The Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee, Wis., was built in 1896. Named after St. Josaphat to honor the Polish bishop and martyr, the basilica, at the time of its completion, was the building with the largest dome in the country, second only to the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.
The Story of St. Josaphat, the Saint at the front lines as a voice of peace and communion during one of the most tumultuous times of our Church's history.
Josaphat was born in 1580 in current-day Ukraine. Events that took place centuries before his brith, however, impacted the religious mission to which he would dedicate, and ulitamtely, sacrifice, his life.
In 1054, the Eastern Church centered in Constantinople split from the Western Church centered in Rome due to conflicts of culture, politics, and theology itself. Five centuries later, from 1595 to 1596 when Josaphat was just a teenager, bishops of the Eastern Church held the Synod of Brest Litovsk where they decided to rejoin the Church of Rome.
Many Eastern Christians did not approve of this decision, and both sides revolted violently against each other in disagreement. As people on both sides lost their lives to the conflicts, Josaphat emerged as a voice of Christian peace. Having joined the monastery in 1604, Josaphat supported the Eastern Christian bishops' decision to reunite with the Roman Catholic Church and worked tirelessly making plans for reform to carry out this idea successfully and peacefully.
By 1617, Josaphat was bishop of Polotsk, a place where the Church was suffering severely. Not only were clergy members slacking on their duties to be models of Christian living, Church buildings were literally falling apart. With determination and hard work, Josaphat rebuilt Polotsk within three years. He held synods, published a catechism, enforced rules of conduct for priests, and perhaps most importantly, visited the needy of the towns preaching and spreading the faith.
Despite all Josaphat's work, the Eastern Orthodox separatists set up their own Church, complete with a bishop, in nearby cities. They gained popularity in their opposition to Josaphat, and even some of his Catholic followers left to join the Orthodox Church.
In attempt to reconcile differences but fully aware of the dangers, Josaphat travelled to Vitebsk, the city where the separatists ruled. They saw this as a chance to kill Josaphat, and tensions grew as neither side wanted to incite the violence. As conflicts of speech grew and grew, both sides finally lashed out against each other resulting in mob violence, and Josaphat was killed November 12, 1623.
In 1867, Josaphat was officially canonized as a saint by Rome, becoming the first saint of the Eastern church.