Fr. Alexander Laschuk, PhD is a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto. He is currently the Interim Executive Director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute in the Faculty of Theology, in addition to his responsibility as Judicial Vicar of the Toronto Regional Tribunal. He lives in Trinity-Bellwoods with his wife and daughter.
Finding Stillness in Chaos
I am a Catholic priest. Unlike most you know, I am married and have a six-year-old daughter (with number two on the way). Also unlike most priests you know, I do not spend much of my ministry in a parish. Instead, I live my priestly ministry in the curia, where I work as a canon lawyer. There are seven dioceses in Ontario for which I am responsible. Additionally, I seem to have a specific skill set—I fix problems. Sometimes those problems are in my own Eparchy, which extends from the Ontario border to the Atlantic. At other times my service is to the universal Church, which brings me to dioceses throughout the English-speaking world. My ministry means I am frequently away from home, which can add up to two or even three months in a year.
This all came to a crashing, screeching halt in March. I remember my last day in the office with my staff—we already were encouraging people to work from home. It was the feast of St. Joseph and there were zeppole on my desk. The State of Emergency was declared shortly thereafter, and we all began a brave new adventure.
In my case, this has meant being physically grounded—a real blessing in some ways as now I am home every day to put my daughter to bed. But it has also been chaos. When the Archdiocese moved to “remote work” except for essential staff it meant that in addition to my own job I suddenly had to keep 26 people busy. We were in the midst of opening a new tribunal office in the suburbs to remove the “physical distance” that, Pope Francis reminds us, prevents people from accessing the tribunal.
In our small Ukrainian Eparchy many parishes needed help applying for government support; I became the go-to guy with all these acronyms that soon became all too familiar: ROE, CERB, CEWS, and CEBA. At our parish in Trinity-Bellwoods, instead of hearing Easter confessions I became a videographer and learned far too much about live-streaming, while at my daughter’s school, the online class sessions every morning and afternoon became the anchor of her (and our) day. I realized how lucky we were when I spoke to other kindergarten parents whose children would only have one (or no) session a week.
My wife, who suffers from difficult pregnancies, was often bed- or couch-ridden and was, as I termed her, a “quarantine professional” who never left the apartment except for medical appointments. The usual downtown comfort of the constant hum of people and traffic turned into silence, and often the only sounds were screams in the night from the growing number of people on the street and in the park with nowhere else to go. As bedtime not so quickly approached for my daughter, there would be the silent prayer to God: just one more hour, Lord. Get us there, peacefully if possible. When she’d finally go down it would be frantic work until I fell asleep to catch up on all those things left behind in the workday.
More than four months have passed. The world is awakening from its pandemic-induced slumber. We have set up a chapel in the parish archives where I celebrate mass with my wife and daughter. For my daughter’s sixth birthday we ran around individual cakes for her party on Zoom. We’re getting really good at making dinner as a family instead of constantly eating out. I’ve started a new job as Interim Executive Director at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute here at USMC. I can’t go into my office at Windle House and my predecessor can’t move out. I’ve not been on an airplane in six months. Our new home has been delayed nearly a year. The parish has spent thousands on PPE. I overhear my daughter giving her friends Zoom advice. My car dashboard is covered in blue masks. My wife rejoices that we’ve almost run out of hotel shampoo.
This time has left me frequently thinking of Elijah, who we call Elias in the East. When he went to find the Lord God, the Voice was not in the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the light breeze (3 Kings 19). Here, in the unnatural silence of abandoned downtown, the Voice of God blows with the breeze across the abandoned storefronts and the tents in the park. I hope we can all find a moment to stop and hear it, finding stillness in this time of chaos.
The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute (MASI) heads into the 2020-2021 academic year with new leadership and a new faculty position in Patristics.
Fr. Alexander M. Laschuk has been named Interim Executive Director of MASI following the retirement of Fr. Peter Galadza on June 30 of this year. Fr. Laschuk is a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada, and serves in numerous ministries, including as Judicial Vicar of Toronto’s marriage tribunal. Until recently, he was also economos, or finance officer, of the Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada. Fr. Laschuk has civil and ecclesiastical doctorates in canon law from Saint Paul University and the University of Ottawa. His research interests include ecclesiology, penal law, and procedural law and he regularly publishes in these areas in addition to canonical consultancy and advocacy work with dioceses and clients across North America.
Fr. Laschuk has regularly taught with the Sheptytsky Institute since 2010, and continues to teach in the Faculty of Canon Law at Saint Paul University, Ottawa, where he served as Interim Director of the Sheptytsky Institute in 2013-2014.
