Tuesday 14 May 2019

"Reverend Major" : the Story of Father Anton Hodys

London, December 1947
Solving a mystery is gratifying to everyone, not just historians. People are happy to discover the final piece of the puzzle or find the missing link. It brings a sense of completeness to our incomplete existence. Yesterday, I experienced such satisfaction. My colleagues Roman Skakun and Vasyl Harandza helped resolve a conundrum that had been bothering me for a year. Last December, I finished a draft of a history of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Great Britain without having discovered what became of one of its first priests.
Ukrainian Greek-Catholics had been settling in Britain since about 1900 but the Church formally set up a stable mission at he end of the Second World War. Most of the first missionary clergy had to flee their homeland or were serving as chaplains in various armies. Subsequently, almost all of the first priests to serve in UK moved on to other missions in USA, Canada, Australia, and the European continent. I was able to trace their life stories after the UK except for the first one to leave, the Reverend Major Anton Hodys. All sources draw a blank on him after May 1949 when, as Father Josaphat Jean was quoted in the minutes of the London parish chronicle, he “left the country permanently.” From that moment, it was as if Hodys vanished from the face of the earth, at least as far as the Ukrainian Catholic Church was concerned. Over the past year, my colleagues and I have collected the following biographical details, the early years of which were compiled by Skakun from Ukrainian sources:
Anton or Antin Hodys was born on 5 November 1901 in Stryi, Austrian Galicia (present day Ukraine). In 1905 his family moved to the nearby village of Bratkivtsi were he attended the first and second grade at the local elementary school. In 1909, he was sent back to Stryi to attend the more prestigious Kilinsky school and, from 1911, he attended the local gymnasium (grammar school). In 1915, he was conscripted into digging defensive ditches for the occupying Russian Army. At some point during the Russian occupation, he travelled to Kiev to ransom his father, who shared the fate of many nationally-conscious Ukrainians deported away from the front to central Ukraine, northern Russia, Siberia, and east Asia.
In the last days of its existence, Emperor Karl I attempted to turn Austria-Hungary into a federation of autonomous nations under the Habsburg Crown. But with the surrender of Austria imminent, Ukrainian leaders declared an independent Western Ukrainian State on 1 November 1918. Hodys participated in establishing Ukrainian rule in Stryi: From 1 to 20 January 1919 he was sent a reconnaissance and propaganda mission to Transcarpathia, where he established contact with the Brashchayko brothers, prominent local Ukrainophile activists. Subsequently, he trained at officers school in Kolomya and fought on the Nyzhniv-Koropets front in the Fourteenth section of the Zabolotivsky trainee division of the Third Galician Brigade. 
Polish forces drove the Western Ukrainian Army out of Galicia, beyond the Zbruch river. After taking a month’s rest in Vinnytsia, Hodys was sent to the front to repell Denikin’s Volunteer Army. After a second rest-leave he contracted typhoid fever and was sent for treatment. On the road from Zhmyrenka to Proskuriv he was captured by the Poles who sent him to a hospital in Kamianets Podilsk. 
In the meantime, Poland had struck a deal with the other Ukrainian State, the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR), which agreed to sacrifice Galicia (western Ukraine) to Poland, in exchange for military support against Russia. Generals Piłsudski and Petliura joined forces to drive the Bolshevik armies out of Ukraine. After recovering, Hodys joined the Third Iron Brigade of the UNR army and was sent to the front near Bar. The Bolsheviks pushed the brigade back across the Zbruch River into Galicia and destroyed it near Kopychyntsi. With both Ukrainian armies defeated and the cause for independence lost, Hodys returned home in July 1920 to resume his schooling.
Antin Hodys completed grades 6 through 8 at the Stryi Gymnasium and passed his graduating exam on 8 June 1922. Subsequently, he attempted to enrol at the Lviv Greek-Catholic Seminary but was turned away due to lack of available places. He worked for a year on the Oil Fields in Ripne and was finally accepted to the seminary on 25 October 1923. Following the completion of his theological studies on 25 June 1927, he received sacred ordination at the hands of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky: to the diaconate on 10 June and to the priesthood on 17 June 1928.
Like the majority of the diocesan clergy in the Eastern Churches, Hodys married before ordination, likely during the interim year between completing seminary and the diaconate. According to an online genealogy resource apparently managed by a relative, his wife’s name was Irena-Olga (1906–1972), daughter of Henryk and Zenovia Schprintz. In 1936, the couple had twins, Yuriy (+1984) and Zenovia (Schlegell) (+1995).
Antin Hodys was given his first assignment as a curate in Kamyanka Strumylova (today Kamyanka Buzko) on 1 July 1928. During this time, he continued to be actively engaged in Ukrainian cultural and civic affairs. He was a member of the local Prosvita educational association, a supporter of Ukrainian nursury schools, he set up chapters of the Apostleship of Prayer and Confraternity for a Holy Death. In 1931, he took on the additional job of professional religious instructor at the local gymnasium.
But something altered Hodys’ trajectory in a radical way. Europe was becoming more militarized and Poland was no exception. Marshall Piłsudski had imposed a virtual military dictatorship in 1926. By the end of his life, the regime began to abandon any restraint shown toward the ethnic minorities, which made up a third of the population. As Piłsudski lay dying, his colonels concocted a scheme to forcibly assimilate the Ukrainians and Belarusians by the early 1940s. 
Only Ukrainians considered very loyal could be accepted into the ranks of the Polish military. On 1 July 1934, Hodys was accepted as a military chaplain with the rank of captain, considering his previous service as an officer. His first assignment was Kraków and in 1938, he was sent to Bielsko in Upper Silesia, where he also acted as administrator of the Greek-Catholic military parish of Saint Basil. 
Hodys took part in the unsuccessful defence of Poland from the German invasion in September 1939. Driven south across the border, his corps was interned in Romania but, after nine months, they were released and, via Italy, regrouped in France with the Government-in-Exile. After the Germans invaded France, the Polish Government and Army corps fled to Great Britain. After witnessing the London Blitz he and his fellow soldiers were sent to Scotland. On 5 September 1940, he took part in a rally of Polish Military Chaplains in Glasgow, in the presence of President-in-Exile Raczkiewicz and other officials. Hodys was promoted to the rank of major and assigned to the First of three Polish Corps within the British Army. Unlike General Anders' Second Corps, the First Corps did not see active service in Europe but remained in Scotland for defensive purposes. In 1947, he was assigned to work as one of the secretaries of Bishop Józef Gawlina, head of Polish military chaplains. After demobilization, Polish soldiers were sent to resettlement camps. Hodys was assigned to minister to them as well as to Ukrainians in Canadian brigades. He served the Association of Ukrainian Soldiers in the Polish Army which became part of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain in 1946.
Hodys (centre) 
with UGCC priests, London, Spring 1947

