Whitney Pier cleric finds God in people — and in solitude

4 February 2013, 15:14 | Kaleidoscope-digest | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

JOHN DeMONT

20 January 2013 Herald News

PRECISELY WHAT is the most interesting thing about Rev. Roman Dusanowskyj, the priest at Holy Ghost Ukrainian Church in Whitney Pier?

Is it that he once did a stint as a cardinal’s chauffeur in Rome or that his background in geography — Dusanowskyj’s first degree was in forestry — allows him to help the coast guard’s search and rescue efforts?

Is it that he is conversant in sign language as well as English and the Ukrainian in which he conducts the Sunday liturgy at Holy Ghost?

Or is it that he sleeps on a one-inch mattress on the floor and starts each day at the bracing hour of 3:30 a.m.?

Perhaps, it is that he lived for two years as a religious hermit atop a mountain on the Ukrainian-Romanian border, where it took him 3 hours to walk down to the village where he conducted Sunday service and another five for the return trip.

Or that he might still be there today had the fallout from the Chornobyl nuclear disaster not damaged his kidneys so severely that he had to return to Canada for treatment?

I, personally, think it is this. When his bishop enquires over the telephone how the Toronto-born cleric is doing in his parish in this somewhat rundown former steel community, Dusanowskyj respectfully responds: “Bishop, I am 2,000 miles away from head office. I am in heaven.”

Heaven, in case you haven’t been there, is a Byzantine-styled church on the back streets of a community that put the multi into multiculturalism.

More than a century ago, on this site, the first Ukrainian immigrants working in the Sydney steel mills worshipped.

Today, with the mills gone, the Pier isn’t what it once was, and at Holy Ghost, Dusanowskyj ministers to 87 fourth- or fifth-generation Ukrainian families.

“The bishop sent me here for a two-year period 11 years ago,” he says. “The longest two-year-period in my life and also the best two-year-period in my life.”

Dusanowskyj is 57 and, in street clothes, elfin with a white beard that he recently trimmed as part of a fundraising effort.

Though he’s seen hard things, bemused eyes peer from behind his glasses.

He sighs at the mention of the well-publicized Christmas break-in during which someone smashed one of the church’s stained-glass doors and made off with hundreds of dollars destined for orphans in the Ukraine.

For Dusanowskyj, the donations that have poured in since, from as far away as the United States, simply prove the goodness of God and the inherent humanity of mankind.

As if to underscore this point, as we chat a thirtyish man in a leather coat steps inside the boarded-over church door. A complete stranger, he hands the priest an envelope full of cash for the church and orphans, and then leaves as quickly as he arrived.

“To live in a large parish like Toronto after being a hermit would have just finished me off,” Dusanowskyj says.

Someday, as unlikely as this sounds at a time when parish priests are in such short supply, he hopes to return to the solitary cabin.

Not because he doesn’t like people. But because, as is befitting a man who spent two years in a freezing wooden cabin in the European mountains with no electric heat, running water or indoor toilet, he is drawn to the solitary, contemplative life.

“Prayer for me is not words,” he says. “It is a state of mind, an acute awareness that I’m standing in the presence of God, whether it is in a church or washing the floor.

“The problem is that I am a weak person in that I get easily distracted. So the solitude helps me to focus and to return back into that awareness in a deeper way.”

For now, when even the low buzz of Whitney Pier is too much for him, Dusanowskyj has to be content with the Cape Breton highlands.

There, in vales too isolated to pick up signals on his cellphone, he sometimes finds the quiet he needs — and the God he seeks.

Then, finally, he heads back to a church where the faith has never wavered.

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Last comments

  • ustavschyk | 16 July 2019, 22:45

    Google Translate strikes again.

  • Ігор Затятий | 16 July 2019, 10:31

    «Обіцянка - цяцянка, а дурневі радість»

  • barni | 16 July 2019, 09:48

    " Коли ми навчимося бути разом, єдиною (Українською, а не католицькою авт.ком.) Церквою, перемагати те, що нас роз’єднує" - ТОДІ МИ СТАНЕМОГ ДІЙСНО НЕЗАЛЕЖНОЮ УКРАЇНОЮ. Браво Владико!!!

  • Zenia | 16 July 2019, 02:10

    Дай Боже! Греків довго обманювали проросійською пропагандою, й вони останні роки погано ставились до українців через брехню кремля... Може, тепер протверезіють?

  • barni | 15 July 2019, 23:42

    От тут то (я готовий спокійно вислухати всіх) НАМ ПОТРІБНО ПОВЧИТИСЯ в рф? ХТО, ДЕ І ЯК ЗАХИЩАЄ УКРАЇНУ ЇЇ ПЦУ !? Може шевчук зі своїми ієрархами та з папою в римі? Чи МЗС, зі своєю незліченною

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