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Josyf Slipyj
Head and shoulders portrait of Cardinal Josyf Slipyj when he visited Australia in 1968
Josyf Cardinal Slipyj in Australia in 1968
Born Йосип Сліпий
February 17, 1892(1892-02-17)
Died September 7, 1984 (aged 92)
Resting place St. George's Cathedral, Lviv
49°50′19.48″N 24°0′46.19″E / 49.8387444°N 24.0128306°E / 49.8387444; 24.0128306
Ethnicity Ukrainian

Josyf Slipyj (Ukrainian: Йосип Сліпий) (February 17, 1892 – September 7, 1984) was a Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church.


He was born in village of Zazdrist, Galicia (in modern Ternopil oblast), then a crownland of Austria-Hungary. He studied at the Lviv Greek-Catholic Seminary and Innsbruck University in Austria, before being ordained a priest on June 30, 1917. From 1920 to 1922, he studied at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and the Pontifical Gregorian University. He returned to Lwów (Lviv), by then part of Second Polish Republic, and taught at the seminary, eventually becoming its rector.

On December 22, 1939, with the blessing of Pope Pius XII, Slipyj was ordained as the archbishop of Lviv with the right of succession. The ordination was conducted by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky in secrecy due to the Soviet presence and the political situation. Slipyj became the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on November 1, 1944, following Sheptytsky's death. Slipyj was arrested along with other bishops in 1945 by the NKVD as the Nazi occupation ended, convicted to penal servitude, allegedly for collaboration with the Nazi regime. In reality, this was the first step in the planned liquidation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church by Soviet authorities.[1][2][3] After being jailed in Lviv, Kiev, and Moscow, a Soviet court sentenced him to eight years of hard labor in the Siberian Gulag.

At this time Soviet authorities forcibly convened an assembly of 216 priests, and on 9 March 1946 and the following day, the so-called "Synod of Lviv" was held in St. George's Cathedral. The Union of Brest, the council at which the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church formally entered into ecclesiastic communion with the Holy See, was revoked. The Church was forcibly "rejoined" to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Slipyj's prison writings managed to circulate. In 1957 Pope Pius XII sent him a congratulatory letter on the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. It was confiscated, and also on account of his circulating writings, he was sentenced to seven more years in prison. On January 23, 1963, he was freed by Nikita Khrushchev's administration after political pressure from Pope John XXIII and United States President John F. Kennedy. He arrived in Rome in time to participate in the Second Vatican Council.

Cardinal Slipyj's coat of arms

In 1949 he had been secretly (in pectore) named a cardinal by Pope Pius XII, but in 1965 he was named publicly. At the time he was the 4th cardinal in Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church history. Beginning in 1969 many Ukrainian bishops lobbied for Slipyj to be named patriarch, but Pope Paul VI refused, instead creating the new office of major archbishop and appointing Slipyj as its first incumbent. In 1977 Slipyj consecrated Ivan Choma, Stepan Czmil and Lubomyr Husar as bishops without approval of the pope in an act of exposition of patriarchal aspirations. These consecrations caused much annoyance to the Roman Curia as episcopal consecrations without papal permission are considered illicit in Roman Canon Law but not Eastern Canon Law.[4]

He died in 1984. After the fall of the Soviet Union, his relics were returned to St. George's Cathedral in Lviv in 1992.

His cause for canonisation has been introduced at Rome.

The Shoes of the Fisherman

Monument to Josyf Cardinal Slipyj outside the Ternopil Cathedral

Slipyj's life story inspired the Australian writer Morris West's 1963 novel The Shoes of the Fisherman. West's protagonist is Kiril Pavlovich Lakota, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Lviv, who is freed by the Soviet Premier after twenty years in a Siberian labor camp. He is sent to Rome, where an elderly pope makes him a cardinal. The Pontiff dies, and Lakota finds himself elected Pope, taking the name Kiril I (a rare use of baptismal name as a papal name). The novelty of a Ukrainian pope in a post-Cuba Missile Crisis, Cold War world led to the book being featured on the New York Times Best Seller list. It was the number 1 bestseller of the entire year on the Publishers Weekly fiction list.

Hollywood's film version appeared in 1968, starring Anthony Quinn as Lakota/Kiril I and Laurence Olivier as a Soviet villain. It was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Many today regard The Shoes of the Fisherman as prophetic because it preceded by ten years the election of Karol Józef Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II, the first Slavic pope as well as one from a Communist nation, noting even the Kiril/Karol similarity of names. Slipyj, however, the true model for the fictional protagonist, is rarely mentioned in these critical appraisals.


  1. Bociurkiw, B.R., The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Soviet State (1939-1950). CIUS Press, 1996.
  2. Pelikan, Jaroslav, Confessor Between East and West. W.B. Eerdmans Publishing. 1990.
  3. Religious Information Service of Ukraine: Patriarch Josyf Slipiy
  4. Apostolische Nachfolge: Ukraine. German site of CSSp Province


id:Josyf Slipyj no:Josyf Ivanovice Slipyj ru:Слипый, Иосиф uk:Кардинал Йосип (Сліпий)