A Ukrainian martyr, Blessed Nykyta Budka, who served as the first Greek Catholic bishop in Canada, is hardly known outside the Ukrainian Catholic Church, yet he was one of the most formidable bishops to grace not only the Church in Canada but the Church in Austria-Hungary and Ukraine.
Born in 1877 in Dobromirka (then part of Austria-Hungary, now Ukraine), he was ordained in 1905 in Lviv. Seven years later he was consecrated bishop by Greek Catholic Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky for the Ukrainian Catholic immigrants in Canada who then numbered over 150,000. Bishop Budka arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the heart of Canada, in December 1912. His diocese? The entire country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
For fifteen years the young bishop traveled around this vast cold land visiting scattered Ukrainian communities. He worked hard for every good thing for his people, administering sacraments, teaching, founding schools, training catechists, ordaining local priests as missionaries, and encouraging priests and laity back home to come to Canada. During his tenure the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada grew from 25 to 170 parishes. The bishop relied heavily on the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart who had been working with Ukrainian Catholics, on religious brothers who were educators, and on money he received from Latin-Rite dioceses. Bishop Budka devoted himself to keeping his flock connected to their culture and Faith, educating them not only against the wiles of Protestant ministers but also against the proselytizing pressures coming from the Russian Orthodox who had a large presence in Canada and from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada which was established in 1918. He also insisted that Ukrainian schools be bi-lingual and thereby encouraged Slavic-speaking students to be loyal Canadians. In this he was very successful.
Metropolitan Sheptytsky, the great apostle for Church unity, visited Bishop Budka in 1921 on his tour of the Americas. For all his encouragement, however, the Metropolitan could not assuage the problems, physical and financial, that burdened the soul of his suffragan in the vast Canadian semi-tundra. The good bishop was ill. In 1927 he asked by his superior to retire and return to his homeland — at the time Polish-occupied Galicia which had been annexed by Austria in 1772. (The history of Poland and the partitions is very complicated and I welcome any correction here.) The Polish Church, proudly Latin, had a few years earlier treated Eastern-Rite Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky with outrageous disdain (sad fact, causes for which will not be gone into here) and, in 1923, the Polish police even had him arrested when he arrived from Vienna at their border. After that incident, the Metropolitan went to Rome and informed Pope Pius XI of his troubles with Latin-Rite Catholics; the Pope was furious and issued a stern reprimand. Sheptytsky was a noble dignitary of the Catholic Church, a bishop who had suffered three years in a Tsarist Russian prison for trying to convert the Orthodox back to Catholic unity under the pope. The exciting adventures of this holy apostle, a seven-foot tall giant by the way, can be found on our website here.
Bishop Budka’s mission was not over by any means. He worked for eighteen more years among the Ukrainians and served in Lviv as Vicar-General for his friend, and superior, Metropolitan Sheptytsky. The valiant duo suffered through the Russian occupation in 1939 and the Nazi occupation in 1941.The venerable Metropolitan died in 1944 at seventy-eight years of age, not before petitioning Rome to have the heroic dry martyr, Joseph Slipyj, appointed as his successor. One year later, Bishop Budka and Metropolitan Slipyj, and all the Ukrainian Catholic bishops were arrested and thrown into prison or labor camps by the Soviet communists.
Blessed Nykyta Budka was sentenced to eight years of hard labor and hauled off to a labor camp in Siberia. Ill as he was, fellow prisoners who survived the camp testified to his indefatigable priestly work among his fellow captives. At last, his worn-out body could no longer sustain his soul. He was sent to a prison hospital in northern Kazakhstan where he died on October 1, 1949. Pope John Paul II beatified him as a martyr on June 27, 2001. More information about Bishop Budka can be found here.