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Death Notice Guestbook

Byzantine church leader dies

Metropolitan Judson, 70, led archdiocese stretching from Erie to Texas

Wednesday, April 25, 2001

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Metropolitan Judson Procyk of the Byzantine Catholic Archdiocese of Pittsburgh, a reformer who sought to revitalize parishes and fought for the traditional rites and rights of Eastern Catholics, died early yesterday at his home in Observatory Hill. He was 70. "This is just an unbelievable shock," said the Rev. Michael Wytish, communications director for the archdiocese.

The Most Reverend Judson M. Procyk conducts services in October 2000 at the 75th Anniversary of the Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

Since 1995, the youthful looking Metropolitan Judson had been head of an archdiocese that stretched from Erie to Texas and was the only self-governing Eastern Catholic Church in the United States. His archdiocese included 71,000 of the 236,000 Byzantine Catholics in the United States. Eastern Catholics are loyal to the pope, but follow the practices of Eastern Orthodoxy.

In recent years, Metropolitan Judson had tried to restore the right to ordain married men as Eastern Catholic priests in the West. Within his archdiocese, he worked to decentralize church government and to renew his parishes liturgically and spiritually.

"He brought a lot of dignity to our church through his personal presence and through his interactions with others on the local and national level," said the Rev. John Petro, rector of SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary on the North Side.

Those in his own church, the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian churches praised both his devotion to his flock and to Christian unity.

"He has tried to be a father to his community and to make himself available at all times. He was sympathetic to the concerns of the faithful and priests alike," said the Rev. Russell Duker, vicar general of the archdiocese.

Sharon Mech, a cantor from Columbus, Ohio, recalled that the first time she saw him, he spent three hours talking and posing for pictures with hundreds of people on a pilgrimage. Later, he was instrumental in establishing an institute to train cantors, where she taught.

"He paid close attention to the liturgical niceties and was passionate about improving liturgical observances ... but it wasn't for the sake of a pretty show. He loved God, and loved good liturgy as a perfect sacrifice of loving praise to God. More than that, though, he made people feel loved. That's what Christ did," she said.

Bishop Donald Wuerl of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh called him a good friend who was a "pastorally gifted servant of the Lord."

Metropolitan Judson was raised in Uniontown. There, the Sisters of St. Basil the Great all knew him as a young boy. His friendly, humorous disposition never changed, said Sister Margaret Kapusnak.

The sisters could always tease him about his love for the Steelers, expressing mock surprise that he came to Sunday afternoon church activities in the fall. But they also knew he was wholly devoted to the church.

"I think he spent himself in the service of God," she said.

He was ordained in 1957 and served parishes throughout the region. He once described himself as "a brick-and-mortar priest."

In 1973, he became rector of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall. There he was ordained an archbishop on February 7, 1995.

"There was a whole new spirit in the metropolitan archdiocese," said the Rev. John Long, a Jesuit expert on East-West church relations who formerly taught at Rome's Pontifical Institute for Eastern Christian Studies.

"I had a sense that there had been a period of stagnation, but that he picked it up and really worked to develop the pastoral activities," Long said.

Metropolitan Judson soon jettisoned the large, Downtown office building he had inherited. He moved the chancery back to a house on Observatory Hill.

He instituted a priests' council to advise him on important matters. Together, the council published the first policy handbook for pastors and also organized a committee to work for the revitalization and renewal of parishes.

"If he gave you something to do," Petro recalled, "he gave you the room to do it and trusted you with it. He allowed you to do your job."

One of the concerns closest to his heart was restoring ancient Eastern traditions in the United States, where Byzantine churches had undergone creeping Westernization. He urged the restoration of distinctive Eastern practices, especially that of conferring the sacraments of baptism, chrismation (anointing with oil) and Eucharist at the same time.

He became the first Eastern Catholic metropolitan in the world to produce an addition to the Code of Canon law for his own church. Initially, the Vatican balked at approving the code because one of its 50 laws allowed for the ordination of married men.

Married men have always been ordained for Eastern Catholic churches in Europe and the Middle East. But in 1929, Rome banned the practice in America, after Latin-rite bishops complained that Slavic priests with wives and children were scandalizing the Irish faithful. The ban led many Eastern Catholics to convert to Orthodoxy.

Metropolitan Judson often said that restoration of the married priesthood was necessary and inevitable.

"The documents of Vatican II to the Eastern Church stressed a return to our time-honored customs and the traditions that are organic to what makes an Eastern church an Eastern church. In that case, one of the time-honored customs and traditions of the East has always been a married clergy," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during a meeting of bishops in Rome.

In 1999, Metropolitan Judson received some of what he wanted. In approving his code for the Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States, the Vatican permitted its bishops to submit the names of married candidates to Rome for approval on a case-by-case basis.

A highlight of his service as archbishop was the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Metropolitan Byzantine Archdiocese of Pittsburgh, held at the David Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, in October 1999. There, he called on the faithful to enter "the new Christian millennium as an American Byzantine Catholic Church." It must not be an ethnic enclave, but a Christian community with a great treasure to offer everyone who needs Jesus, he said.

One of his guests of honor at that celebration was Metropolitan Nicholas of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown, which was formed in a schism from the Byzantine Archdiocese after Rome forbade the ordination of married men. Metropolitan Judson longed to restore the union between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Metropolitan Maximos of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh considered Metropolitan Judson a close friend. They prayed that their fellow believers overseas, where there is often open hostility between Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic believers, would one day share the good relationship that they enjoyed with each other.

Metropolitan Judson's death "is a great loss for all of us, not only for the Byzantine Catholics, but a great loss for the church of Christ. I could not make a difference between him and any of my colleages among the Orthodox bishops. He was just one of us, period, " Maximos said.

"Probably they were needing him more in heaven than we do here."

Metropolitan Judson is survived by a sister, Ida M. Procyk of Uniontown.

His body will be taken to St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall Saturday at 2 p.m., where there will be visitation all weekend. A prayer service will be held Sunday at 7 p.m. His funeral will be Monday at 10:30 a.m. Savolskis-Wasik-Glenn Funeral Home in Munhall is handling the arrangements.

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