Magazine - Bishop Borys

Photo: Ukrainian Institute in London (c)

‘The ministry of Bishop Borys’, by Andy Hunder

Father Borys Gudziak, Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv and now Bishop Borys, has spent his professional life preaching the message of freedom and dignity for all

by Andy Hunder, Director of the Ukrainian Institute in London

A top business summit in the heart of London isn’t necessarily a venue where you would expect to find a Ukrainian Catholic priest among the key speakers. But in April this year the Adam Smith Ukrainian Investment Summit — the largest and longest established investment conference for Ukraine worldwide — invited Bishop Borys Gudziak, a Harvard PhD graduate and Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University to present in front of 300 key decision makers from Ukrainian business, financial institutions and government.

‘It was certainly a calculated risk inviting a Catholic priest to address a business forum. The overwhelmingly positive feedback to Bishop Borys’s presentation reassured me that particularly in the cut-throat environment of Ukrainian business, there is the need for spirituality and moral principles,’ recollects Stephen Butler, Director of Strategy at Adam Smith Conferences.

Bishop Borys spoke to the entrepreneurs about freedom, dignity and trust, a message that he has consistently delivered since launching the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), a dynamic and distinctive institution of higher education and research, a decade ago in Ukraine.

Gudziak, who last month was elevated to the ecclesiastical rank of a bishop, was in the spotlight in 2010 after a visit from an agent of Ukraine’s Security Service, warning him about illegal students’ protests and encouraging him to sign a letter of cooperation with the spooks, a proposal he turned down. This event is one of a litany of challenges that Bishop Borys and the university have been passionately surmounting in modern day Ukraine.

The picturesque western Ukrainian city where the University is based has a long history of vigorous activities of the secret police. Throughout its rich yet complex history it has been called Lwow, Lemburg, Lvov and today bears the name Lviv. The city has an uninterrupted architectural tradition, much of which wasn’t destroyed. The same, sadly, cannot be said of its people.

In 1939 the city had a population of around 300,000, of which over 30 per cent were Jews, a third Poles and no more than 20 per cent Ukrainian, with Armenians, German speakers and many others all coexisting in the cosmopolitan city. By the end of World War II only 60,000 of those residents remained. Nearly all the Poles were deported; at least 98 per cent of the Jewish population was exterminated by the Nazis; and every tenth Ukrainian deported to labour camps in Siberia. Thirty five years later Soviet Lvov became a city of a million people: 100,000 Russians arrived following the USSR’s migration programme, while 600,000 rural Ukrainians were brought in as part of the urbanisation of the 1960s and 70s.

‘But the city of people, the fabric of people was shred to threads, and is only now being sewn together,’ says Bishop Borys. ‘Lviv, probably, had the highest concentration of KGB agents of any Soviet city, because the opposition to Soviet rule was so active here after the war. So the degree of fear, the physical human trauma and the systemic fear is very high. That’s why corruption is rife: people don’t trust each other. The communication that is needed for business, good politics, and social engagement was crippled. So that’s what we’re trying to do at the University — be a place where people meet,’ says Bishop Borys.

The university, which today counts over 1,500 students and a teaching and support staff of 300, has brought together many outstanding individuals. Bishop Borys is of the opinion that Ukraine needs to provide safe places, whether educational or social, for people to grow; places ‘in which people feel their dignity, are relieved of their fear, and learn the competencies to function fruitfully and freely in the 21st century. That is Ukraine’s greatest need. I think we’re addressing it consciously and systematically,’ he says.

UCU’s main faculties are Philosophy, Theology, Social Studies, History and Journalism. The University’s thriving and innovative Lviv Business School is already recognised as one of the top three business schools in Ukraine. Also on offer at the University are specialist programmes in leadership and management, catechism studies, icon painting, summer language programmes and ecumenical studies, the latter being always a topical subject in Ukraine, a predominately Orthodox country with population of 46 million where Ukrainian Catholics number around five million. The university recently announced the launch of Ukrainian-Jewish Studies Programme.

The University is funded by private sources and does not receive any financial support from the state. Over the past 10 years most of the money has come from outside of Ukraine, from benefactors and donors in North America and Europe. The Ukrainian Catholic Educational Foundation in Chicago has coordinated much of the fundraising over the years. Recently, a number of prominent and wealthy Ukrainians have donated to the University, the most noteworthy being Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash, who has so far donated a substantial sum to UCU’s building of the highly impressive campus that was opened on 26th August. An annual fundraising event also takes place in Ukraine’s capital, with a charity banquet and silent auction planned at the InterContinental Kyiv on 17th November.

The history of UCU stems back to 1928, when the Lviv Theological Academy was founded by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky in Lwow, at the time part of Poland. It was shut down by Soviet authorities in 1944 and its rector, Josyf Slipyj, was sent to a Siberian labour camp a year later, where he spent 18 years in imprisonment. He was liberated in 1963 and moved to Rome, where he was made a cardinal. In 1969 Cardinal Slipyj launched the Ukrainian Catholic University in Rome, later acquiring six affiliates for the University, including a white stucco building in London’s prestigious Holland Park, where UCU’s affiliate in England, the Ukrainian Institute in London, continues to operate today.

UCU has developed strong ties in the UK with institutions like Ampleforth College, Cambridge Ukrainian Studies, the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain and especially with the Earl of Oxford and Asquith, who recently launched the Ukrainian Catholic Foundation in the UK, a charity specifically targeted at supporting UCU.

What next for Bishop Borys? He is now preparing to relocate to Paris after his recent appointment as Bishop for Ukrainians in France, where he has been given responsibility for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. As a bishop, Gudziak will now assume a broader role for the whole Church; earlier this month he was appointed one of five bishops on the Church’s permanent Synod. Bishop Borys has also been given an ecumenical and diplomatic assignment: representing the concerns of the Ukrainian Catholic Church with the European Union’s Commission and Parliament in both Brussels and Strasbourg. In terms of ecumenism, his jurisdiction covers Switzerland, where the World Council of Churches, the biggest body of ecumenical Christian activity, is headquartered. In France there is a budding Ukrainian community and a (currently dormant) Ukrainian scientific centre in Sarcelles, on the outskirts of Paris, where the first encyclopaedia on Ukraine was compiled. The Ukrainian centre in Lourdes is also in need of revitalisation. All in all, a lot of new exciting projects to focus on.

And what now for UCU? ‘My role will diminish, but will still be significant,’ Bishop Borys says. Although no official decision has been made, there is a strong likelihood that the new Bishop will take on the role of University President, focussing on strategic advice, with the daily management in the hands of the experienced team in Lviv. In business, a good leader can always be judged on the continuity of organisation after he or she moves on. Based on the past decade in learning from Borys and from each other, the team at UCU, together with their friends and supporters across the globe, are ready to continue the challenging and exhilarating work for the good of the University in Ukraine.