City of Residence: Saskatoon, SK
Father Wolodymyr Iwaszko,
A man of God, a champion of youth, a patriot of Ukraine and his adopted country, Canada
Much material has been collected, reviewed, and compiled about Father Iwaszko. It documents the life of a modest priest who left an enduring legacy of selfless service to God, country, and community, especially to youth in Canada and in Ukraine. His life story serves as an inspiration to all he touched, and his memory remains forever in the hearts and minds of those fortunate enough to have known him.
Wolodymyr Semen Iwaszko was born to Anton and Maria Iwaszko on May 23, 1908 in Sudova Vyshnia, a town located in present-day Lviv Oblast, Ukraine. He had ten siblings, four of whom died at an early age. At the time, Sudova Vyshnia was part of the Second Polish Republic and schooling was not available for Ukrainian children, so young Wolodymyr attended secretly organized studies. The continual persecution of Ukrainian students and families led Wolodymyr’s parents to enrol him in a gymnasium (secondary school) in Yavoriv and then in Peremyshyl (in present-day Poland) where he completed his high school education. It was also in Peremyshyl where he undertook theological studies at the Greek Catholic seminary from 1930-1934.
Wolodymyr was raised in a pious family and received a solid grounding in the Catholic faith. His mother Maria wanted one of her sons to become a priest. As a youth Wolodymyr witnessed and felt the pain of many acts of persecution directed towards his people and his Church. His decision to enter the priesthood was a logical outcome of his upbringing.
Father Wolodymyr elected not to marry, explaining that “It will be difficult to be both a good family man and a good priest, so I will try to be a good priest.”
And he truly was.
Ordained as a priest by Bishop Josaphat Kotsylovsky, OSBM, in Peremyshyl, March 4th, 1934, Father Wolodymyr Iwaszko served as a chaplain, catechist, and youth leader for a time in Sambir from 1934-1944. These were dangerous times as war was raging on many fronts in Ukraine. Yet despite difficult circumstances, he managed to establish and to lead Plast (Ukrainian Youth Organization), organized “Children of Mary,” served as a catechist in the Ukrainian gymnasium, Association of “Ridna Shkola” (Товариство «Рідна Школа») and other schools, took care of orphans and the poor, often purchasing clothes for them with his own money, and inspired them to join Ukrainian youth organizations. He worked in many other Ukrainian youth organizations, including “Dnister,” “Sokil,” “Luh,” “Sich,” “Prosvita,” “Ukrainska Besida.” He managed the Youth Affairs Office at the District Committee, and he organized reading rooms (chytalni) for “Prosvita,” choirs, and children’s sadochoks.
For his work with youth and for instilling in them a Ukrainian national consciousness, the Polish authorities punitively committed Father Wolodymyr to a concentration camp, Bereza Kartuzka, where he lived in terrible conditions from the spring to the fall of 1939. He later returned to Sambir and when Nazi troops occupied the city he was one of the first to organize resistance fighters, many of whom subsequently took an active role in the events leading up to the June 30, 1941 proclamation of Ukraine’s independence.
By 1944, Communists were in control and were persecuting the Ukrainian population. Upon the advice of Bishop Kotsylovsky who told Father Iwaszko, “I want you to go to the West, because you are too valuable to be killed,” he transferred to pastoral service in Western Lemkovyna with a special assignment to take care of Ukrainian youth in forced labor camps. Unfortunately, he soon experienced all the sorrows of refugee life himself, first in Slovakia and then in Displaced Persons camps in Germany from which, in January of 1948, he left for Canada, initially settling in Winnipeg where he became an assistant priest at the Pokrova of Holy Mary Church.
From his early youth, Father was a member of the Ukrainian Youth Organization Plast, and before his leaving Germany the Supreme Council of Plast in Munich charged him with organizing Plast in Canada. Thus in 1948, upon arriving in Winnipeg, he set about organizing Plast in the city. In November of 1948, he was relocated to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and became the parish priest of St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. While in Prince Albert, he laid the groundwork for the building of a new church, helped to teach in ridna shkola and led a choir of school youth.
The Plast group which existed in Prince Albert during his tenure there ceased to operate with the reassignment of Father Wolodymyr to Saskatoon where, in 1953, he became an assistant priest at St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral and later parish priest from 1978-1984. Fr. Iwaszko served Saskatoon as Eparchial Consultor for forty years during which time he attained the distinctions of Kryloshanyn (1975) and Mitrat (1981).
Upon his arrival in Saskatoon, Father Wolodymyr set about organizing Plast and soon attracted many young people. The various Plast camps and jamborees in Saskatchewan, the Alberta Rockies, Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg, Ontario and Quebec all left indelible memories of hikes and canoeing trips in the minds of the Plastuny who participated. For his service to Plast he was awarded the Gold Medal of St. George by the International Executive of Plast (Головна Пластова Булава).
Father Iwaszko believed in the power and promise of youth and worked enthusiastically in initiating, promoting, and supporting many other youth groups such as the Ukrainian Catholic Youth, the Children of Mary, and the Altar Boys group. He was admired and respected by many.
Father was an avid sports enthusiast and encouraged youth to participate in all manner of sports. He organized the Ukrainian Sports Club which offered a wide variety of sporting activities such as soccer, volleyball, basketball, badminton, table tennis and others, often officiating at some club tournaments. He was also known to enjoy taking part himself in a game of soccer or a table tennis match.
Father Iwaszko strived to instill in youth the same principles he lived by: honesty, fairness, politeness, respect, self-discipline, vigilance, a healthy life style, keeping one’s word, and being reasonable, approachable and kind to others. He left an enduring impression on all who came into contact with him, particularly young people.
This modest priest was active in the Ukrainian community both as a spiritual leader and organizer. A few of his considerable contributions to church and community life include his involvement in the construction of St. Volodymyr Church in Ukrainian Park (Pike Lake), St. George’s Youth Centre, St. George’s Senior Citizens’ Apartment, St. Joseph’s Nursing Home, publications such as “The Almanac of the Eparchy,” the 10th Anniversary of Plast in Saskatoon and others too numerous to mention. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus Sheptytsky Council #4938 of Saskatoon, and a spiritual assistant of the Ukrainian Catholic Teachers Organization of Saskatchewan. For his laudable community service, he was awarded the Shevchenko Medal by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (National). In 1988 he received the Nation Builder award from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Saskatchewan Provincial Council.