Josyf Kotsylovsky was born in 1876 in Pakosivka, in the Lemko region of what was then Austrian Galicia. He enjoyed a brief military career in the Austrian army, where he achieved officer’s rank. However, discerning a call to the priesthood, in 1901 he approached and was accepted as a seminarian, not for his native Przemysl eparchy, but by Bishop Hryhori Khomyshyn of the Stanislaviv eparchy. Given Kotsylovsky’s intelligence and social status (a former officer), Khomyshyn wanted to send him for superior training to the Pontifical Ruthenian College in Rome. Although the places reserved for Stanislaviv students had all been taken, Metropolitan Sheptytsky offered Kotsylovsky a scholarship which had been reserved for the seminarians of Sheptytsky’s own Lviv archeparchy. Kotsylovsky duly achieved a doctorate in philosophy in 1903 and one in Sacred Theology in 1907, following which he returned to Stanislaviv and was ordained to the priesthood on 6 October of that year.
Josyf Kotsylovsky had become a priest at a crossroads in history. At the turn of the twentieth century, the European governments were preparing for a war which resulted in political revolution throughout the continent, leading to the dissolution of continental empires, the fall of the European imperial dynasties, the creation of political and social discontent and the division of Europe into democratic and totalitarian blocs. Each of these momentous changes would be directly felt in the life of Kotsylovsky and the Ukrainian Church and Nation which he served.
Kotsylovsky’s nomination was the last of the early twentieth-century appointments of the three bishop-ordinaries (eparchs) of the Greek-Catholic eparchies of Lviv, Stanislaviv and Przemysl (Peremyshl). The first two dioceses had been filled in 1900 and 1904 respectively by Andrei Sheptytsky and Hryhori Khomyshyn. The last bishop from the previous century, Konstantyn Chekhovych of Przemysl, remained in office until the beginning of the First World War. In 1914, Russian forces invaded Austrian Galicia, occupying its capital city of Lviv and also the city of Przemysl. They immediately arrested Metropolitan Sheptytsky and exiled him to Siberian imprisonment, and Bishop Khomyshyn subsequently fled to Vienna. The only remaining Greek-Catholic bishop, the elderly Chekhovych, was mistreated by the Russian occupiers and died on 28 April 1915. From their exiles, Sheptytsky and Khomyshyn sought to have a resolute candidate appointed to head the Przemysl eparchy, especially out of fear that the Russians would take advantage of the vacancy by appointing their own candidate in a move designed to sever the union of the Ukrainian Church with Rome. Recent archival research now reveals that this was exactly what the Russian Empire intended to do.
The Roman Apostolic See shared the Ukrainian bishops’ desire for a quick appointment for Przemysl, but naming a Greek-Catholic bishops had become a complicated process. At the time, a maze of interested parties had to be heard before the matter could be decided: Officially, the appointment was negotiated between the Greek-Catholic Primate (the Lviv Metropolitan), the Austrian Emperor, and the Pope. The Metropolitan had the right of submitting a ternary of candidates, from which the Emperor had the privilege of presenting one to the Pope for him to nominate. In reality, the views of the apostolic nuncio, local Roman Catholic bishops, Vatican curial officials, Austrian government ministers, and even Ukrainian public opinion was to be considered. The process was complicated and cumbersome, which made it extremely difficult to find a single candidate who fulfilled the political and religious requirements of all parties. Despite its defects, this protocol resulted in the selection of three zealous bishops, each of whom would later give their lives for the Faith. Bishop Kotsylovsky’s was the last appointment resulting from this accord, which came to an end with the fall of the Habsburg Empire in November 1918. Following Kotsylovsky, no additional Ukrainian bishops could be named until the Holy See negotiated a replcament accord (concordat) with the new rulers of Galicia, the Second Polish Republic.
