Bishop Joseph Zuk: A brief biographical overview

Bishop Joseph Zuk

Joseph A. Zuk was the first Ukrainian Orthodox bishop in America, but little has been written about his life. I don’t know a lot, but from the sources I’ve collected, we can piece together a brief biographical sketch. This isn’t much, but I thought it might be worthwhile to get the very basics out there, so we can begin filling in the gaps.

Zuk was born in Eastern Galicia in the early 1870s. He graduated from the University of Lemberg, and then earned a Doctorate of Divinity at the Theological Seminary at Innesbruck. At 33, he became the seminary rector. Later, he was elevated to the rank of mitred prelate, and Pope Pius X appointed him a papal delegate and administrator in Bosnia.

In 1922, Zuk came to America. Six years later, in 1928, he and other Ukrainian Catholic clergy left Rome to join the Orthodox Church. As a priest, Zuk served in Syracuse, NY; Passaic, NJ; Allentown, PA; and McAdoo, PA. He became affiliated with the American Orthodox Catholic Church of Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh, and in 1932 Zuk was consecrated a bishop by Ofiesh and Bishop Sophronios Bishara in New York City. According to Fr. Seraphim Surrency in The Quest for Orthodox Unity in America, Zuk had about half a dozen parishes in his jurisdiction.

Zuk presided over the first Ukrainian diocese in America for just 17 months. On February 23, 1934, Zuk died in St. Petersburg, Florida, “after an illness since the time he was consecrated bishop” (Syracuse Herald, 2/28/1934). He was reported to be about 60 years old.

By 1934, Ofiesh had married a young girl and the AOCC was functionally dead. Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou of the Greek Archdiocese presided at Zuk’s funeral, which took place in Carteret, NJ. Zuk was buried in Perth Amboy, NJ. Two years later, the Ukrainian diocese formally joined the Ecumenical Patriarchate — an affiliation which continues to this day.

This article was written by Matthew Namee.

21 Replies to “Bishop Joseph Zuk: A brief biographical overview”

  1. For some reason I thought the Ukrainian eparchy joined the EP far later than the 1930s. Was there another group that split and joined the EP in the 1990s (perhaps a split from one of the schismatic Ukrainian churches back East)?

    1. The Ukrainian group that joined with the EP in 1937 broke off from the American Orthodox Catholic Church under Aftimios Ofiesh. Another Ukrainian group (in both the US and Canada), led briefly by Metr. Germanos Shehadi, joined the UAOC in 1924. The UAOC group’s Canadian parishes joined in the EP in 1990, while its American ones did so in 1996.

      Here’s a chart.

  2. Why invent the wheel. Get in touch with some scholars and get the real information before you put something up here. If I remember from my history class, he was born in Pidkamin or a village near Pidkamin and was influenced by trips across the border to Pochaijiv. Also he reacted against the campaign of the Polish monastery in Pidkamin that was in competition for local people’s souls. Right out of Ivan Franko!

    1. Jake, the information I got came from contemporary newspaper accounts, the official history on the Ukrainian diocesan website, and the Surrency book I referred to in the article. I’m not pretending to write a scholarly paper on Zuk, or something like that. I’m just trying to present some basic facts (as best I can ascertain them) and open the floor for discussion. If you’ve got better information, by all means, please share it. We welcome guest articles and so forth here at But I don’t typically hold off on publishing my own findings just because someone, somewhere, might know more than me. (With that approach, I’d never publish a thing — which some might say is preferable!) If those Zuk scholars are out there, their work isn’t on JSTOR or ProQuest or the other standard databases. Please let me know where I can read the scholarly work to which you refer.

  3. It’s good to remember that there are essentially two main strains of Ukrainian Orthodoxy: those who established themselves separately from the Russian Church (mostly from Eastern Ukraine and arguably the larger group) and those who established themselves out of the Greek-Catholic Church (mostly from Galicia). Zuk’s group was of the latter composition. Their story in some ways parallels ACROD’s early history of struggle against celibacy, Latinization, etc. They were not born of a struggle to be Ukrainian. The events in Ukraine with Lypkywskyj and the autocephalous movement were not attractive to these Galician immigrants. A real demonstration of this was in the choice of liturgical language: most of the Zuk/Spilka/Kuschak parishes continued to use Church Slavonic liturgically, while the UAOC and the UOC-USA used Ukrainian.

