Fr. Tataryn journeys with St. Demetrius parish every step of the way

  • May 28, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - As a Ukrainian Catholic community gathered to celebrate 50 years of Fr. John Tataryn’s priesthood, they did so with some kilts and bagpipes added into the mix of performances.

Tataryn, although of Ukrainian descent, grew up in Sydney, N.S., a town he said was diverse, with many religions and cultures. But if you didn’t listen to the bagpipes, he said, quoting his father with a laugh, “you didn’t have any culture.”

Tataryn, is the founding priest of St. Demetrius the Great Martyr Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in west-end Toronto, a parish that will also mark its 50th anniversary this month. The community seems to have followed Tataryn’s lead in embracing other cultures and ethnicities, as it was the first Ukrainian church to offer Masses in both Ukrainian and English — a step that was necessary according to the bishop of the time in reaching young couples who were moving to the area.

“When I came here, I went door to door and encouraged them to come,” he said.

Since then, the community has evolved from about 50 people who hosted church activities in their homes to a comprehensive group of 1,200 families that has erected not only a church and hall but an elementary school that requires students to take Ukrainian, a nursing home and a seniors’ residence for independent living which connects to the church through an underground tunnel. It also hosts a dance school for the youth to learn Ukrainian folk dancing — a group that surprised Tataryn with its display of Scottish traditions at the May 24 anniversary celebration of his ordination.

Tataryn was born in 1933 and although his parents’ church had been struck by lightning and burned to the ground just before he came into the world, he was baptized in a community hall and grew up across the street from Catholic nuns. He had considered the priesthood since he was a little boy but it wasn’t until his graduating year at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., that he followed several friends into the seminary, doing his four-year formation at the Catholic University of America in Washington.

“When I was asked by the bishop to organize a parish here, I was young and inexperienced. But fortunately I had a beautiful group of people, of young families,” he said humbly.

Although they didn’t have a lot of money, they kept the parish afloat by selling fruit, vegetables and honey produced on the 1.6-hectare property. And he got to know the group very well because he had to give individual catechesis formation instead of an organized class due to the lack of space.

When the school was built, the community was able to convince Tataryn’s sister, Sr. Rachel, of the Servants of Mary Immaculate in Western Canada, who was already a principal, to lead it. He credits the success of the parish on the people he serves.

“Really, the people are the parish,” Tataryn said. “The important thing is to always have your door open. There are people who have problems you may not understand, but it’s just important that you’re there, sometimes just to hold their hand.”

Long-time parishioner Michael Neprily said there has always been something for everyone at the parish.

“Fr. John has always had programs for everyone from the young married, the singles, young couples, the youth and older members of the community,” Neprily said.

He added that Tataryn is someone they can’t refuse when it comes to getting something done.

“There was never a time when he didn’t have enough people to help carry the ball, but with his supervision you never felt like you were doing it on your own,” Neprily said.

He said Tataryn constantly had new ideas to better serve his people, including buying a house to use as a club house and meeting place for seniors. But Tataryn’s ideas and projects never seemed to prevent him from caring for his flock, said Elsie Yarmol, a parishioner of St. Demetrius since before the church was built.

“He has the foresight of planning and making sure his plans are taken care of,” she said. “He cares about his parishioners extremely.”

When she was 34, Yarmol battled cancer, but all the while, he came to visit her and gave her jobs to do “that weren’t really necessary,” like checking over the church’s books, but which kept her involved and connected to the parish.

“He is our mentor,” she said. “All he has to do is ask, it’s done.”

It helps that they’ve had the stability of having him there for 50 years, she added.

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