Fr. Achille Delaere – A Redemptorist with a Huge Heart
(On the occasion of the 150th anniversary his birthday)
(Lviv, Ukraine) We will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Achille Delaere’s birth on April 17th, 2018. On this day, three Provinces and one Vice-Province of our Congregation: his mother Province of Belgium (now part of the Province of St. Clement), in which he entered into the congregation and the other two Provinces and one Vice-Province which he established (the Yorkton Province in Canada, the Provinces of Lviv in Ukraine, and the Vice-Province Michalovce in Slovakia), are grateful for the gift of life of father Achille and for his heroic feats as a Redemptorist.
Achille Delaere was born on April 17, 1868, in the family of a rural farmer in the village of Lendelede, Belgium. At the age of twenty, Achille joined the Redemptorists of the Belgian Province. In 1896, he received priestly ordination, and in 1899 he began his work in Canada among immigrants from Eastern Europe. In 1906, Fr. Achille decided on a step that opened new horizons, both for him personally and for the whole congregation.
In his last year at seminary Fr. Achille learned that he would receive a special task from the Province, as a missionary among emigrants from Eastern Europe in Canada. It was with this in mind that he went to the Polish Redemptorists to learn the language. At first, he mistakenly studied Slovak, then Polish. On October 11, 1899, Fr. Achille arrived at the Redemptorist Monastery in Brandon, Canada. Soon after this, he realized that the emigrants from Eastern Europe, whom he was to serve, were mostly Ukrainian, they were Catholics, but Eastern rite. They had their own Ukrainian language, and in prayer and worship, they used Slavonic Church. And most importantly – these people did not have their own priests and therefore were deprived of spiritual care. That is when Fr. Achille decided to help them – he made the decision to change to Eastern rite and study these two foreign languages. This proposal was warmly supported by the local archbishop Langevin because it was on his initiative that the Belgian Redemptorists sent Father Delaere to Canada. On March 23, 1906, he received a positive answer from Rome, which, however, demanded that Fr. Delaere make a great sacrifice – having accepted the Eastern rite, he could no longer serve in the Latin rite. What did this mean for a person who had lived all his life in the Latin rite? Here’s how it was remembered many years later by his confrere Fr. Jozef Schrijvers: “Finally, to begin this mission, it was necessary to start with a great sacrifice. It was necessary to say goodbye to the Latin rite, with its prayers and its mystical Mass. It was necessary to hide away all the memories of the past, touching moments from his First Communion, his priestly ordinations and the first Mass he served, to forget the prayers of the Latin prayer book in order to become accustomed to new worship, whose majestic beauty did not yet touch his Latin soul. The beauty of this new worship could not speak to his Latin soul, the meaning of the prayers not being understood, and would continue not to be understood for a long time, his task initially was only to observe enthusiastically. However, the kind intention was not enough. It was necessary to pay attention to their pronunciation, gestures, even when making the sign of the Cross, in order not to offend their [emigrants from Galicia] feelings; and not to become known as Latins who dressed as them but came only to break their holy Eastern traditions.”
However, this did not stop Fr. Achille. He deliberately sacrificed and accepted the Eastern Byzantine Rite. Having received permission, he studied its rituals and both of its languages: Ukrainian and Church-Slavonic with the help of the Basilian monks in Winnipeg, and on September 26, 1906, he served his first Holy Liturgy in the Eastern Rite.
This day was significant not only for Fr. Achille. This day became significant for the whole of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. Founded by St. Alphonsus in 1732 in Italy, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, during the life of its founder, crossed the Alps (in the person of St. Clement) and then crossed the borders of different countries. In 1832, under the guidance of the Servant of God Joseph Passerat, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Redemptorists were found in different countries, different environments, among different people with different mentalities and in different climatic zones. All this required maximum adaptation so that, wherever they serve, they could preach the Great Redemption.
The step of Fr. Achille Delaere was no less important. By this step, he made it possible for the Congregation to cross not only geographical spaces, to be closer to the poor and most abandoned. By this step, he, and subsequently other confreres, crossed something more than mountains and oceans with all the consequences: Fr. Achille decided to serve those people with love, and being so alien and distant mentally to this community, he became for the emigrants from Halychyna/Galicia (or Western Ukraine) suddenly completely trustworthy. In short time, other Redemptorists made the same step: Henrik Boels, Noël Decamps, and Charles Têcheur.
