FATHER JOSAPHAT JEAN, OSIBM
March 19, 1885 - June 8, 1972

 

Francois Joseph Victorian Jean was born in Saint Fabien, Rimouski County, Quebec, on March 19, 1885, the son of Edouard Jean, a farmer, and his wife, Elvine Lefebvre-Boulanger. He attended the village school for ten years, and in 1941 began his classical studies at the minor seminary in Rimouski.

 

Francois Jean first heard of Ukrainians at the Rimouski Seminary. At that time the French-Canadian bishops from western Canada were conducting fundraising campaigns to build schools and churches for the newly arrived Ukrainian settlers in Alberta. Young Francois Jean completed his classical studies in 1907 and entered the major seminary in Rimouski. After reading a brochure on the Ukrainian Catholic Church by the Rev. Father Achilles Delaere, CSsR, he decided to transfer to the Ukrainian rite. He completed his theological studies at the major seminary in Montreal, and was ordained a priest in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church in Rimouski on August 14, 1910.

 

At the International Eucharistic Congress in Montreal in September 1910, Father Jean met Metropolitan Andrew Sheptysky, OSBM, who encouraged him in his desire to serve the Ukrainian people. On 24 September 1910, Father Jean left Canada with two other French-Canadian clerics to study the Ukrainian language and rite with the Basilian Fathers in Krekhiw, Western Ukraine. On September 6, 1911, Father Jean was the seventh francophone Catholic priest to transfer to the Eastern rite.

 

Father Jean returned to Canada as a diocesan priest in June 1912, and at the request of Bishop Langevin he founded a missionary school for Ukrainian children in Sifton, Manitoba. He also served several Ukrainian missions in the St. Boniface diocese.

 

Having decided to join the Basilian order, Father Jean left Canada for Krekhiw and on November 12, 1913 began his novitiate there, taking the name Josaphat. When the First World War broke out in August 1914, the monks fled to Hungary and Croatia to escape the advancing Russian forces. At the request of his religious superior, Father Jean remained behind to serve nine parishes near Stary Sambir. With the retreat of the Russian forces, Father Jean resumed his novitiate, and pronounced his vows on March 4, 1917. He held several responsible church positions at Zhovkva, and in September 1918, he was appointed to a school near Buchach with fifty students, many of them Ukrainian war orphans.

 

Politics and Diplomacy

November 1, 1918, the Ukrainians in the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared their independence and formed the Western Ukrainian National Republic, headed by Dr. Eugene Petrushveych. In response to a request from the government, Father Jean, with the permission of his Provincial Superior, Father A. Kaiysz, became actively involved in the new government and served as secretary to the president and as an interpreter, putting to use his knowledge of the French language.


In July 1919, Father Jean was made a military chaplain in the Ukrainian Galician Army. In addition to his diplomatic and military, duties he also assisted in various military hospitals during the typhus epidemic that ravaged the country at that time. Father Jean always felt that it was a miracle that he did not fall victim to this epidemic that decimated the Ukrainian armed forces.

 

At the request of Simon Petlura the head of the United Ukrainian Government, Father Jean served as an interpreter for the Ukrainian Diplomatic Mission in Warsaw from October 10, 1919 to August 15, 1920. He was also appointed Secretary General of the Ukrainian Red Cross. During this period he used his influence with the Roman rite Church authorities and the new Polish government to assist Ukrainian priests who were Polish prisoners, Ukrainian political prisoners, and orphans.

 

On September 8, Father Jean was sent as a delegate to the Riga Peace Conference. However, the Western Ukrainian delegation was not recognized by the representatives of Soviet Ukraine, Soviet Russia, and Poland. He then left Riga for Geneva, where he attended the sessions of the League of Nations from 1920 to 1923 as a diplomatic representative of the Ukrainian National Republic.

 

Father Jean's main task in Geneva was to disseminate information about the political situation in Ukraine. On his diplomatic missions he met with the Prime Minister of France G. Clemenceau, French Marshal F. Foch, British Prime Minister D. Lloyd George, King Alexander of Serbia, Archbishop Achille Ratti (the future Pope Pius XI). German statesman W. Rathenau, Polish President J. Pilsudski, Ukrainian Hetman P. Skoropadsky, and other leaders. For his military and diplomatic services Father Jean was awarded the Simon Petlura Cross and the Western Ukrainian National Republic Cross.

 

Father Jean left the Basilians and joined the Studites, a religious community founded by Metropolitan Sheptysky. In June 1923, the Metropolitan sent Father Jean to Bosnia to establish a monastery for the Ukrainians who had settled there. However, he was given a very hostile reception by Serbian government officials and was arrested. But thanks to his British citizenship and the intervention of the British ambassador, he was released after two days.

