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Education and Religion

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Romanians/G. James Patterson

Even though early immigrants had little schooling, they expected much more for their children, and the better-educated post-World War II immigrants were even more demanding. Second-generation Romanian Canadians in western Canada generally completed at least high school, and some attended university or technical school, and the third and fourth generations in Ontario and Quebec have accomplished more, as have the children of the newer immigrants. There is virtually no illiteracy among Romanian Canadians.

The Romanian Orthodox Church in North America has offered encouragement and scholarships for its students to attend university. There were a few Romanian-language schools in the early churches held after public school; church schools taught language and religion. The first and second generations may have relegated many women to the home, but for the last few decades access to education has been about the same for males and females.

Most Romanians in Canada (90 percent) are Romanian Orthodox, with Uniate (Greek Catholic), Protestant, and Jewish adherents each numbering in the hundreds.

The Romanian Orthodox Church based in Bucharest was established in the 1870s, and its autocephaly (independence) was recognized by the ecumenical patriarch in 1885. The Orthodox Church, with its long history and traditions, gradually became a national church, perpetuating the national culture. With formation of the patriarchy, Bucharest became the source of most priests sent to Saskatchewan and Alberta. Romanian Orthodox congregations have emerged throughout western and central Canada.

The Romanian Orthodox community at Dysart, Saskatchewan, dates from the 1890s; St George’s Church was built there in 1907. St Nicholas Church was built in Regina in 1902, and a small Romanian neighbourhood grew on the east side of town. Kayville had Romanian homesteaders from 1905 on, and Sts Peter and Paul Romanian Orthodox Church was built there in 1906. In 1915 there was an internal split of the membership, and a dissident group built St Mary’s. Flintoft was a centre of Romanian community life in southern Saskatchewan until the 1950s; Sts Peter and Paul Romanian Orthodox Church, built there in 1911, has the finest iconostasis (altar screen) of any Romanian church in Canada, made probably at the Romanian Monastery at Mount Athos in Greece. At Wood Mountain, Holy Transfiguration Church was built in 1929.

Canora, 240 kilometres northeast of Regina, had early Romanian immigrants who became wheat farmers and founded the Church of Sts Peter and Paul in 1920. Elm Springs hosted Romanian homesteaders who built sod houses around 1905, as well as the Church of the Ascension of Our Lord in 1926. At Assiniboia a number of farming families settled in the 1930s and built the Church of the Holy Ghost in 1958.

In 1898 Uikim Yurko, a Ukrainian-Romanian immigrant from Bukovina, settled in east-central Alberta near Willingdon, where scores of friends and family joined him over the next decade. Most came from Boian (now Cernauú i) and they named their new settlement Boian. The district was the only place in North America with homeland-style Romanian peasant domestic architecture, seen in Bukovinian homes, barns, sheds, and outbuildings. Some ten of these remain today. St Mary Romanian Orthodox Church was completed in Boian in 1905, and a Romanian school in 1908. The Church of the Holy Cross was constructed in Malin, Alberta, in 1916, and Descent of the Holy Ghost Church at Hamlin in 1916. There has long been considerable intermarriage with Orthodox Ukrainians from Bukovina.

Urban migration brought about the formation of the Romanian Orthodox churches of the Virgin Mary in Calgary and of Saints Constantine and Elena in Edmonton. Some Romanians from the prairies and central Canada have moved to British Columbia and built Holy Trinity Church in Vancouver. Montreal is home to Feast of the Annunciation Romanian Orthodox Church, Windsor to St George, Kitchener to St John the Baptist, Hamilton to the Church of the Resurrection, and Toronto to St George. Hamilton also has a Romanian Baptist church.

Internecine feuding divided Canada’s Romanian Orthodox after World War II. As their church developed and expanded in North America, it was officially named, in 1925, the Romanian Orthodox Church of the United States and Canada, under the authority of the patriarch in Bucharest. In 1949 it changed its name to the Romanian Orthodox Missionary Episcopate of America. Its bishop at the time was Andrei Moldovan and its North American headquarters was in Detroit, Michigan. Most of its priests were trained in Romania, and it received some financial support from the patriarchy. Moldovan occasionally visited Romania, with the approval of the Communist regime, although virtually none of its adherents in Romanian supported the government.

This situation led to the establishment in 1952 of the virulently anti-Communist Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, under Bishop Valerian Trifa, with headquarters in Grass Lake, Michigan. Canadian parishes chose one or the other episcopate, in roughly equal numbers; some larger cities had churches in each jurisdiction. Rivalry between the two reached a crisis that culminated in 1985 when Bishop Trifa resigned and moved to Europe under the threat of deportation by U.S. officials for lying about his alleged fascist activities in Romania during World War II. The rift continues, little diminished by political changes in the homeland.

Among the Romanian Orthodox in Canada, characteristic patterns of belief and practices range from occasional church attendance at religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, to full involvement in weekly services, activity in parish social activities, and membership in parish and nationwide religious organizations.

Relations between clergy and laity are generally good, though there have been local movements against unpopular individual priests, especially in the early period, when many priests lacked full theological training. Most priests have had some theological training in Romania, at a seminary in Winnipeg, or in several Orthodox seminaries in the United States. Their salaries are not sufficient to support a family, so most also earn wages in various jobs. One priest recently worked as a butcher, and another as a bartender. Clergy are recruited by the bishops of the two episcopates directly from seminaries in Romania or North America or from other parishes.

Weekly communion and observance of sacraments and holy days still bring high participation rates, though with decreased activity among the third and fourth generations. Loss of the Romanian language has also forced churches in western Canada to offer at least half their services in English, to the distress of some of the older members. In Saskatchewan and Alberta, where such assimilation is nearly complete, most of the rural churches are closed. One priest said sadly, “I conduct more funerals than baptisms now.” More vitality exists in Ontario and Quebec, but such trends appear inevitable there, also, as the immigrants and their children become Canadianized.

Women have always played a vital and active role in the church, even though it has traditionally separated them from men in the services, denied them entry behind the altar screen, and relegated them to cooking and serving at social events and auxiliary status in organizations. At weekly services women often outnumber men, and they often are more active in the church.

The Uniate, or Greek Catholic Church, was created in Transylvania in 1697, uniting Orthodox Romanians in the region with the Holy See in Rome but allowing them to preserve their Byzantine liturgy and traditions. Only a few hundred immigrants from Romania in Canada claim Uniate affiliation. They have no parishes of their own and attend Ukrainian Greek Catholic or Roman Catholic churches.

Calvinism entered Transylvania in the late sixteenth century and has attracted many Romanians. There were not enough Protestants in the first wave of immigration to establish any such churches in the prairie provinces, but a small Romanian Baptist church was founded in Hamilton, Ontario, between the wars. A few hundred Romanian Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, and Unitarians have joined non-Romanian congregations across the country.

Many Jewish immigrants from Romania, especially in the first wave, allied themselves with aspects of Romanian culture, spoke Romanian, and were friendly neighbours with Romanian Orthodox immigrants. The 1930s and 1940s saw massive out-migration from the Jewish settlements around Lipton, Saskatchewan. Most descendants of the settlers live in urban North America. The school has been razed, and the synagogue was destroyed by fire in 1975. All that is left is the Orthodox Jewish cemetery, surrounded by wheat fields, twenty kilometres north of Lipton.