BY DAVID PALFREY
The Sunday Times, April 26, 1998
A grandmother’s prayers more than a century ago for her only son to become a priest — he became a teacher — instead helped two grandsons to fulfill her wish.
In 1998, one of the two celebrates 60 years as a priest and a vocation that remains active to this day.
Indeed at an age when the vast majority of priests — and most everyone else — long since have retired, Msgr. Stephen Hrynuck continues to serve as pastor of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Church in Olyphant.
The octogenarian, who will be 87 in December , continues to baptize, marry and perform all the other sacraments.
Monsignor Hrynuck gives much of the credit for his enduring vocation to that devout maternal grandmother.
"She was a very holy person," he says. "She went even to the Holy Land to make a pilgrimage from Ukraine. She sold a piece of land and went so her son might become a priest."
That son, his Uncle John, became a high school teacher but "without him neither I nor my brother would have become priests," he says.
Uncle assists — Following the death of his mother in her thirties and with their father now busy running the farm, the bachelor uncle became like a father to the two boys and helped them to follow their callings to the priesthood.
Soft spoken and scholarly, Monsignor Hrynuck has served as pastor of the Olyphant church for 46 years.
Today [Sunday, April 26, 1998], beginning with a Service of Thanksgiving at 4 p.m., more than 25 priests and many more friends and parishioners gathered at the landmark edifice on River Street to honor Monsignor Hrynuck on his 60th anniversary.
He was ordained to the priesthood in Rome on April 3, 1938.
The elderly but able priest remembers well his many assignments and experiences in serving God and God’s people — not all of them pleasant or easy.
"When I came to Olyphant there was such dissension among the parishioners! The bishop said ‘Go and bring peace,’ " he recalled.
The dispute over control of various aspects of the local church led to years of hard feelings — "brother against brother" — and a lawsuit.
Unable to get through to some parishioners, Monsignor Hrynuck called on a Missionary, the Rev. Gregory Szyszkovich, to help bring the two sides together.
Three previous times elsewhere when he had invited the same missionary to come, Monsignor Hrynuck had been transferred.
Disheartened — This time, he confessed, he was almost hoping the same thing would happen, so disheartened was he, even with two assistants to help.
"Today, I’m old but I have no assistants," he quipped.
But this time he stayed after the missionary departed, unable to quell the unhappy factions.
Monsignor Hrynuck followed his friend’s advice and started regular devotions to the Blessed Mother, devotions which he credits for healing the parish and which continue to this day.
Chief among the blessings that have followed have been the 28 members of the parish who pursued successful vocations to become 14 priests and 14 sisters or nuns.
"Secondly, our parish (baseball team, The Saints) won seven consecutive baseball championships in the Scranton Association," he said proudly.
The younger of two children of parents — his father was a "very good tailor" — who emigrated from Ukraine in 1907, Monsignor Hrynuck was born in Philadelphia in 1911.
When he was six, the family returned to Ukraine at the request of his paternal grandfather to help run the family’s sizeable farm there.
During this period, his mother died and revolution in Russia led to the communist takeover and formation of the Soviet Union.
Education completed — Amidst the turmoil, he managed to complete his secondary education and returned to the United States in 1930 so as not to lose his citizenship.
Back in Philadelphia, he lived with an uncle who "was a good man but not a church man" and who offered to pay for his nephew’s college education — if the teen-ager would study to become a doctor.
"I want to be a priest," he told his uncle, "but he said 'never'."
"I had no money . . . so I registered at Temple University," he says, "to study medicine."
Shortly after being accepted at the school, he stopped to visit a friend of his mother and told her of his predicament.
"This good woman said: ‘Oh no, you should be a priest,’" he recalls.
At her suggestion, he went directly to the chancery of the cathedral where he had been baptized years before.
"I rang the bell and the bishop’s secretary asked: ‘What do you want?’"
"I want to be a priest," he answered simply.
The fact that he had been baptized at the cathedral, educated in Ukraine and could speak English, as well as his timing — the church just then was sending a group of young men to a seminary in Rome — got him a scholarship.
After his ordination, Monsignor Hrynuck again returned to the United States where he served as a very young pastor — first in Minneapolis, Minn. — then as an assistant to a bishop in New York City and later various educational posts, teaching and administrative, at minor and major seminaries in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., where he served as rector before making his way to the Mid-Valley community.
Of his early years as a priest, he recalled when "a Latin rite assistant (pastor) came to the church (in Minnesota) and asked to see the pastor. I told him I was the pastor. He said: ‘Boy oh boy! I’ve been an assistant for 15 years.’"
LOCAL PASTOR MARKS 60th YEAR OF SERVICE
Many years have passed since a young man from Philadelphia realized that man’s spiritual side needs as much care, if not more, than his physical side. He left medical school to enter the seminary and his love of learning and faith have provided him a fulfilling life and career which recently reached a milestone very few are privileged to enjoy.
April 3, 1998 was the 60th anniversary of the ordination of Msgr. Stephen Hrynuck, pastor of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Olyphant. The occasion was marked on Sunday [April 26, 1998] at a banquet at Fiorelli’s, Peckville, attended by some 400 of Monsignor’s parishioners and other friends, including clergy from throughout the diocese and beyond.
The banquet featured Msgr. Hrynuck as principal speaker and Msgr. Joseph Fedorek, pastor of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Church, Elizabeth, N.J., as guest speaker. The program also featured a presentation from Olyphant borough recognizing Monsignor upon his 60th jubilee, made by Mayor Michael Wargo Jr. The parish choir opened the program while soloists Christine Chezik and Ashlin Martin sang following the dinner.
Msgr. Hrynuck, who marks his 87th birthday on December 27, 1998, has served as pastor of Ss. Cyril and Methodius parish since 1951. He considered the banquet an opportunity to thank his parishioners for their faithful support of his ministry and the parish during his long tenure at the local church.
Msgr. Hrynuck is a native of Philadelphia but received much of his education in Europe, and prior to coming to Ss. Cyril and Methodius parish was an educator in several schools in this country. When he was 6 years old, the Hrynuck family returned to Pawliw in western Ukraine, where the Monsignor’s parents had resided prior to coming to the United States, and he and his brother (the late Rev. John Hrynioch) were enrolled in the Ukrainian Classic Preparatory School in Lviv.
In 1930, Msgr. Hrynuck returned to the United States, and after post-graduate studies at William Penn High School in Philadelphia he entered Temple University to study medicine, but changed his career plans following the ordination of his brother, who had taken his seminary studies in Ukraine.
Arriving at his decision to enter the seminary, Monsignor pursued studies at St. Josephat’s College in Rome, Italy, where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in philosophy. The Monsignor was also ordained in Rome by the late Bishop Alexander Yevreinov, on April 3, 1938. Monsignor celebrated his first mass in St. Stephen’s Church in Rome, and as a privilege to having been ordained in the Eternal City, he celebrated his second mass in a lower level of St. Peter’s Basilica where the apostle is buried, and his third mass in the Greek Chapel in the catacombs.
Msgr. Hrynuck’s first pastoral assignment was to St. Constantine’s Church in Minneapolis, Minn. where, in addition to his clerical duties he put his talents at playing the guitar and mandolin to use by directing a parish orchestra, and was also involved with the church baseball team. His enjoyment of the "Great American Pastime" found a place at St. Cyril and Methodius parish as well, since the Monsignor took great interest in the Saint’s baseball team, which under the management of Joe Beckage took a record number of pennants in the Scranton Baseball Association.
After his service at St. Constantine’s, Monsignor was assigned as superior of the summer camp for Ukrainian Catholic seminarians in Stratford, N.Y. His next assignments were a pastorate at Holy Ghost Church, Chester, Pa.; assistant pastor at St. George’s, New York City; spiritual director of the Minor Seminary in Stamford, Conn., and pastor of St. Vladimir’s Church.
He then became instructor of philosophy at St. Basil’s College, and while teaching there pursued studies for a Ph.D. at Fordham University. Monsignor then became dean of studies at St. Basil’s, and rector of the Minor Seminary in Stamford. Prior to coming to Olyphant 47 years ago, he served as spiritual director and later as rector of the Major Seminary of St. Josephat in Washington, D.C.
Dean of the Scranton Deanery, Msgr. Hrynuck has served as a consulter of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and as a judge of the Matrimonial Tribunal. In 1968, he received his designation as a Papal Chamberlain with the title of Monsignor. At Ss. Cyril and Methodius, he was organizer of the Holy Name Society, the Sacred Heart League, and the Perpetual Confraternity.
During his pastorate at Ss. Cyril and Methodius, the church building has undergone extensive renovations three times, and in 1987 the exterior domes were replaced. The Monsignor also saw to the purchase of property for the parish playground; construction of the parish convent (now a doctor’s office), and Youth Center, and extensive renovations to the parish school.
Among Msgr. Hrynuck’s most vivid memories of his service in Olyphant were his efforts at establishing peace and unity in the parish upon his arrival here, at a very difficult time when a number of families had left the parish to form St. Andrew’s Church in Blakely.
Also unforgettable was the return of parish son Michael Metrinko to Olyphant after his more than 400 days in captivity as one of the 52 hostages held in Iran in 1980-81. At the time of Metrinko’s arrest while serving with the U.S. Diplomatic Corps in Iran, the parish shrine on Grant Street in honor of Our Lady of Zhyrovytsi was being built, and during his captivity a candle was kept at the shrine and in the church, which were extinguished by Metrinko in ceremonies attended by hundreds of area residents the day he returned home. When Mr. Metrinko and the others who were held hostage were released from Iran, their first stop homeward was a U.S. Army base in Weisbaden, Germany, from which Metrinko telephoned the Monsignor to inform him of his safety.
Monsignor Hrynuck was also very active in planning Ss. Cyril and Methodius’ parish centennial in 1988, the year which also marked the observance of the millennium of Christianity in Ukraine. To commemorate the two events, a monument was constructed on River Street on the site of the first parish church building.