    1. Thank you, Dn. David. Sorting out the differences between the various groups can be challenging!

  4. As I’ve mentioned earlier,there WAS a second Ukrainian Orthodox Church that was formed with the Blessing of Archbishop Michael of the Greek Archdiocese circa 1954.
    The Hierarch of the group was Archbishop Pallady(Rudenko),later joined by Archbishop Ihor(Huba).The official name of this jurisdiction was”Holy Ukrainian Autocephalous Church in Exile”,as such they were recognised by Constantinople,hence part of “World Orthodoxy.”The last cleric of this group,the Mitred Archpriest Vitaly Sahaydakivsky,reposed in Toronto in 1999.By that time,the jurisdiction had ceased to exist,though there ia a group out there still using their name.

  5. Matthews, I find this part a little hard to understand:
    ‘Zuk …graduated from the University of Lemberg, and then earned a Doctorate of Divinity at the Theological Seminary at Innesbruck. ‘
    He came from a peasant background so I doubt he was a univseridy student. Don’t you mean He was a seminary student at the Ukrainian catholic theological academy in Lviv, not the University of Lviv. Also a doctor of divinity is an honorary degree not an earned degree.
    Also you say you use “contemporary newspaper accounts”, so I assume you use “Svoboda” which was the largest and most important newspaper at the time. It is now on the web so you don’t have to order microfiche anymore. All the early church battles were mentioned in the pages of this newspaper.

    1. I used the following sources:

      New York Times: 9/26/1932, 2/25/1934
      Syracuse Herald: 2/28/1934
      Oakland Tribune: 3/2/1934
      The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America by Fr. Serafim Surrency (1974)
      An Outline History of the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA

      I haven’t found material on Zuk in Svoboda. I’ve seen later issues of the publication, but my (admittedly limited) searches didn’t turn up any Zuk references. I’m sure I missed something.

      Regarding Zuk’s education — this information came primarily from the two New York Times articles. Of course, it’s entirely possible that they got it wrong. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Zuk or Ukrainian Orthodox history; I’m just trying to share what information I’ve gathered, in the hopes that we can begin to learn more about Zuk.

  6. Is the picture of Zuk here a photo, or a painting? I assume the latter, given that he died in 1934 before color photos were widespread. It also looks somewhat two-dimensional if you magnify it.

    What is the source of the picture? Perhaps as a matter of course the contributors here should include the sources of their images, as is standard in scholarly presentations (PowerPoint slides, etc.). Even if it’s just from another web site.

  7. Dear Matthew,
    Thanks for your reply. As a primary source the newspaper Svoboda is the first place to go. The correct spelling of the surname is Zhuk.
    For secondary sources the first scholar to pick up is the book “Ukrainians in the United States”. Halich, Wasyl. Chicago, Ill. : R and E Research Associates, 1969. E 184 U5 H3 1969.
    And as for Honcharenko, theWasyl Halich Papers, ca. 1921-1971. Immigration History Research Center. University of Minnesota
    For example in Halich’s book pages 39-72 give you the religious background history. Page 151 has a good table of the 118 Uniate priests in the USA and their points of origin. Pages 315-327 give the whole historical background of the Ukrainian orthodox churches in the USA. Page 309 gives info on the first meeting held in NY on Feb. 23, 1927 with 26 Uniate priests, most of whom retracted their signatures to a document to become Orthodox. Page 319 discusses the meeting of April 9, 1929 of 9 remaining Uniate priests and 34 laymen in Allentown, PA. A consistory was elected of 3 priests. This is significant because what became know as the “Zhukite Church” had an authoritarian model like the Uniate consistory in Lviv. Zuk sent a petition to the EP but received no reply. Zuk died in 1934 and Fr. Theodor Shpilka, from Carpatho-Ukraine (not Galicia) replaced Zuk. On Oct. 13, 1936, the PC approved the entry of this group in his jurisdiction and Shpilka was consecrated a bishop on February 28, 1937. The bibliography is on pages 481-508. Also there is a doctoral thesis from Yale University quoted which included interviews with alive at the time of the founding of the “Zhukite” Church as it was known. Mamchur, Stephen W. “Nationalism, Religion and the Problem of Assimilation among Ukrainians in the United States. PhD thesis, Yale University, 1942. See the interview with Fr. Hunchak, Feb. 26, 1969.

  8. Are you sure that Bishop Bohdan(Shpilka) was from Carpatho-Ukraine rather than Galicia?I know that many Uniates from that region were or became Ukrainian in outlook,but most of those who returned to Orthodoxy from that region became Russophiles or “Carpathorussians”(now the more PC Carpatho Rusyns).
    V.Rev.Andrei Alexiev

  9. Collator,

    I agree with your suggestion for attributing the sources of the pictures. Matthew, I know you’re busy, but as site editor, what are your thoughts?