With the formal establishment of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Britain, Hodys was numbered among the clergy under the jurisdiction of Apostolic Visitor, Bishop Ivan Buchko. He was among those who welcomed Buchko at Victoria Station during the latter’s second visit on 21 November 1947. In December, Buchko assigned him, together with Josaphat Jean and Petro Diachyshyn, to be responsible to serve southern England. Hodys attended meetings of the parish council of the first Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church in Britain, Saint Theodore of Canterbury, Saffron Hill in London. Buchko also named him one of his counsellors for the British mission and Hodys gave a presentation on canonical and civil marriage law in the United Kingdom at the Ukrainian clergy conference (soborchyk) held in January 1948.
Following the Second World War, Great Britain was left damaged and in an impoverished state. Most of the clergy assembled at the January conference, some elderly and ready for retirement, wanted to leave England for an better life. In addition, Rome had given instructions to send married clergy to Canada and USA, where they could serve under Ukrainian Catholic bishops and perhaps reunite with their families. Major Hodys was no exception. In the Summer of 1948, a chance meeting with an American bishop at a restaurant in Piccadilly Circus presented such an opportunity. Bishop Eugene McGuiness of Oklahoma City was looking for European missionaries to serve his frontier diocese. Following their conversation, he invited twelve Polish Army chaplains to Oklahoma. Before leaving for the United States sometime in April 1949, Hodys was listed in the Ukrainian Catholic directory as residing at Hillside Monastery in Potters Bar, Middlesex. By 18 May, as reported at the London parish council, he had left Britain for good.
As an army chaplain, Major Hodys functioned as a biritual priest, also serving in the Latin Rite. In order to take up McGuiness’s offer, did he have to hide the fact that he was married and of the Byzantine Rite? This could be the case as subsequent information contained in the diocesan necrology, and in an interview given in 1978, he concealed his Ukrainian ethnicity and Byzantine-Rite origins. Diocesan records list him, falsely, as having been ordained in Katowice. 
Mercy Hospital chaplain 1978
In America, he anglicised his name to “Anthony” and was briefly placed at Holy Angels Parish, Oklahoma City. The following year, 1950, he was named chaplain to Villa Therese Carmelite Convent and School, where he served for 19 years. Finally, in 1969, he was assigned as chaplain of Mercy Medical Centre of the Sisters of Mercy, where he served for 12 years. He passed to his eternal reward on 28 April 1981 and is buried in Resurrection Memorial Cemetery.
We are still waiting for more information promised by the kind archivist at the Oklahoma City diocesan archive. Perhaps it will clarify some missing points. For example, why did Hodys have to wait until 8 June 1974 to be incardinated into Oklahoma City? Did it have anything to do with the death of his wife two years previously? In the 1978 interview, he appears to have altered his life-history to conceal his Ukrainian past. Hodys said that he had been back to Poland twice and was in contact with his brother and sister. Where did his wife and children live (Poland or USSR?) and did he ever see them again?