On 24 June, Taras Dobko was chosen rector of UCU. He became the first layperson to head Ukrainian Catholic University since it was founded by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. “UCU has, in some way, become my monograph: the growth of the university, its construction – my efforts have gone here… And every day I need to learn what it means to be at the head of an institution like UCU, what this responsibility is, and what the challenges, blessings, opportunities, and dreams can be,” shared the rector.
Taras Dobko was born and raised in Lviv, in a family of the city’s intelligentsia, an engineer and a teacher. He lived a large part of his life in the Lviv area not far from the airport. He says that in childhood he was never bored and spent half of his free time outside: he loved team sports, but when he needed to remain home alone, he himself thought up new games. His first specialty was in mathematics, his second in philosophy. He decided to research the dynamics of religious faith and its particularities in comparison with metaphysical convictions that God exists. And eventually he tried to determine the secret of happiness.
Read about his path at the university, the study of happiness, a vision of the future, and why UCU is envied well in an interview with the newly elected rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Doctor of Philosophy Taras Dobko.
Lviv Theological Academy – UCU
Many of those who have worked at UCU for a number of years now ended up here thanks to Archbishop Borys. We also responded to his invitation, believed in the idea of renewing the Lviv Theological Academy (LTA) and were inspired by what was at its foundation: principles and values. My first meeting with Archbishop Borys was in 1990 in Lviv. In 1996, Archbishop Borys travelled to the academy in Liechtenstein and talked about the Lviv Theological Academy. He emphasized that they were waiting for us in Ukraine. And we never doubted that we would return to Ukraine. Our tasks were to grow, develop professionally, become philosophers, and return to our homeland so that here there would not be only Marxist-Leninist philosophy but solid Christian philosophy.
At first I worked at the LTA as a part-time professor. I gave courses in the philosophy of knowledge, the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of love, and introduction to philosophy. At the same time, I taught at some other church programs: at the Catechetical-Pedagogical Institute at the invitation of Sister Luiza Tsiupa and at the Basilian Institute of Theological and Philosophical Studies.
Later, Fr. Mykhailo Dymyd, and eventually then-Fr. Borys Gudziak, started to invite me to various administrative tasks. So began my path to administration. At first I was involved in student documentation; I was Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, where I became acquainted with His Beatitude Sviatoslav. At that time he was working at the seminary with Fr. Bohdan Prach; he was its vice-rector. [From 1998 to 2007, Fr. Bohdan Prach headed Holy Spirit Seminary in Lviv – editor.]
We thought much and worked on how to improve the theology program, which professors to engage, and how to legalize theological education in Ukraine, which until 2006 was not accepted formally as an academic discipline. Student graduates of the Theology Faculty in Ukraine did not receive diplomas recognized by the government. That was one of the accomplishments in which I was actively involved, the recognition of theology as an academic discipline in Ukraine. [The decision to accredit UCU’s bachelor’s program in theology was passed in April 2006 after the decision of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine to add “theology” to the list of major subjects and specializations according to which the preparation of experts in institutions of higher education is done according to appropriate levels of education and qualification. By order № 273 of the Higher Attestation Commission of Ukraine, on 15 May 2010 theology was added to the list of specializations which include defense of a dissertation for acquiring the academic degrees of candidate of sciences and doctor of sciences and the awarding of academic degrees and conferring of academic titles, which in fact meant the recognition of theology as a scholarly study – editor.]
A university behind which stand titans – Metropolitan Sheptytsky, Patriarch Slipyj, Archbishop Gudziak, Fr. Prach
I sometimes ask myself how would Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky or Patriarch Josyf Slipyj look at UCU today? Would they recognize in our university something with a spirit that responds to their idea?
I want to see in the university the continuity of a tradition that depends on the principles on which UCU is built and operates: from our 2 m’s (the martyrs and marginalized) and 3 s’s (witness, serve, communicate). [In the Ukrainian language, each of these words starts with the letter “s.” – translator] This continuity also depends on our connection with the wider Church, of which we are a part. If we reinforce other church institutions and gladly cooperate with them, this will in spirit and letter correspond to those expectations which the founders invested in the Lviv Theological Academy and our university
I am fortunate that Fr. Mykhailo Dymyd, Archbishop Borys Gudziak, and Fr. Bohdan Prach are with us, close to the university. This gives me hope, from which I can gather strength. I am certain that their advice, prayer, and help will never be superfluous. Regarding all these people to whom I feel a certain piety and gratitude, I try to think not in the categories of “titans” but as “teachers,” “friends.”
Every day I need to learn what it means to be at the head of an institution like UCU, what this responsibility is, and what the challenges, blessings, opportunities, and dreams can be. It is important to remember what our predecessors managed to do, because they had principles, kept them, were concerned about the team, aspired to greatness, and were always ready to rejoice in the achievements and successes of other people.
UCU President, Bishop Borys Gudziak, Father Bohdan Prakh and Taras Dobko during a meeting of the Senate
We are also part of a wider community, above all, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, which is the founder of our university. This means many things. First, this is an environment in which students and professors are open to encounter God, come to know Kyivan Christianity, Christian culture, and strive to incorporate these into their lives.
Second, this means cooperation with other institutions of our Church. They all have their own tasks, and the university should assist in their realization. A good illustrative example is the synod of UGCC bishops inviting UCU to prepare priests to work with those with psychological trauma from the war.
There are more than 2 000 Catholic universities and colleges in the world. To be part of this family is a great honor and a great resource, because these universities exist in various countries on various continents. They reflect various experiences of culture and the culture of Christianity in certain circumstances and can become an environment through which we will speak to other countries.
The full-scale war
In January 2022, I had the opportunity, after 10 years of tiring administrative work, to travel on internship to the University of Notre Dame (USA), which is our partner, to be inspired and renew my scholarly interests. It was important for me to see how things are progressing in the field of philosophy and how educational courses can be improved. The theme of my internship was to be all-around human development. But in February the full-scale war exploded in Ukraine.
The day before, on 23 February at 7 in the evening (at 2 in the morning on 24 February, Ukrainian time), at the request of the Ukrainian Society at Notre Dame I gave a lecture on the situation in Ukraine. People asked if there would be an invasion. I then still hoped that the Russian dictator would be satisfied by the visits of top politicians and leaders of European states and that his ego would be calmed. But in two hours, live on CNN we saw how he ventured what has become a tragedy for the Ukrainian people. Of course, this was a great shock; there was the fear of losing our home. But then a miracle happened! Our people, the military, territorial defense, sacrificed their lives to stop the enemy. There were many such miracles. They somehow confirmed that it is not Putin but God who is the lord of history and creating it through our people. I wanted to talk about this.
Taras Dobko and the UCU delegation at the University of Notre Dame
Also, in the United States I became an ambassador for UCU and Ukraine in various settings and universities: at Notre Dame and the international forum of the Federation of Catholic Universities. I had many meetings and opportunities to share what is happening in Ukraine, to explain Russia to people, its imperial character. I spoke about why the decolonization of Eastern European studies, etc., was necessary. This was a small contribution in cultural diplomacy.
For any leader it is important to be firm, to help one’s self and others to move forward through difficulties, to be with people who need support, and to believe in victory. A leader has to think ahead about what will be – to form a vision after victory. As I often hear, in particular after a trip to eastern Ukraine, people are very concerned not to lose the victory after victory.