Clement and Andrey Sheptytsky were leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church who spoke out against the Nazis and saved dozens of Jews after the Nazi takeover of Ukraine.
The brothers were born in a small village called Prylbychi to an aristocratic family featuring many prominent leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Andrey, the oldest, was born in 1865 with the title “Count.” Clement was born four years later. The boys received their primary education at home, and then went to high school in Krakow.
Young Andrey, already 6’10”, got to know some Jews while attending school in Krakow, and became interested in their religion. He learned Hebrew, and maintained his close ties with the Jewish community over the ensuing decades.
After graduating from high school, Andrey joined the Austro-Hungarian army, but got sick soon after and had to return home. As his health improved, Andrey attended law school and received his doctorate in 1888. During that time he traveled throughout Europe, and was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII at the Vatican.
Despite his promising law career, Andrey felt a vocation to serve God and, despite fierce opposition from his father, he entered the Jesuit Seminary in Krakow. He was ordained as a priest in 1892 and over the ensuing years rose to increasing prominence in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. In 1899, Andrey was nominated by Emperor Franz Joseph as a Bishop, and the nomination was approved by the Pope. Andrey was consecrated as a bishop, and a year later, at the age of 36, he became Metropolitan Archbishop of Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine. Andrey traveled throughout the country making pastoral visits, and was welcomed warmly by local Jews. Sometimes they would even greet him with a Torah scroll.
Meanwhile, younger brother Clement was following a similar career path, but on a different timeline. Clement also went to law school, but instead of practicing law he returned home to take care of his aging parents, and manage the family’s vast real estate holdings.
In 1911, almost twenty years after his older brother became a priest, Clement also chose a life of religious devotion. He enrolled in theological seminary and was ordained a priest in 1915. He entered the Holy Dormition monastery, and became its prior in 1926. The brothers remained very close, and in 1937 when Andrey became sick, Clement left his monastery and moved to Lviv to care for him.
As the Nazi party rose to power in the 1930’s, Andrey was the first (and sadly, one of the only) European church leaders to speak out forcefully against persecution of the Jews. He issued an important pastoral letter, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” to protest Nazi violence. As First Bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church he sent a letter to Hitler and Himmler protesting their treatment of Jews. His letter was ignored, so Andrey took action. He directed his clergy and lay leaders to save Jews by hiding them in churches, providing for their basic needs, and helping them escape to safety.
In addition to hiding Jews in Ukrainian Greek Catholic churches, Andrey and Clement took 16 Jews into their own home and cared for them until the area was liberated by the Red Army in 1944. One of those Jews was David Kahane, who became chief rabbi of the Israeli air force and later chief rabbi of Argentina. Rabbi Kahane said, “Andrey Sheptytsky deserves the undying gratitude of the Jews and the honorific title ‘Prince of the Righteous.”
Andrey, who had been in poor health for many years, died in 1944 and is buried in St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv. Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, “Arguably, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky was the most influential figure… in the entire history of the Ukrainian Church in the twentieth century.”
After the war, Clement was arrested by Soviet authorities and pressured to renounce his faith. He refused to do so, and was sentenced to eight years in prison, which amounted to a death sentence for the frail, 74 year old man. While incarcerated, he ministered to other inmates, cared for those who were sick, and shared his food with the weakest among them. He died in Vladimir Central Prison in 1951, at age 81.
The brave brothers received many posthumous honors. Clement was beatified in 2001 by Pope John Paul II, and was honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem. Andrey received the honorific “Venerable” for his life of heroic virtue by Pope Francis in 2015. In their home town of Prylbychi, a monument to the Sheptytsky brothers was erected in 2011.
For bravely saving Jews from the Nazi death machine, and ordering their flock to do the same, we honor the holy Sheptytsky brothers as this week’s Thursday Heroes.
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