Leader of the Eparchy of New Westminster focuses on community building and education
By Nathan Rumohr
Eparch Ken Nowakowski has spent his religious life building up the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, first in Ukraine after the fall of communism, then in Canada as the rector of the national Ukrainian seminary, and now as the Eparch of New Westminster.
The head of the Eparchy (Diocese) of New Westminster received episcopal ordination and was installed as Eparch (bishop) July 24, 2007, by Archeparch Lawrence Huculak OSBM, of Winnipeg, Metropolitan for Ukrainian Catholics in Canada, with retiring Eparch Severian Yakymyshyn, OSBM, of New Westminster and Eparch Peter Stasiuk, CSsR, of Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania, at St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Vancouver.
Eparch Nowakowski was born May 16, 1958, in North Battleford, Sask., to a Ukrainian farming family. At 18 he was unsure what to do with his life.
"I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a priest, as I didn't have those lofty ambitions at that time," Eparch Nowakowski recalled.
Following in his parent's footsteps he attended Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton and studied advertising and public relations.
But after a brief time working in advertising and communications in both the private field and government, the young Nowakowski felt the call of the priesthood.
He entered the formation program at the Redeemer House of Studies in Toronto conducted by the Ukrainian Catholic Redemptorist Order and obtained a Bachelor of Religious Studies and Philosophy degree from St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto in 1984.
"After that I decided to take a couple years off to decide if this was something I really wanted to do," he said.
He moved back to Saskatchewan and worked with an NGO to assist people new to Canada and to help recently released convicts find jobs.
In 1986 he entered the seminary of St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Pontifical College in Rome as a seminarian for the Eparchy of Saskatoon. He obtained a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1989.
He returned to Saskatchewan later that summer and was ordained a priest in August in St. George's Cathedral in Saskatoon. Ironically he would serve very little time in his home eparchy; the young priest returned to Rome later that fall to study Eastern canon law.
While in Rome Father Nowakowski helped refugees flooding into Italy by establishing the Ukrainian Catholic Refugee Office.
"There were thousands and thousands of young men and women fleeing Poland and the Soviet Union," Eparch Nowakowski said.
He worked under Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky, then the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, who was in exile in Rome because of the Soviet Union's occupation of Ukraine.
In 1991 the major archbishop's exile ended, and Father Nowakowski was appointed chief of staff in Lviv (the headquarters of the Ukrainian Catholic Church).
He helped rebuild the Ukrainian Catholic culture in the country by helping to establish Caritas Ukraine, the Ukrainian Catholic Church's official charitable organization. He was president until he returned to Canada in 2001.
During this time Father Nowakowski learned how Ukrainian Catholics had persevered during several decades of Soviet occupation. Many churches had been stolen from Ukrainian Catholics and given to the obedient Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian faithful were arrested and sentenced to hard labour camps for adhering to their religion.
"Our people learned how to pray everywhere," he said.
Eparch Nowakowski said he encountered many survivors of that period who told him that while in concentration camps Ukrainian Catholics would form bonds with people of other denominations.
"The Soviets thought they would see a good dog-fight," Eparch Nowakowski said, "but what ended up happening was these people realized they were brothers and sisters of Jesus."
He added that Ukrainian Catholics, from the lay faithful to the hierarchy, showed great resolve during this period.
"Our hierarchy could have been released at anytime from imprisonment if only they would renounce their allegiance to the Holy See," he said, "but they didn't."
Eparch Nowakowski also learned the importance of the role of the laity. He said when he started working as chief of staff there was no formal church. But the laity had preserved the Ukrainian Catholic traditions through the years of persecution.
"This is not just a church of the clerics but a church of the people of God," he said.
Eparch Nowakowski left his Ukriane post in 2001 when he was appointed rector of Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Ottawa.
In 2006 he returned to his home eparchy of Saskatoon. The homecoming lasted less than a year because Eparch Nowakowski was appointed the third eparch of New Westminster in June 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI.
"My goal in the first year was to look, learn, love, and listen," Eparch Nowakowski said. "I didn't know anything about the Eparchy of New Westminster."
After learning the ins and outs, Eparch Nowakowski went to work filling the region's needs.
"One of the big challenges of our eparchy is we are spread out throughout B.C. in little communities," he said.
Eparch Nowakowski helped establish a program called the Generations of Faith for Eastern Christians to draw communities closer to their eparch and to each other.
Lower Mainland Ukrainian Catholics meet four times a year under the Generations of Faith banner, and the program is taken to Vancouver Island and the interior once a year.
The eparch has also focused on education and formation of eparchial clergy. Not only do they meet for annual retreats; priests from around the eparchy gather with their eparch three times a year to discuss short-term and long-term topics.
One of the keys to religious education was the completion of the newly renovated Eparch Jerome Chimy Eparchial Centre, one block from Holy Eucharist Cathedral in New Westminster. The new building was blessed by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the entire Ukrainian Catholic Church, Aug. 31.