In fact, Josaphat Kotsylovsky was the last Ruthenian-Ukrainian presented by a Habsburg emperor to the Pope. Since the inception of his long reign in 1848, Franz Josef I had presented many Greek-Catholic bishops, the last two of which had been Metropolitan Sheptytsky and Bishop Khomyshyn. The selection process for the vacant see of Przemysl had actually began during Franz Josef’s reign but the old Emperor died on 21 November 1916 and the imperial parchment presenting Kotsylovsky was signed just six days later, by the new Emperor Karl. This would be the first as well as the last Greek-Catholic episcopal nomination made by the young kaiser, who himself had the unfortunate distinction of being the last emperor-king of Austria-Hungary.
Papal scrutiny of episcopal candidates was mediated through the Roman Curia, the bureaucratic arm of the Apostolic See, made up congregations which are essentially papal departments. From its founding by Pope Urban VIII in 1622, the Sacred Congregation De Propaganda Fide was responsible for processing the nominations for Roman Catholic bishops in mission territories and for all Eastern Catholic bishops. In 1862 Blessed Pius IX created a separate department for Eastern Catholic affairs within the framework of Propaganda Fide. Kotsylovsky’s was the last Ukrainian Greek-Catholic nomination to be processed through Propaganda because only four months later, on 1 May 1917, Pope Benedict XV abolished its Eastern Affairs department and created an entirely independent body to replace it, the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church. From that time until the present day, all Ukrainian Greek-Catholic affairs, including episcopal nominations, are mediated through this office, subsequently renamed Congregation for the Oriental Churches following the Second Vatican Council.
Bishop Kotsylovsky was the last bishop of the old eparchy of Peremyshl, which dated back to the twelfth century. Together with the nearby Lviv diocese, Peremyshl had the distinction of being the last of two Ruthenian eparchies to enter into union with the Apostolic See of Rome. After the suppression of the Kholm eparchy by Russia, in 1874, Lviv and Peremyshl remained the last and only two Greek-Catholic eparchies remaining in existence, until the new eparchy of Stanislaviv was created in 1885. After the post-second-world-war shift in national boundaries, much of the eparchy’s original territory lay within the Ukrainian (Soviet) Republic whereas a smaller portion, including the city of Przemysl itself, remained inside the Polish border. The Peremyshl eparchy had been suppressed by the Soviet regime in 1946 but was resurrected in 1989 in a new form, extending over a very different territory. The diocese was reestablished for the Ukrainian Catholics in eastern Poland and subsequently has became the Ukrainian metropolitan see for that country.
Before 1990, Bishop Kotsylovsky was the last eparch in present-day Ukraine to be a member of the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat. From the time of the Union of Brest in 1596, until the beginning of Austrian Rule in 1772, only Basilian monks were eligible for episcopal office in the Ruthenian-Ukrainian Church. The Austrian regime favoured secular over religious clergy and, consequently, let the Basilian Order deteriorate while greatly improving the quality of the Ukrainian secular priesthood. Thenceforth, no Basilian held office until after the Order had undergone a thorough reform, which was begun by Papal decree in 1882. In 1899, Andrei Sheptytsky became the first Basilian to be nominated a bishop in over a century. The following year, when he was elevated to the metropolitan see of Lviv, Sheptytsky was to have been succeeded in Stanislaviv by his close collaborator and fellow Basilian Platonid Filas, who had been rejected as auxiliary bishop by the previous metropolitan. However, the secular clergy became alarmed that Rome was trying to restore the Basilian episcopal monopoly and, after much wrangling, a secular priest, Hryhori Khomyshyn, was selected. Subsequent to Father Filas assuming the headship of the reformed Basilians in 1904, a conflict arose between him and Sheptytsky. The divergence between both personalities and the differing outlooks of primate and provincial developed into a conflict between the Ukrainian hierarchy and the Order itself. Asa result, in 1912 Sheptytsky discouraged Filas’ candidacy as bishop for Canada. Until this day, an unwritten rule endures whereby Basilians are chosen to be bishops only for the Diaspora.
