chapter participants. Unfortunately, Patrylo lost his sight in 2001 and was moved to the monastery in Brukhovychi in 2006. After sixty-plus years abroad, he had finally returned to live in his homeland. Father Isydor Patrylo’s death marks the end of an era and the passing of the last of the great Basilian historical scholars from Ukraine.