Reconnecting with Basilian Sisters in Ukraine
During the summer of 1997, Sister Karen Marie Franks, a San Rafael Dominican Sister, and I were part of the effort to assist women religious in the Eastern European countries which had regained independence from the Soviet Union, including Ukraine. Both Sister Karen Marie and I were on the faculty of Mercy High School in San Francisco.
We were invited to teach English to the newer members of the Basilian monastery in Lviv and spent the month of July with them. Their monastery had recently been returned to them after having been confiscated during the Soviet era. A good number of young women had applied for entrance, with the monastery serving as a formation house. Our brief course would be a means of widening their horizons.
Of course, the recent outbreak of war in Ukraine revived my interest and sparked my concern for their well-being in the midst of the scenes witnessed on television. I reach out to the Basilian Province here in the United States to let them know of our arranging for special prayers. Margaret Kapusnak, OSBM, replied: “How lovely of you to remember our Sisters in Ukraine and we are so blessed that your community prays for the people of Ukraine before the Blessed Sacrament. They will appreciate knowing this. Through our Generalate, we receive news of them daily. So far, thanks to God, they are well. They stay to bear witness to their people and to help them in whatever way they can by providing shelter, clothing, food, medicine, and, of course, spiritual and emotional support. Our Basilian communities, especially in Romania, Poland and Slovakia, have offered hospitality to them in addition to the above ways of supporting and encouraging them. We hold them and all those suffering in our hearts and in our prayers.”
A True Gift
That brief time with the wonderful young sisters was indeed a gift. We were able to attend daily Mass, sung beautifully in the Eastern Rite Liturgy. Karen and I taught two different sections, but planned together and often mixed groups in fun ways.
We discovered that the monastery was located in the beautiful Old City section of Lviv. At that time, it was being renovated to highlight the many classical architectural buildings in the area, set off by the newly cobblestoned streets. In our free time, we were able to explore the neighborhood, sometimes accompanied by our young sister-students as a way to practice their English.
Our hosts generously arranged several tours, including an overnight train trip to Kiev. Ironically, one of the monuments we saw there was a statue celebrating the centuries-old fraternal relationship of “Father Russia and Mother Ukraine.”
Reviving these memories of the beautiful people in a country rooted in a strong Christian heritage makes my heart weep as we pray for a resolution that will spare further damage and restore hope.