    Jake, your suggestion for sources is good. Svoboda was utilized when we discussed Archbishop Arseny and it ought to be utilized more as time permits. Some of their scans are fuzzy, but it is helpful nonetheless. The Halich book is one I don’t own but have read (years ago, now) but you’re right–it really ought to be one of the basic sources to which we turn as we begin our investigations.

    In this case, I think Matthew was, as he said, just trying to get out some information that he had and start a conversation, which I think he’s done.

  10. Contact Fr. Dr. Andriy Partykevich. He has a doctorate from Harvard University.
    Another professor who has reached this topic is:
    Dr. Frank Sysyn:
    What about the old 2 volume Ukrainian Encyclopedia that came out in the 1960’s.
    I don’t think:
    The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America by Fr. Serafim Surrency (1974) is a reliable source, Matthew. You should also check the Uniate newspapers of the time, because they all reported these events in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

  11. Helen, Archimandrite Seraphim’s book is generally accurate for HEOCACNA and FOGCPJA. He may have made errors in some of the other details. I’ve not used it beyond those two unity attempts. The newspapers definitely need to be investigated for thorough research, of course. I don’t know that Matthew intends to take on a large project, here, but perhaps his post might spur on someone else.

    Thank you for the contacts regarding Ukrainian American Orthodox history. I am sure Matthew will contact them.

  12. I was asked to verify the birth place of Bishop Bohdan Shpilka.

    If I remember correctly, Halich’s book, based on Mamchur’s doctoral thesis, cites the birthplace of Bishop Bohdan Shpilka as “Carpatho-Ukraine”. Who knows if the person interviewed (Fr. Hunchak) meant what today is known as Zakarpathia. That is the areas formerly under either Slovakia or Hungary in the time period of immigration OR if he meant the various Carpathian regions of Ukraine which would include parts of Galicia including Lemkivshyna or the Boiko area or even the Hutsul area.

    Probably the best person to contact to verify the birthplace of Zuk would be Fr. Dr. Andriy Partykevich.

    I was looking over the weekend for a book published by the Pontifical Institute of Oriental Studies in Rome which lists all the Uniate students who studied outside of what is present day Ukraine in Western Europe. It includes good information on the students going back to about the 1870’s including place of birth, names of both parents, dates studied in Catholic academic institutions, degrees completed, dates of ordination and date of death. Since Zuk studied in Innsbruck, all of the above information would be printed in the book.

  13. Dear Fr. Andrew S. Damick, I find your references to the Ukrainian Orthodox in Canada confusing. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada was founded in 1918 to be a strictly Canadian church. Its first hierarch was Metr. Germanos Shehadi, who ordained the first 3 pioneer priests in Canada. The rest of the pioneer priests were from Orthodox churches. Unlike the Ukrainians in the USA tthe church was not founded by Uniate priests. Read original charter of the UOCC or any of the books written on it by Prof. Paul Yuzik, University of Ottawa or Prof. Odarka Trosky, University of Manitoba. The Canadian church refused to joined the UAOC or even the American branch of it. Until the late 1980’s the UOCC was the largest Orthodox Church in Canada, now surpassed by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis in Canada.
    The differences in the Canadian and American Ukrainian Orthodox churches have to do with the differences of settlement patterns. In Canada, the very significant “first wave” of 200,000 Ukrainians (in families) before WW1 settled in block settlements on the Canadian prairies not in cities or working in factories as in the USA interspersed with other immigrant groups. The rural Ukrainian block settlements were very well organized and built churches sooon after their arrival.

    1. I must admit that it’s been a while since I studied the question closely. My earlier post was essentially a summary of some notes I made a few years ago, largely based on Odarka Trosky’s The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church in Canada. (FWIW, I wasn’t researching Canadian Ukrainians, but rather Germanos Shehadi.) I don’t have access to the book at the moment, so I can’t check whether my notes were in error.

  14. Protopresbyter John Yurcisin in his Carpatho-Russian History (which is an unpublished manuscript which he used as class notes and, given the lack of citations, a non-scholarly work) says the following about Bishop Bogdan:

    “Upon death of Bishop Zuk, Very Rev. Nicholas Pidhorecky became administrator of the Diocese. The chief task during his administration was to find a successor to Bishop Zuk. Such a candidate was found in the person of Archimandrite Bogdan Spilka, who was brought from Europe. He was a native of Galicia, who studied in Lvov, Vienna, Presov and Prague, Czechoslovakia.”

  15. Thank you,Jake,I should have thought of the Lemko region,since my late wife’s four grandparent all were born in that region.Fr.Andrei

Comments are closed.