Actually, Josyf Kotsylovsky had began his ecclesiastical service as a secular priest and a protégé of Bishop Khomyshyn, who appointed him vice-rector of the Stanislaviv seminary shortly after his priestly ordination. However, Kotsylovsky too fell our of favour with his mentor and resigned the vicerectorship. After a period of soul searching, he decided to embrace the religious life. Entering the Basilian Order in 1911, after the customary noviciate trial period, he professed his first vows in 1913. If the First World War had not broken out the following August, it is unlikely that Kotsylovsky or any other Basilian would have become a bishop in the homeland.
Metropolitan Sheptytsky’s imprisonment made it difficult for him to exercise his right to present a ternary of candidates. From Kursk, Siberia, Sheptytsky wrote to the Pope suggesting several names (none of them Basilians), but, at the same time, he explicitly renounced his right to select the candidates, on that occasion. At the time, no one could predict if the metropolitan was going to be released or if he would survive his harsh captivity. It was even possible that Bishop Khomyshyn would be appointed to replace him in Lviv. In any case, as the only Greek-Catholic Bishop remaining, Khomyshyn was consulted on the replacement for Przemysl and the candidate that he again proposed (as in 1912 for Canada) was Basilian superior Filas. This time, in poor health and mindful of a possible veto by Sheptytsky, Filas was not willing to let his name stand for a fourth time. Nevertheless, while the Russian occupation of Galicia continued, Filas did accept a brief appointment as apostolic administrator for the Ukrainian Catholics scattered throughout Austria-Hungary. During this administration, he appointed his new recruit, Father Kotsylovsky, to be rector of an interim Ukrainian seminary located in Kromeriz, Moravia.
Platonid Filas might have thought that his refusal of the episcopacy would end any further talk of a candidate from his Order, but Bishop Khomyshyn had already been considering another Basilian as a second choice. After Father Kotsylovsky professed his solemn vows in the Order, in June 1916, Khomyshyn was free to present him as his new episcopal candidate. In spite of the bishop’s support, Filas, as Kotsylovsky’s superior, reacted very negatively to the candidacy. This reaction was partially the result of the provincial superior’s own negative experiences and was partially due to the fact that, as Khomyshyn’s candidate, Kotsylovsky might be rejected by Ukrainian nationalists, to whom Khomyshyn was at odds. Father Platonid was forced to relent when probed by the apostolic nuncio, who carefully scrutinized his objections, finding them to be lacking in substance. After the canonical process was completed and Kotsylovsky’s candidacy had already been approved by the Austrian government, Ukrainian parliamentarians did indeed send a communication to Rome, energetically protesting the candidacy. Calling themselves “The Ukrainian Pro-Senate”, these notables, led by future Western Ukrainian president Yevhen Petrushevych, had been brought up according to the Austrian political philosophy whereby the Church was looked upon as a temporal instrument of the state. They feared that Kotsylovsky, like his mentor Bishop Khomyshyn, would not be sympathetic towards their nationalistic designs. However, both Rome and Vienna were apprehensive about the effects of ethnic nationalism for the multi-national Catholic Habsburg Empire, and they chose to ignore the protests.
The nomination process for Peremyshl had been prolonged due to the difficulty of communications during the war. Austrian forces reoccupied the city of Przemysl on 3 June 1916, and the installation of a new Greek-Catholic bishop could now go ahead without hindrance. Metropolitan Sheptytsky, upon hearing of the appointment in his captivity, let it be known that he did not oppose Kotsylovsky, even though he had not been his first choice. The Holy See communicated their acceptance of the candidate allowing His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty to sign the waxed parchment, written in courtly Latin which, in translation, read:
MOST HOLY FATHER! By the greatly lamented death of Bishop Constantine Chekhovych, of pious memory, of Diocese of Przemysl of the greek rite, an episcopal see in Our Kingdom of Galicia, has been made vacant. Solicitous that the same see be provided with a suitable and worthy pastor, We intend to name as bishop of the very same Diocese the professed member of Order of St. Basil the Great JOSEPH KOTSYLOVSKY, a priest well educated in the sacred disciplines, who, due to his gifted soul and ingenious talents, has been commended to Us. Since the archbishop of Leopolis and metropolitan of the greek rite Andrei of the counts Sheptytsky, to whom the confirmation of the bishop of Przemysl of the greek rite pertains by law, until now has been held in captivity by the enemy host and is being prohibited from using his governing power, We believe that the provision of the mentioned episcopal see to be devolved to Your Holiness. Wherefore, We present the aforementioned JOSEPH KOTSYLOVSKY to Your Holiness for the said Diocese, imploring, with filial observance and reverent affection, that Your Holiness kindly accept this Our nomination and deign to institute the aforementioned in the episcopal see of Przemysl of the greek rite. We pray that Almighty God, protect and preserve Your Holiness and His Holy Church in all things. Given in Vienna on the twenty-eighth day of the month of November in the year of the repaired salvation one thousand nine hundred ten and six, in the first year of Our Reign. The obsequious son of Your Holiness Carolus.