 

The Colony in Abitibi

On April 3, 1925, Father Jean returned to Canada with Volodymyr Bachinsky, the secretary of a Ukrainian immigrant aid society. They attempted to persuade the Canadian government to reopen the doors to large-scale Ukrainian immigration to Canada. In Ottawa, Father Jean met with the Hon. Ernest Lapointe, a cabinet minister, hoping to obtain a grant of land in western Canada for new Ukrainian immigrants. When this did not produce any results, Father Jean contacted the Ministry of Colonization in the Quebec government and received a grant of 250 square miles of land in Abitibi.

 

In his attempts to hasten the arrival of Ukrainian settlers from Bosnia, Father Jean contacted the Department of Immigration, transportation companies, and the Quebec government. He sought their assistance in building a road and providing accommodation for the future settlers of the village, which he named "Sheptytsky." He had to construct a road from the railroad, through eight miles of forest to the new village site. He transported construction materials with a team of oxen over the muddy road. From his own resources he built a chapel, convent, and monastery for Studite monks, and celebrated the first Divine Liturgy on August 14, 1925.

 

A few Ukrainian families from Montreal and other parts of Quebec settled in the area. In 1928, when more Ukrainian pioneers arrived, the Canadian government provided aid for the construction of primitive camps. However, the Ukrainian settlers from Bosnia never arrived. The coming of the Depression in 1930 effectively halted any further Ukrainian immigration to Canada. The long winters, and especially the isolation from other Ukrainian communities, discouraged any substantial Ukrainian migration from other parts of Canada.

 

It was with great regret that Father Jean was obliged to give up his colonization project. Some of the area was colonized by French Canadian families from Montreal, and in 1935 the name of the village was changed from Sheptytsky to Lac Castagnier.

 

In 1930, Father Jean went to Montreal to work among the Ukrainian parishioners. On May 24, 1931, he left the Studite order and returned to the Basilians in Mundare, Alberta, where he reentered the novitiate. He made his solemn monastic profession in Montreal on December 22, 1935. From 1940 to 1942 he served at St. Michael's Parish in Montreal.

 

Despite the many disappointments-and setbacks, Father Jean continued his mission among the Ukrainians in Canada. On October 18, 1942, he was assigned to the Ukrainian Catholic parish in Ottawa, and worked to promote the cause of Ukrainians before the federal government during the difficult war years. Under his leadership, the Ottawa Ukrainian community contributed to the Red Cross and established contacts with Ukrainian servicemen in the Canadian Armed Forces both in Canada and in Europe. Father Jean served in Ottawa until July 3, 1945.

 

In Postwar Europe

In 1945 Father Jean was sent to Europe to assist Ukrainian displaced persons, including displaced Basilians. From 1945 to 1949 he worked in England assisting the growing Ukrainian community. He worked closely with the Ukrainian Canadian Relief Bureau and other immigrant aid agencies. He attended meetings of the United Nations in London in January, and in Paris in October 1946.

 

Father Jean was instrumental in organizing the first Ukrainian Catholic parish in England. He obtained the use of a church from the English Catholic authorities and served as parish priest from February 1947 to August 1949. From England he also traveled to other countries in Europe, visiting Ukrainian refugees, aiding concentration-camp victims and others escaping the Soviet occupation of Ukrainian lands. Father Jean encouraged and assisted many of these Ukrainian displaced persons to immigrate to Canada.

 

Returning to Canada in 1949, Father Jean continued his priestly service in Edmonton, Mundare, and Vancouver. In 1961, at the age of 76, he retired to the Basilian monastery in Grimsby, Ontario, devoting the last years of his life to gardening, writing his memoirs, and historical research. He maintained his lifelong interest in rare books and manuscripts, and his collection became the foundation of the present Ukrainian Museum and Archives in Mundare He remained an honorary Director of this museum until his death. His collection of rare Old Church-Slavonic books is the only one in Canada, which originated before the Second World War.

 

Father Jean died on June 8, 1972 in Grimsby, Ontario at the age of 87. He was buried in the Basilian cemetery in Mundare. At the funeral his coffin was draped with the Ukrainian flag. His body was accompanied to its resting place by an honor guard of Plast (Ukrainian Scouts) members, since he had also been a Plast Senior.

 

Father Jean was a unique and remarkable personality in Ukrainian Canadian history. Once he chose to dedicate his life to the Ukrainian Church and the Ukrainian people, he accepted not only the Ukrainian rite and cultural traditions but also the religious and political attitudes of the people, especially those from Western Ukraine, which he maintained throughout his life. He spoke Ukrainian fluently, but never lost his dedication French-Canadian accent. Father Jean is an excellent example of the total dedication of a missionary to his people, and a living model of the philosophy of multiculturalism in Canada.

 

 

Myron Momryk

Reprinted from the "BEACON" magazine July-August, 1982. Published by the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, Ont.

 

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Postal Address:

Father Josaphat Jean Scholarship Foundation

The Assumption Of Blessed Virgin Mary

6185 10e Avenue, Montréal, QC H1Y 2H5

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