PHILADELPHIA — Retired Metropolitan-Archbishop Stephen Sulyk was remembered at his April 13 funeral as “a diligent and demanding pastor” who undertook “his service with great responsibility, seriousness and sternness.”
Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, the principle celebrant of the Divine Liturgy, said the late archbishop was dedicated to serving the people of God and the church during his 20 years as metropolitan and his earlier parish assignments across the United States.
“In this last year and in previous visits, I got to see a man that had arrived at serenity. A man who kept growing in Christ’s faith. A man not afraid of death. He was waiting for God’s will. Christ was growing in him,” Gudziak said.
Sulyk, 95, died April 6 of complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. He headed the Philadelphia archeparchy from 1981 to 2000.
A limited number of people attended the funeral at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia because of government-ordered restrictions on the size of gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The liturgy was livestreamed on the archeparchy’s website.
Celebrated during what Ukrainian Catholics call Bright Week, the funeral incorporated Easter themes and hymns in the celebration of Sulyk’s life and ministry.
During his homily Gudziak described the late archbishop’s birth in 1924 in Balnycia, Ukraine, a village in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. “Little could anyone in the family imagine that this boy from Balnycia, could became a pastor, let alone the metropolitan in America,” Gudziak said.
He recalled that World War II erupted when Sulyk was 15. Balnycia was a battleground between the Russian Soviet Army and German Nazi forces and thousands of people died in the area. After the war, Sulyk and his family fled to Germany where he entered the seminary and eventually came to the United States in 1948. He continued his priestly studies in Washington at St. Josaphat’s Seminary and The Catholic University of America. He earned a licentiate in sacred theology from Catholic University and was ordained in 1952.
Gudziak recounted how as a young priest, Sulyk served in seven parishes in Nebraska, Ohio and Pennsylvania before he was assigned to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, serving there from 1961 until he became an archbishop in 1981.
During his time in Perth Amboy, after listening to the Archbishop Fulton Sheen program, he began a private Holy Hour devotion, praying before the Blessed Sacrament an hour every day, the archbishop said.
Gudziak also recalled that as a first-year seminarian in Rome at the Ukrainian Catholic Seminary of St. Sophia, he had the privilege to serve as an altar server during the Divine Liturgy March 1, 1981, at which Sulyk was consecrated a bishop. St. John Paul II had appointed him to head the archeparchy Dec. 29, 1980. He retired Nov. 29, 2000.
Referring to Holy Week, Gudziak noted how blessed Sulyk was to experience death in solidarity with the death of Jesus and then to be buried during Bright Week, the week following Easter, with the traditional song “Christ Is Risen” resounding throughout the cathedral.
“We commend you to a merciful God. Pray with us and for us,” he concluded.
In remarks at the end of the Divine Liturgy, Gudziak cited the numerous letters, messages, telephone calls that were received by the archeparchy recounting Sulyk’s dedicated years of service to the church. In particular, letters of condolence and solidarity were received from Pope Francis, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, and numerous other church officials, patriarchs and leaders of religious congregations.
Sulyk was buried in the cathedral crypt.