Under The Radar Of LDS Temple Flap, Another Church Is Planned For Cody

As a controversial Mormon temple continues to dominate discussion in Cody, a Byzantine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has been under the radar as members plan to build a house of worship there.

LW
Leo Wolfson

October 21, 20236 min read

Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk during a service at St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Cody, Wyoming.
Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk during a service at St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Cody, Wyoming. (Courtesy Photo)

Typically, when an organized religion sets up in a community, it has the backing of a larger outside effort to grow a denomination in a new area.

A prime example is the much-publicized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple underway in Cody, where its 101-foot height has been a sticking point for many in the community.

That hasn’t been the case with the St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Cody and Powell, which has formed as grassroots community church solely organized through local efforts and fundraising. It’s grown to the point of wanting to build its own house of worship.

“That’s a very, very unusual way of going about this,” said Daniel Catone, a board member of the Cody Ukrainian Catholic Mission that supports the church.

By bringing local families of the faith together, an organized parish of the Byzantine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has formed in Cody and recently hired its first priest. Its next goal is a brick-and-mortar church.

Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk presents to member of St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Cody.
Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk presents to member of St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Cody. (Courtesy Photos)

How Did It Start?

Catone said there are many descendants of Ukrainian Catholics who live in Park County. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is of the Eastern Rite, which practices Divine Liturgy.

“Just a very different culture and very different expression of the (Catholic) faith,” Catone said, adding that worldwide, the church has about 18 million members. 

In 2021, a local parishioner wrote a letter to the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Chicago to request a priest be sent to Cody to serve the community’s Ukrainian Catholics, a group of about 30 who mostly practiced at a local Roman Catholic Church. 

“It’s our heritage to have this other rite,” board member Susan Bales said. “We’ve wanted to practice this rite that belongs to us.”

It was Bales’ mother, who was married to a native Ukrainian, who wrote the letter. The group then presented its plan to establish a parish in Cody to the bishop of the Eastern Rite in Chicago. 

Growing Fast

A nonprofit Cody Ukrainian Catholic Mission was also established last year, and a few months later the church agreed to start sending priests from around the nation to Cody to deliver a monthly liturgy.

This February, St. Luke was declared an official parish by the church and given its name. In September, the parish received its first priest.

Bales said the fast growth of this parish has been inspiring and invigorating.

“We’re pretty amazed it’s come as far as it has,” she said. “It’s God’s will, I would say.”

The growth of this parish runs contrary to what is happening in many other Catholic parishes throughout the country, which have had to close down due to lack of attendance.

“To have a grassroots movement like this, to build a new parish, is the opposite of what’s happening nationally,” Daniel Catone said.

What started as 15-20 people has become about 50-60 regularly attending mass, Catone said, including about 25 children. 

“It’s a very vibrant family kind of thing,” he said.

The parish also welcomes other Catholics who may be looking for a different experience.

  • Members of St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church worship in Cody.
    Members of St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church worship in Cody. (Courtesy Photo)
  • Members of St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church worship in Cody.
    Members of St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church worship in Cody. (Courtesy Photo)

Needs A Home

The only problem is they have to rent the spaces where they hold services, a nomadic way of worshiping without a local home of their own.

Their next goal is an official home in the Cody area that will hold at least 100 people. As part of the religion, they also must build a small home that the priest and his family to live in. 

“We’re basically going to trust the Lord to provide us the land that is useful for his work,” Catone said. “Whatever we can get we’ll take.”

Catone and his wife moved to Cody about five years ago from California. They eventually made friends with a local Eastern Rite Catholic couple who gave them the honor of being their newborn daughter’s godparents.

Catone said this inspired he and his wife to team up with local Eastern Catholics to build an Eastern Byzantine Ukrainian parish in Cody. Uniting them together, he said, was a desire to provide a new way to bring Jesus to Park County.

“This was a gift to our goddaughter,” Catone explained. “A place that we’re going to give her to worship the tradition of her family.”

Unlike the LDS temple effort, he said their church will not have a large steeple on top. 

“Our prayers will reach higher than that without a steeple,” Catone said.

It would become the second Byzantine Catholic church in Wyoming. There’s already one in Lander.

  • Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk ministers to a uniquely Wyoming flock.
    Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk ministers to a uniquely Wyoming flock. (Courtesy Photo)
  • Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk looks out on the natural beauty of northwest Wyoming.
    Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk looks out on the natural beauty of northwest Wyoming. (Courtesy Photo)

Differences And Similarities

Contrary to some popular belief, a significant part of the Christian world in ancient times was not located in the Roman Empire.

“It still had Christianity, but it’s different in the way it’s expressed because it doesn’t have that Roman tradition,” Catone said.

There are 24 churches within the Catholic umbrella and of those eight different rites.

Unlike Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temples and many other Catholic churches, the push to get a Ukrainian Catholic Church built in Cody has been completely locally orchestrated.

“We did it from a grassroots perspective instead of from a top-down approach, which is more common in the LDS faith or even the Catholic faith where it’s more top-down,” Catone said.

Although they fall under the same Catholic pope as the Latin Rite, the Eastern Rite operates under different canon law and liturgy. There also are no pews in their churches.

And unlike in other Catholic Churches, the priests of the Eastern Rite can marry. The wife of the priest typically acts as the mother of the congregation, Catone said. 

Also unusual, the priest will usually also hold down a part-time job. 

Bales’ husband Hayden Bales grew up as a member of the Roman Catholic church, but said the Eastern Rite style of worship drew him in. 

“It’s different, but in a beautiful way,” he said.

He said the Cody parish hopes it can enlist national support in its goal to build a church, which they hope to break ground on in a few years.

Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk with the fledgling congregation of St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Cody.
Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk with the fledgling congregation of St. Luke Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Cody. (Courtesy Photo)

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter