- The Religions of Canada ed. by Jamie S. Scott, and: Father Achiel Delaere (1868–1939): The First Eastern Rite Redemptorist and Canada’s Ukrainian Catholic Church by Jozef de Vocht
Religion, identity, immigration, and assimilation are certainly phenomena that are inextricably linked with the Canadian story. The two volumes under review deal with two historical periods where this linkage was particularly formative of Canada’s history: de Vocht speaks to the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century settlement of Ukrainians on the prairies and Scott’s edited volume addresses the contemporary scene of Canada’s religions, significantly affected by post-1960’s immigration. This latter, complex perspective is the focus of Scott’s academic volume: “The Religions of Canada attempts to trace the efforts of Canada’s different spiritual constituencies to negotiate the often-rocky terrain between slavish perpetuation of the religious ways of ‘over there’ and ‘back then’ and creative adaptation of inherited beliefs and practices to the social and cultural demands of a new life in a new world” (xvi). The biography of Achiel Delaere (originally published in Flemish in 1954) admits no such understanding of questions of identity or cultural adaptation. Although claiming to be “neither hagiography nor an edifying story” (xxi), de Vocht’s biography seldom goes beyond a hymn of praise to the man he accurately describes as having “exerted a decisive influence on the Ukrainian Catholic Church, especially in Canada” (xxi). Nonetheless, in different ways, both volumes do contribute to our understanding of how religion and religious institutions influence Canadians.
The Delaere biography is a narrative hailing the “hero.” The author occasionally offers translations of archival documents (particularly from the chronicle of the Yorkton monastery); however, they are not always identified well or notated. The reader is often left trying to decipher the origin or dating of a particular citation. This problem could have been addressed by the editor, who made other corrections to the original (xix). Despite this difficulty and the hagiographic nature of the volume, it does offer insight into the period.
The story of Achiel Delaere is important in the early settlement period of Ukrainians because it reveals two realities faced by the settlers: the absence of their traditional religious environment in Canada, which created an immense vacuum in their community and personal lives; and this gap could not be filled by non-Ukrainian priests because the settlers’ identity did not easily differentiate religious from ethnic identity. Scott’s volume demonstrates how more recent immigrants have [End Page 371] not experienced the former as acutely, but certainly do continue to struggle with the latter question of differentiation of identity. Unfortunately, de Vocht’s account demonstrates his own insensitivity to the issues. In fact, the book is indicative of some of the very problems with which the settlers had to struggle. Both Delaere and de Vocht regarded the settlers’ dilemma as one of religion—to be resolved by a simple adherence to the Catholic Church. Both considered issues of ethnic identification either as intrusions into what was truly important (their Catholicism) or, worse still, as manifestations of “chauvinistic nationalism” (58). The editor, Paul Laverdure, warns the reader of de Vocht’s “combative or controversial style” (xviii), but suggests that this is not reflective of Delaere himself (“De Vocht used Delaere as a stick to beat …” [xviii]). However, Delaere’s words reveal that he believed he was surrounded by enemies who must be defeated: married Ukrainian priests, the Protestants, the Seraphimites, and, perhaps initially, the first Ukrainian bishop in Canada, Nykyta Budka (172). This world of imagined conflict precludes nuance in de Vocht’s and Delaere’s assessment of the Ukrainian immigrants. References to the Ukrainians as “culturally backward” and “unsophisticated” (44), as “fanatical peasants” (97), with only a few being “true Catholics” (63) abound. Further evidence of the cultural and religious denigration suffered by the Ukrainian...