The imperial presentation having been made, Pope Benedict XV nominated Kotsylovsky on 29 January 1917 and proclaimed the appointment publicly in the consistory meeting the following 22 March. That same month, Metropolitan Sheptytsky was released from his Russian captivity and bishop-elect Kotsylovsky, perhaps as a gesture of unity, asked Rome for permission to wait for the metropolitan to return to Lviv, so as to act as his principal consecrator. Permission was granted and Kotsylovsky was finally ordained bishop by Sheptytsky, assisted by Bishops Khomyshyn and Njariadi, on 23 September 1917, over two years after the see of Przemysl had become vacant.
The new eparch of Przemysl did not turn out to be the man that some churchmen and political ideologues had predicted. Despite having been critical of Sheptytsky in the past, after Kotsylovsky's episcopal ordination, the two men grew closer, for a time. The younger bishop energetically came to the defence of the older metropolitan, especially in 1923, during Sheptytsky’s arrest and internment at the hand of the Second Polish Republic. Bishop Kotsylovsky travelled to Vienna, Rome, Warsaw and finally Poznan (where the metropolitan was being held captive), in order to negotiate with the civil authorities and to inform church leaders. On 6 October 1923, it was Bishop Kotsylovsky who finally sent the much awaited telegram to both the papal Secretariat of State and the apostolic nunciature in Warsaw, informing them that: “METROPOLITAN ANDREI RETURNED HAPPILY LVIV – JOSAPHAT”. And contrary to the calculations of the Galician political idealogues, Kotsylovky became one of the Ukrainian nation’s greatest protectors, especially during the Polish-Ukrainian War and the subsequent occupation of Eastern Galicia. Like Sheptytsky, Kotsylovsky’s adament defense of his people’s rights was keenly felt in Warsaw political circles.
Although the three Ukrainian bishops each chose different ways to deal with the religious and political problems affecting their Church, the Apostolic See’s representatives repeatedly passed very positive evaluations of these “three most zealous shepherds” (Oriental Congregation to Nuncio Lauri, 13 September 1921). Writing to the Cardinal Secretary of State on 16 April 1923, the apostolic visitor to Eastern Galicia, Father Giovanni Genocchi, gave the following opinion of Sheptytsky, Khomyshyn and Josaphat Kotsylovsky: “Regarding the three Ruthenian Bishops, it is sufficient to say that the Holy See can firmly count on their Catholic Faith and on the goodness of their lives. Their personal defects are not greater than those found among us. In compensation, their piety is truly exemplary.”
Their piety and devotion to the Holy Apostolic See would serve them well as their Church and Nation was forced to endure martyrdom at the hands of Nazi and Communist regimes. Each bishop would give their lives for God’s People. Bishop Kotsylovsky was arrested by Soviet Forces on 26 June 1946 and deported to Kyiv where he died in a concentration camp on 17 November of the following year. He and Bishop Khomyshyn were both beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001, and three years later, Emperor Karl, who presented Kotsylovsky for nomination, was also raised to the altars. Let us turn to these men of a bygone age who are alive in Christ and continue to dwell among us spiritually, in the present. We ask their intercession so that the greatest among their number, Metropolitan Andrei Roman Sheptytsky, would join them in the list of those whom the Universal Church has publically proclaimed to be among the heavenly blessed, as examples and intercessors for mankind.