By Jeff Gammage The Philadelphia Investigator
PHILADELPHIA – The Sisters of St. Basil have never published a tract soliciting donations for Ukraine.
It was not necessary. Things just started to appear.
Sleeping bags. Medications. Clothes. Child games. Socks for soldiers. Baby bottles, wipes, diapers and strollers, walkers and wheelchairs, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, water bottles, Ramen noodles, granola bars, fruit rolls and at least 40 bags of Pirate Booty snacks.
And money. Over $100,000.
People knew that the Ukrainian American sisters would figure out how to get supplies and currency from the motherhouse in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania to cities in Ukraine, and from there into the hands of the people who needed them.
On April 14, a floor-to-ceiling stacked tractor-trailer pulled out of the Fox Chase Road parking lot, heading for the New York metro area, with goods to be transferred to ships or planes bound for Europe from ballast. A second truck was loaded the next day, while tons of additional donations, wrapped and stacked in 10ft towers in an auditorium downstairs, waited their turn to leave.
“A very busy time,” Sister Dorothy Ann Busowski said with measured understatement.
For the sisters, the Russian attack on Ukraine has turned the Motherhouse into a center of action, prompting a rigorous new duty an order that came to Philadelphia more than a century ago to serve immigrants and the orphans.
The convent has become a jumping off point not only for supplies, but also for a Ukrainian nun who was heading to the war zone earlier this month. And it’s a new home for a sister who managed to escape the country after surviving intense Russian bombardment.
“I was there, with 30 sisters, when they bombed,” said sister
Dia Zagurska, who suffered long-range missile attacks in Ivano-Frankivsk. “We understood that our lives had changed. It wasn’t going to be the same. »
Among the thirty or so sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great, many are between 70, 80 and 90 years old. Some are retired, others in active ministry, all Ukrainians or of Ukrainian origin. Most have family in the country and the majority speak the language, often learned at home as first or second generation immigrants.
Some have taught at nearby St. Basil Academy, which closed last year due to declining enrollment and funding. Others have taught at schools in Chicago, Detroit and New York.
“Sometimes the situation in Ukraine can seem beyond hope,” said Sister Joann Sosler, the provincial superior. But it’s not hopeless, she insisted, proof of that is the generosity of dozens of people who donate to help Ukraine endure. Some volunteers brought their own boxes and tape to help with packing. Prayers are shipped free of charge.
“I shared with the sisters there,” Sister Sosler said. “‘Know that the people here are with you.'”
Goods go to Basilian Sisters in places like Poland, Romania and Hungary – the Order of St. Basil is international – and then to Ukraine. It is planned that about a third will go to the sisters in Lviv and another third to those in Ivano-Frankivsk, and all distributed from there to the inhabitants of western Ukraine.
The last third, mainly medical supplies and clothing, will go to the Ukrainian army.
“People really opened their hearts,” said Sister Teodora Kopyn, who was born and raised in western Ukraine, and whose sisters, brother, nieces and nephews remained in the country. “Our people are trying to do their best for their lives, for their nation, for their family. Now everyone has to leave their house.
She left for Ukraine last week, not nervous, she says, but eager to help.
The founding of the local Order of St. Basil dates back more than a century, to 1907, when Bishop Soter Ortynsky of Ukraine was appointed Bishop for all Byzantine Rite Catholics in America.
He established his headquarters in Philadelphia, where he found the churches dilapidated and the immigrant parishioners illiterate and desperately poor, according to historical order. Dozens of children were orphans.
Needing help, Bishop Ortynsky and other church officials brought a group of Basilian nuns from the Yavoriv Monastery here. They arrived around 1911, teaching religion, language, and culture, and opened an orphanage and school at Seventh and Parrish streets in North Philadelphia.
To provide financial support, the nuns started carpet weaving and printing businesses. Some of the first books they printed are now on display in the Legacy Room of the Mother House.
By the 1920s the immigrant community was growing, and in 1926 the order was granted a 130-acre property, where an existing farmhouse served as both motherhouse and novitiate.
The sisters laid the foundation stone for a new motherhouse in 1930, and a year later they opened St. Basil’s Academy, a boarding school for girls of Ukrainian descent. In 1947, the sisters founded Manor College, which opened with a student body of 11 young women.
Today, the private Catholic institution embraces its Ukrainian heritage by offering two- and four-year degrees to 750 students of all faiths and backgrounds.
The campus is a short walk from the headquarters, where donations continue to arrive. One person went shopping at Target, then dropped off a large red and white bag of supplies, the $300 receipt still inside.
The sisters say they will continue to accept, sort and send goods and money for as long as needed, including after the war.
“It will take years to rebuild, many years to heal and heal hearts,” Sister Kopyn said. “I wish and dream that one day we will wake up and hear the good news that it’s all over. And everyone can be at peace, go home and start a new life.
Distributed by content agency Tribune.
“People really opened their hearts. Our people are trying to do the best they can for their lives, for their nation, for their families. Now everyone has to leave their house. — Sister Teodora Kopyn