- Bishop Soter Stephen Ortynsky and the Genesis of the Eastern Catholic Churches in America by Ivan Kaszczak
Ivan Kaszczak’s recent book provides a helpful resource for those interested in Eastern Christianity and Catholicism in America as well as immigrant studies. The work itself serves as a biography of the first Eastern Catholic bishop assigned to America (and indeed, the Western hemisphere), filling a significant lacuna in American Catholic studies. His book length treatment goes well beyond both his article written two years prior.
To write this work, Kaszczak utilized an extensive body of multi-lingual source materials and treated Catholic-Orthodox tensions as well as Latin Catholic-Eastern Catholic tensions and also internal Eastern Catholic divisions. With all the various factions, one might think Kaszczak would lose the reader on meandering trails. On occasion, one encounters some wanderings, like the aside on Vatican II on page 17, but for the most part, he keeps the biography moving forward. He also handles the various tensions in a balanced manner. For example, although his opening pages discussing the Unia read ever so slightly like a pro-Roman gloss, his handling of Orthodox-Catholic tensions elsewhere is very even-handed, as are his discussions of the internal Catholic and Eastern Catholic divisions. Indeed, more Orthodox and scholars of Orthodoxy ought to read this book to gain a sense of what a balanced presentation can look like (and here his reassessment of Archbishop Ireland on pages 83–84 is helpful).
On the flip side, there are some shortcomings to Kaszczak’s work. The book lacks both a bibliography and an index. In light of his superb use of primary sources, a bibliography could have proven quite helpful and given the various factions and people discussed throughout the biography, an index would have proven very helpful. Indeed, both would have made this biography that much more useful to researchers (professional or lay). Another shortcoming is a lack of thesis or theses driving the work. True, we are taken through Bishop Ortynsky’s life [End Page 88] and that provides a framework, but in light of the various tensions and factions, some deeper analysis could have really made this work shine. There is no interaction with immigration studies, nor what studies are out there regarding Orthodox-Eastern Catholic tensions, conversions, etc. On this score, the reader will simply have to make recourse to them on his or her own. Despite these shortcomings, this is a useful biography to have, whether one considers oneself a lay reader or an academic. Father Kaszczak has done us all a real favor.
Fargo, North Dakota