Almost 20 years ago, the first (and still only) Catholic university in the post-Soviet space opened in Lviv, a private educational institution which at that time occupied small premises in a former school in Lviv. Few then could imagine that, eventually, the heir of the Lviv Theological Academy, created in 1928 and forbidden by the Soviet government, would become one of the most prestigious universities in independent Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Catholic University now year after year heads in the ratings of Ukrainian universities with the highest average score of entrants. In addition to educational programs, with talented students from all over Ukraine, and strong programs in business education, UCU is known for its modern campus and quick construction tempos.

This all became possible with no Ukrainian government financing. The university exists thanks to the charitable donations of people from all over the world. Funds received from donors constitute 56% of the operating budget and 100% of the construction budget. Since UCU’s establishment, approximately 20 000 donors have supported it.

We spoke with the President of the university, the UGCC Metropolitan and Head of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia (USA), Archbishop Borys Gudziak, regarding the elements in the success of such large-scale fundraising, changes in the understanding of philanthropy in Ukrainian society, and the strength of the community.

[The Ukrainian] Education and charity – in Ukraine’s reality, the combination of these two ideas is not usual. Because, when we talk about charity, stereotypically we think about helping those in need. How do you determine the essence of charity?

[Archbishop Gudziak] To help is not only to give to someone who has less but to give so that the person grows spiritually and intellectually and is enriched socially. That’s the ideal.

Gradually in Ukraine it’s becoming understandable, in some contexts even fashionable, to be involved in charity. But paternalism still exists. The Soviet system tried to control all initiatives from the bottom. So it offered the population a reality in which someone from above is always taking care of you. You will be provided with sausage, vodka, basic medicines, and we will limit your initiatives, communication, travel, thinking, and faith. Unfortunately, since this totalitarianism was introduced with terrible brutality and waves of genocides, it went deep into the psyche. The post-totalitarian person does not trust systems.

But the charitable person actually takes risks. He gives something outside, understanding this as a seed, as a good investment: “I will give and from this something good will come.” In a totalitarian system, if you give, nothing good will come from this. A complex is formed: “I only lose. I myself have little. What will I give?” This led to the destruction of the virtues of the Christian gospel, which sees great value in a sacrificial attitude toward others. Spiritual life happens in relations with others – God and neighbor.

There is a certain reflex to charity not only in Christianity. God has placed in the human soul both conscience and sympathy, love and a desire to live and grow. In this world, people give birth to children – this is the fundamental charity, giving life.


[The Ukrainians] You were born and raised in a western culture. How did this influence your understanding of charity?

[Archbishop Gudziak] I saw how my parents generously donated to the Church and for various initiatives of the Ukrainian diaspora, for scholarly projects, for the needs of the poor. As members of the Ukrainian diaspora, they felt a great responsibility for the community, for the common good. This was the norm: poor immigrants who came to a strange country at the end of the 19th century with nothing and had large families (sometimes 5 to 10 children) from generation to generation supported various projects. Penny by penny they collected money to build their churches, schools, and for cultural and artistic events.

Clearly, this was connected with the painful fact of Ukrainian subjugation, constant pressure on the language, church life and culture. There was this understanding: “In Ukraine, they can’t; so we must.” Charity in the diaspora was realized in the context of the charity of western society, where this is the norm. In America, people pay high taxes, but, at the same time, there is a significant percentage of citizens involved in private charity. They want to give others their time, talent and treasure. They want to donate their time, abilities, and material resources for the good of others.

Among Americans, there is also a culture not only of collecting funds during one’s life but of passing them on – “philanthropy after death,” I would call it. Churches, universities, and medical institutions often receive significant gifts which people bequeath in their wills. And so, in the Ukrainian diaspora in America and in other countries they understood how fruitful, useful, and, finally, pleasing it is to give gratefully, to give of one’s self.

The Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv is the heir of the UCU which Patriarch Josyf Slipyj founded in Rome in 1963. It’s founded on the charitable contributions of thousands of faithful people, and it benefited from the fact that it had to be a charitable project.

[The Ukrainians] How exactly?