Father Achille also made great efforts to fulfil the plans of Andrey Sheptytsky, the great Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to open a monastery of the Redemptorists of the Eastern rite in Halychyna. In 1910, the Metropolitan. Andrey was in Canada and saw the zealous work of Belgian missionaries among Ukrainian emigrants. Therefore, the Metropolitan asked the Father General and the Belgian Provincial to send missionaries to Halychyna. In 1912, Fr. Achille personally visited Halychyna and Rome, where he presented a report to the Father General in which he said: “It seems to me that if our glorious Father Alphonsus were still alive on earth, he would write a leaflet to his children asking:” Who wants to sacrifice for the salvation of Ukrainians?” This report affected the positive decision of the General Government in this case. Thus, on August 21, 1913, the first Redemptorists community on Ukrainian soil was founded, which proved to be very fruitful in getting vocations, since in 1921 a separate Vice-Province was established. In July 1928, two eastern rite monasteries in Canada (Yorkton and Ituna) became a part of Vice-Province in Halychyna. Following the example of the Belgian Redemptorists, the confreres in Czechoslovakia in 1921 established a community of the Eastern rite in Michalovce.
Analyzing this heroic deed of Fr. Achille Delaere, one can see how potentially fruitful the willingness of a Redemptorist can be to serve anywhere, where circumstances require it. At last in the General Chapter, a lot was spoken about this. A Redemptorist cannot be tied to his own land, his language, his rite. He must be free and open to being able to preach the Great Redemption where the Church expects and needs it. Another point: Fr. Achille did not consider the communities of the Eastern rite Redemptorists to only his business, although he did care for them and fought on their behalf. When, in 1929, the Yorkton and Ituna communities were placed under the jurisdiction of Toronto Province, father protested because he believed that it would do harm to the communities. He even went to Halychyna, where he stayed all year. He returned at the end of 1931 when these communities were again in the jurisdiction of the Vice-Province in Halychna. He also did not hold on to power or office, as he was a free-spirited man. He wasn’t a Vice-provincial for the communities on two continents when they were part of one Vice-Province. And at the end of his life Fr. Achille Delaere wasn’t even the Superior of his community.
What did the young priest think about when he went into the unknown when he began to serve these emigrants in Canada? The words of his confrere Fr. Ivan Nagirny, who became a Redemptorist due to the example of Fr. Achille’s sacrifice, may be the answer. In 1938 Fr. Ivan wrote a short essay about Fr. Achille, whom he quoted as saying: “I do not know, I do not know why I so loved the Ukrainian people … I loved you, poor people, because I loved Him who was like you, poor, forgotten, He was like you, disowned and condemned to being scourged, and crowned with thorns and crucified on the mount of Calvary as they divided His clothing. I loved you, Ukrainian people because I believe that you will be moved and will resurrect, as your Lord and Savior resurrected … I have loved you because your life is like the life of my Lord – I loved you because I loved my Lord Jesus… “.
On July 12, 1939, the heart of a great missionary, Fr. Achille Delaere, stopped in Yorkton. His obituary ended with the following words: “Father Delaere will remain forever the greatest in the Belgian Province, and we hope that we will have him as a great patron in heaven for the Ukrainian people.”
It will not be an exaggeration when we say that Father Delaere is a great one in the whole Congregation. After all, thanks to him, in the first constitution of our congregation, it is indicated that the Redemptorists are: “the missionary institution of various rites”. He, Achille Delaere, was a successful experiment and innovation in the Congregation, which yielded plentiful fruits. For today the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer is in many rites. In addition to the Latin rite, Redemptorists fulfil their missionary service in the: Byzantine (Yorkton Province, Canada; Lviv Province, Ukraine; Michalovce Vice-Province, Slovakia), Chaldean (Iraq), Syro Malabar (India), and Maronite (Lebanon) rites.
Today, when we celebrate 150 years since the birth of Fr. Achille Delaere, we want to be brave and free like him, that we can serve the poor in our lives, and especially where the Congregation and the whole Church expect us to serve. The example of Father Achille shows that for a Redemptorist, who devotes his life to the Redeemer and has a great and sincere desire to preach ‘His Great Redemption’.
Fr. Ruslan Pikh,
Head of the historic commission
Translated by Fr. Taras Kchik
Socius of the Novitiate
Lviv Province of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer