On June 29, 2002, the ceremonial inauguration of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) was held in Lviv, Ukraine. UCU is the first Catholic university to open on the territory of the former Soviet Union and also the first university opened by one of the Eastern Catholic churches.
Ukrainian Catholic leaders throughout the 20th century dreamed of the opening of such a university, and, while he was in Lviv on June 26, 2001, Pope John Paul II blessed the future university’s cornerstone.
Seminars, conferences, pilgrimages, concerts and other activities will be held in conjunction with the inauguration. These events will mark the start of the Inaugural Year of the University. At the inauguration ceremony itself, delegates of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) from all over the world, representatives from many European and American universities, noted scholars, and civil and religious leaders will take part.
UCU was founded on the basis of the Lviv Theological Academy, the educational and scholarly institution that has become a center of intellectual and spiritual life for the UGCC.
The model of a full-fledged university education was not able to develop in the former USSR, primarily because the totalitarian system would not allow the free development of human thought. Departments of the humanities were forced to serve the reigning ideology. With the collapse of the communist system, the humanities departments of many universities began to expand the field of their work.
The opening of UCU, with its new approach to learning, with the only university-level faculty of theology and philosophy and the largest modern humanities library in Ukraine, is a major step in the effort to change higher education in Ukraine. Because UCU is not a government institution, it has wider possibilities to innovate and to aid in the push for the general reform of university education.
“I consider this project one of the most successful in the field of Ukrainian education, says Vyacheslav Bryukhovetskyy, President of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, who has been carefully following the establishment of the Lviv Theological Academy and its transformation into the Ukrainian Catholic University, “I’m impressed by the persistence, consistency, high intellectual standards and clear spiritual vision of the University’s leaders. Our nation is now in need of a purification of the soul, a return to Christian ideals. It is simply impossible to overestimate the meaning of UCU here. Above all it will further raise the quality of academic and formational processes by creating a harmonious environment for the development of young people. And this will inevitably yield fruitful results.”
“Ukrainian Catholic University—every word here has deep significance,” says Rev. Borys Gudziak (Ph.D. Harvard), Rector of the new university. “The scholarly dimension is indicated by the word ‘university,’ a responsible, creative and critical search and use of knowledge.
“The word ‘Catholic’ reveals UCU’s religious dimension, the openness of the human being to transcendent and interpersonal dialogue. The Christian identity of the university, while rooted in the Eastern tradition, develops in constant dialogue with other people of faith and goodwill.
“Our cultural and social dimensions,” Fr. Gudziak continues, “are found in the word ‘Ukrainian,’ the reality that surrounds us; this is who we are. So our task is to be a center for cultural thought and the formation of the new Ukrainian society based on human dignity.”
A prototype Ukrainian Catholic University was established in Rome by Patriarch Josyf Slipyj, head of the UGCC (1944-84). Patriarch Josyf was exiled from Ukraine in 1963, after 18 years in Soviet work camps. In the 1970s and 1980s, he inspired Ukrainian seminarians with the dream of returning to Ukraine to create a fully developed university there.
In 1994, thanks in part to the efforts of graduates of the program in Rome, the Lviv Theological Academy (LTA) was established in Ukraine as the first stage in the development of UCU. The accreditation of the LTA’s bachelor’s program in theology by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 1998, and the opening of a history faculty and graduate program in theology in 2001 were the most recent steps in UCU’s development.