History of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Before turning to the history of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church, we must briefly outline the situation of Ukrainians in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy at the turn of the last century. People belonging to the Ukrainian nationality lived in the Austrian crown lands (Kronlander) of Galicia and Bukovina and also in the northeast counties of the Hungarian kingdom. Until 1918, officially they were called Ruthenians (in German Ruthenen, in Hungarian Rutenok) although during World War I there were many attempts to introduce Ukrainian (in German Ukrainer) as the new national name. While the name change never occurred in official documents, by the second decade of the twentieth century they were being called Ukrainians in the semi-official language of the Austrian government.
In 1900, 93% of Austria’s Ukrainians earned their living in agriculture and forestry. But by 1912, 38% of the land was owned by the Polish landed proprietors, and in 1900, 200,000 farmers in East Galicia owned less than one acre of land. In Hungary 8700 of Ukrainians earned their living in agriculture and forestry, and also the land to individual farmers was very small.
In 1910, Ukrainians in Galicia were for the most part Greek Catholic and in Bukovina almost completely Orthodox. Administratively, the Greek Catholic Metropolitanate of L’viv-Halych consisted of the Archeparchy of L’viv and one, later two, suffragan eparchies.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Galicia the Polish language was becoming increasingly important. In 1869 Polish was established as the official internal language of the provincial authorities, and in 1907, as the official language of the Galician Diet. In 1904, Polish became the official language of the University of L’viv.
By 1911 there were more than 2,500 public and nine private elementary schools functioning in Galicia together with twelve high schools and trade schools, but Ukrainians had no schools of higher learning at all. Despite the existence of schools 61% of the Ukrainians in Galicia and Bukovina and 77% in Hungary remained illiterate.
Some of the conditions mentioned above are the reasons that beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, numerous peoples of Slavic origin began immigrating to American shores. These were a hardy people seeking happiness, freedom, and a better way of life in the land of liberty. They came to America to escape the political and economic strife which was a fact of life in Europe at that time. Many of these people came from the present day territories of Polish occupied Ukraine (Galicia), and the Trans-Carpathian Ukraine, at that time under the domination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But it is not important to stress their points of origin, but rather what they brought with them to the New World. They brought something that was inseparable from their Christian spirit; the culture and the traditions of the Ukrainian/Byzantine Catholic Church. This Church is sometimes called simply the “Greek Catholic Church,’’ or ‘‘Eastern Catholic Church.’’
These Ukrainian Catholic immigrants, who practiced the Gospel message according to the customs of the Rite of Constantinople, settled for the most part in eastern America. Documents indicate that Ukrainian Catholics began to settle in the Lehigh Valley and particularly West Easton and Bethlehem as early as 1900, the majority being from the Galician portion of Ukraine. Indicative of all Slavic peoples, they brought with them an industrious, hard-working, and loyal attitude. They were eager to please and to make a place for themselves and their families in their adopted country. Synonymous with Ukrainians everywhere, we find coupled to the above mentioned traits a deep love of God and the message of Christianity as expressed in the living of their Eastern Catholic faith. It was, and remains to the present, this expression of Christianity that Ukrainian customs and culture evolved. For the Ukrainian, his or her identity is fused to the Church of Christ. Religion is not simply the practice of the faith, but rather the living of that faith with every breath that is taken. It is important to keep this fact in mind as the history of St. Josaphat Church in Bethlehem unfolds.
Parish archives leave no record as to who were the first Ukrainian families to settle in Bethlehem. Records indicate that those who did settle between 1900 and 1910 attached themselves to Ukrainian churches in both Allentown and Northampton.