Dr. Sean Argondizza-Moberg has joined MASI on a one-year Contractually Limited Term Appointment as an Assistant Professor in Greek Patristics. Specializing in Christian asceticism in late antiquity, Dr. Argondizza-Moberg earned his doctorate at Catholic University of America’s Center for the Study of Early Christianity. The position, located within the Sheptytsky Institute, is renewable to a maximum of three years. Dr. Argondizza-Moberg is currently working on a book on monasticism and classical culture.
“We are delighted to have both Fr. Laschuk and Dr. Argondizza-Moberg joining us,” says Dr. John L. McLaughlin, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Theology. “Fr. Laschuk is a skilled academic who will offer strong leadership at MASI as it looks toward the future, while Dr. Argondizza-Moberg’s work in Patristics will strengthen our offerings to students in this key field.”
The Sheptytsky Institute is an autonomous academic unit of the Faculty of Theology of the University of St. Michael’s College (USMC) in the University of Toronto (U of T). It specializes in Eastern Christian Studies, including the theology, spirituality, liturgy, history, and ecclesial polity of the Eastern Christian Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic. MASI students specialize in Eastern Christian studies within the basic-degree and graduate degree programs of St. Michael’s College. All degrees are conjointly conferred by St. Michael’s College and the University of Toronto.
St. Michael’s pulled out all the (virtual) stops on Thursday to honour three key leaders as they move on to new roles and responsibilities. More than 90 people gathered online to celebrate the careers—thus far—of Principal Randy Boyagoda, Theology Dean James Ginther and Fr. Peter Galadza, Director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies (MASI).
Festivities began with a slideshow of each man in action on campus—Fr. Peter with students at Windle House, Dean Ginther presiding at convocation, and Principal Boyagoda in Rome with Gilson Seminar students—all set to the jazzy strains of Natalie and Nat King Cole’s duet of “Unforgettable.”
Then President David Sylvester kicked things off with a welcome to guests, who ranged from students and Collegium members to colleagues and family. Dr. Sylvester recalled his own welcome party two summers ago, bemoaning the fact that the assembled could not celebrate in person in the sunshine of Scollard Park, as he had been feted.
As the program unfolded, however, the inability to gather together did not stand in the way of heartfelt praise for each man. Dr. Ginther offered a tribute to Fr. Galadza, who is retiring from MASI, citing his “dogged commitment to academics,” his “passion for Eastern Christian studies” and his deep faith.
The Dean recalled that even though the two men were doing doctoral studies at the same time at St. Mike’s, it was only during the negotiations in 2017 to bring MASI from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa to St. Michael’s that they met, and Dr. Ginther expressed great admiration for Fr. Galadza’s dedication to students, MASI and the Church.
In response, Fr. Galadza offered his thanks, and expressed his delight at finally being able to spend more time with Olenka, his wife of 41 years.
“God bless all of you,” he said, and guests responded with a flurry of virtual toasts and clapping emojis.
Then Dr. Sylvester offered thanks to Dean Ginther for his service to the Faculty of Theology, noting that, as both men are mediaevalists, the former knew the latter’s academic reputation long before the two met, given Dr. Ginther’s profile as a scholar of Robert Grosseteste and his work in digital humanities.
Calling him a champion of the Faculty, the President cited the Dean’s “tireless work” in renewing the graduate division of St. Michael’s, citing three new hires as an exciting indication of things to come.
Dr. Ginther responded with thanks to faculty staff and his colleagues, and told those assembled how much he is looking forward to returning to the classroom after his year-long research leave.
“It’s been 12 years” since he’s had a leave, he noted.
This prompted another flurry of toasts and clapping icons.
Then it was Dr. Boyagoda’s turn to be honoured. With some gentle teasing, the President noted that if he left anything out in his introduction “Randy would fill it in.”
Dr. Sylvester thanked the outgoing Principal for his vision for St. Michael’s, noting that he was at the forefront of the renewal of the university’s programming and repetition, helping to restore St. Mike’s to its place as the leader in Catholic education.
In his response, Dr. Boyagoda, who has been named Vice Dean, Undergraduate in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto, offered thanks to many people, and then concluded his remarks with an anecdote.
He had just been the basement of Elmsley Hall with a young colleague to seek out furniture for the office he will maintain at St. Mike’s, as he will teaching the Gilson Seminar next year. The new employee who greeted him thought he was a student.
“I’m leaving here feeling young!” he proclaimed, and everyone offered a virtual toast.
Then came a round of comments from such notables as Collegium Chair Fr. Don McLeod, CSB, and Dr. Christopher Brittain, Dean of Divinity at Trinity College.
It was not the in-person party that anyone had imagined, but it was a heartfelt send-off, and the community wishes all three godspeed as they head off in new directions.