[Archbishop Gudziak] It was understood that the government will not finance UCU and the Church as an institution does not have the resources to support it. So at the beginning the discussion about supporting the university developed outside Ukraine. The donors who made the most notable contributions were not of Ukrainian descent but people who felt that post-communist Ukraine needs a university like this. They took an interest in the essence and helped develop it not only financially but also even conceptually.

There was a constant cycle in this process: review a need, vision, how to meet this need, search for support, realization, reporting, and gratitude. UCU’s experience again and again demonstrates that the idea works when a few elements are in synergy: vision, responsible people, donations, work carried out, reporting on it, and a celebration of gratitude – moments when all participants, executors and donors can rejoice together in the results.

[The Ukrainians] UCU charitable banquets are, actually, the stage of celebrating together?

[Archbishop Borys] Exactly. Most people think the goal of a banquet is to ask for donations. It’s that also. But, above all, we report, and then we thank and celebrate. Thanks to this, some common denominators have appeared which let them say: “See how good it is that you supported this.” Then we suggest to people what they can get involved in. They can be helpful in a certain program or project or support the stipend of a person involved in scholarly research or writing a book. We offer items which meet needs which you see in society, in one’s soul, family, or business. Fundraising is guided by the evangelical postulate: You are helping people to give, to open up, to be less egotistical. The spirituality of this ministry is not looking into someone’s pocket and thinking how to get something from it but seeing a person and helping him or her do good.

[The Ukrainians] Do you have an example when you saw that a person did good out of egotism, but the act itself changed the person?

[Archbishop Gudziak] In many cases, a potential donor at first saw me as a person asking for money. But eventually we became partners and friends in a good matter. Life grows around this idea. Interaction develops from one project. It then includes a meeting with art, culture, a common pilgrimage, prayer, light, and celebration. This happens in a divided, wounded world, which has much technically and technologically, but often lacks partners, those who participate in a common good. For me, as someone concerned about benefactors, this process also included a certain evolution.

[The Ukrainian] In general, how did this all start? Before you stands a task – to revive and develop a university. You need funds for this. What did you do? To whom did you turn?

[Archbishop Borys] His Beatitude Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky [head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, 1984-2000 – TU] asked me to get involved with this project when there was no land or building or teachers or programs or books. We had to start by educating theologians, and, out of 52 million Ukrainians, there was not a single person with a normal theological education. It was impossible. Through Fr. Iwan Dacko [personal secretary of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj – TU], who was an intermediary and our voice in certain external circles, the Porticus Foundation found out about this project. [Porticus is an organization which supervises charitable programs. It’s based in a family of European businessmen. Annually, Porticus supports approximately 2 000 projects in 90 countries – TU]

In June 1993, we presented them with our concept, on which much work had been done and which was called “UCU 2000.” That is, the Theological Academy, which was revived in 1994, was to grow into a university by the year 2000. Then we understood that this was too fast. But, finally, this transformation happened in 2002. This foundation, if I’m not mistaken, in the first five to seven years covered up to 60% of all our costs. And, in total, from 1993 to 2020, they donated to UCU approximately 25 million dollars. They helped us build. In the 2000s, they raised us to a higher level, of expectations and of support. In 2008, the foundation was ready to give us four million to build the university campus. But when we developed the project, those four millions by 2016 had transformed into almost 20.

There were other international foundation which also gave us funds at the start, since 1992. In order to support all the old and new programs, construct buildings and start an endowed fund for scholarships for students from poor families and other needs of the university, from 2010 to 2016 we wanted to collect 65 million dollars. In the end we collected 67.1 million. Expanding the circle of donors and their donations is a long-term process of trust. This is connected with developing relationships. This means friendship and communion, because relationships, when you are consciously open to God’s presence, have colossal prospects.

[The Ukrainians] You spoke about the culture of charity in the USA and how this was traumatized in Ukrainian society in this context. Can you mention how this has changed, speaking of the support of donors not from abroad, not from the diaspora, but in Ukraine?

[Archbishop Gudziak] Our banquets have been going on for approximately 20 years. It all started in New York, and at first we only held them in the USA. For the first 10 years there was a clear conviction in the diaspora: “We need to help, because in Ukraine they don’t understand the significance of such a university.” Banquets were also held in Canada and, eventually, in Ukraine and other countries of Europe. It’s significant that the first donation for the 2010-2016 campaign was made by now-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who has never been in Ukraine. In sum, the majority of funds have come from abroad. But at one crucial moment, the passing of the baton happened. In 2014, right after the Maidan, 50 businesspeople from Lviv came with their families to the banquet in New York. They declared their responsibility for the university.

Even as late as 2007, a staff member sincerely told me that it’s impossible to raise funds in Ukraine. I told him: calmly, patiently. That is, at that moment, the Development Department (the university department that is involved with searching for funds) had no particular successes in Ukraine and was not convinced that this would work. But in 2014 businesspeople from Lviv came to the USA representing a new phenomenon, a new generation. Among them were few people older than 60. Generally, there were people from 40 to 50 years old.

Once the New York banquet was the most generous. It could collect up to 400 000 dollars. Now the most generous banquet is in Kyiv: last year 13 million hryvnias were collected and this year almost 10, despite the quarantine and the fact that it was held online.


[The Ukrainians] What keeps all these people around the university today?

[Archbishop Gudziak] I think that in each case there’s a thread woven from various fibers. But, globally, it’s what penetrates everywhere: values, deep spiritual foundations, and, finally, an understanding of sacrifice, an acceptance of the fact that sacrifice is not a negative. It’s life.

And this relates not only to donors but to staff. Ten years ago, the Mayor’s Office invited our Natalia Klymovska [today Vice-Rector of Development and Communication] and Olha Zarichynska [head of the UCU Development Department] to work for three times the salary. But they remained with us. That is sacrifice. They created a university for others’ children but, finally, they saw how their children could also bloom here. Some 22 or 23 years ago, Natalia brought her son Marchyk to work. I took his hands and said: “Maybe, child of God, you will study here sometime.” This year he was the salutatorian and spoke at the commencement ceremonies. This makes an impression.

The experience of sacrifice inspires people: “I myself will have less, but there will be more of the common good, which is good for me.”

[The Ukrainians] Let’s talk about named scholarships. I myself am an UCU graduate. This education was for me a trampoline into my profession. And I was only able to receive it because I won a scholarship which covered the cost of study. I knew the name of the donor who paid for the education of an unknown child, and that strengthened the feeling of responsibility, gratitude, and understanding that I could not disdain this support. Was that thought out? By introducing scholarships, did you have in mind the idea of spreading, in this way, the idea of sharing what was received?

[Archbishop Gudziak] Yes, there were two goals here. First, of course, the education of talented students. The second, to encourage responsibility. Private universities foster their alumni associations. The alumni association of Harvard University, for example, is global and international, and, eventually, former students themselves become donors. There is also a third, additional goal, because a donor who has contact with the one he or she supports makes this process more alive.

But we have cases when the donor has made a sizable donation but asked for anonymity. By the way, regarding the support of the Porticus Foundation, which I mentioned: for the first 20 years we were not allowed to mention them anywhere publicly. In all their letters, they indicated that the donations were anonymous. Now the foundation has changed its policy.

[The Ukrainians] Does such philanthropy impress you? Can you share a story that is vivid in your memory?

[Archbishop Gudziak] There are various stories. There was a woman who today is approximately 100 years old. She led a simple life, worked as a cleaning lady, but bought one or two buildings when they were inexpensive and rented them out to pay off the loans. During her life, she saved 20 000 dollars in the bank. In the 2002, she called my father and said that she wanted to give these funds “for the school of your son in Ukraine.” She gave everything she had earned in her life! She herself could barely read. She gave everything she had saved for a university, the name of which she could not entirely remember. That’s the kind of immigrant there were. This woman, I recall, was very pleased that she had donated money for which she worked so hard. I think there is something divine in this.

Or the example of a man whose family came from Pomoriany (Zolochiv District, Lviv Region), where my father was born. But he himself was born in America. He was a teacher at Stuyvesant High School, the best public high school in New York. Somehow he received a brochure about UCU. And he wrote in his will that we should receive four million dollars. A year or two later he passed away. He was a very simple man. He gave us everything that he had. When I serve the proskomedia [the part of the Liturgy during which members of the Church are recalled] and I think about this man, I feel warm.


[Interview translated from a Ukrainian-language text on the website “The Ukrainians”]

Рhoto: “The Ukrainians”