The Rt Rev Zenon Chorkawyj was born on the 5th February, 1936 in the Ternopil Region of Western Ukraine. In April 1944, during the Nazi German occupation of Ukraine, he was taken with his parents to Metman, in Germany, to work as forced labourers. After the war he lived in various displaced persons (DP) camps in Germany and finally settled in an Ukrainian organised camp in Raine, Westfalia, Germany. He migrated to Australia on the 15 th July, 1949 and settled in the Bonegilla migrant camp.
The young Zenon heard the call of God and in the early 1960’s went to Rome to study for the priesthood. During his vacations he travelled, visiting churches and monasteries viewing many icons and frescoes. These travels instilled in him the desire to become an iconographer and he was fortunate to study icon-painting under Fr Juvinalij Mokryckyj at the Studite Monastery in Rome. He became an avid collector of museum pieces.
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Upon his return to Australia in 1968 Fr Zenon approached the late Bishop Ivan Prashko requested that a Museum of Ukrainian Art be established in Melbourne. The Bishop blessed the project and was very supportive providing the museum with a temporary home. On the completion of the church/parish buildings the museum was given a permanent space and was officially opened on August, Yd, 1979.
Currently the museum has over 8,000 exhibits including maps of Ukraine, Icons, Liturgical books, vestments, carved religious artefacts and paitings covering from 16th to 20 century, Ukrainian embroidery, national regional costumes, wood carvings, ceramics, postace stamps, Christmas and Easter cards, historical photos and documents, wall hangings, and a large collection of Ukrainian pysanky.
Among the artefacts Fr Zenon especially cherishes is an embroidered ritual cloth donated to him by a Ukrainian soldier (a prison of war) in 1945 while he was in Matman, Germany, and his brother’s embroidered shirt which his mother saved, during the shelling by the Soviet army, from their burning house.
In the past 30 years Fr Zenon has organised over 60 exhibitions not only in Melbourne, but also in Geelong, Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth and provided exhibits to be included in exhibibitions such as Steppes Across Ukraine held at the Access Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria and other galleries around Victoria.
As administrator of the Geelong Ukrainian Parish he commenced adorning the sancturary of the church which icons. He was unable to complete the project due to a fall resulting in a fractured arm. Over the past 40 years the work has been interruped by his pastorial duties in parishes all over Australia and continued during the times that he was working from the Geelong and Melbourne parishes. Fr Zenon hopes to recommence the project in September of this year.
Father Zenon is fortunate to have the support of his Ukrainian Catholic Bishops clergy, sisters and the wider Ukrainian/Australian community. On the 17th December, 1992 Bishop Ivan Prasko elevated Fr Zenon to the position of Right Reverend.
In Novembr, 2007 for his services to the Ukrainian Community in Victoria he was recognised by the Victorian Multicultural Commission and received an award. Last year on the 21 August he received an award from the President of Ukraine, Mr Victor Yushchenko for his services to Ukrainian Culture in the Diaspora.
The Government of Australia, through its heritage division, has awarded him for his work in Australia. These are minor awards but get to the point of the work of the man.
The media in Australia are well aware of his work. About two years ago, he had a major contribution on the ABC program “The Collectors”. About a year ago he had another 5 minute segment on Melbourne TV. Almost every year the press (The Age and Herald Sun) in Melbourne present his work on their pages. The Geelong Advertiser often features him on their pages. His complete decorating of the Geelong Ukrainian Catholic Church, a task which took many years of his spare time, is now probably an Australian treasure. There is going to be a book published on his work in Geelong. His work attracts regular visitors. He is one of only a few icon painters who are Australian and do such work. Usually Eastern Churches in Australia hire European or other international artists to come to work here and then leave. Fr. Zenon may very well be the only Australian artist with this level of respect. His work is recognized internationally as well. He was recognized for this with a book which was recently published in Ukraine.
He was a very modest man who never draws any attention to himself. Every day he visited the sick in the parish and then returned to work on his beloved museum. Over the years he collected about 9000 pieces which are available for display. He was absolutely dedicated to his work. He travelled around Australia with his collections.
He was diagnosed and tried to get new people interested as volunteers (as he was) to carry on his work. He had a fine group of long time helpers but they are getting on in age. In their spare time they have set up the museum as one with a huge potential for the future. Future generations will remember him.
On the 17th December 2017 Catholic Church Ardeer Parish Celebrated 50 years of Priesthood for Father Mitrat Zenon Chorkawy.
Rt. Rev. Mitrat Zenon Chorkawyj OAM was called to his eternal reward on Monday 19th March 2018 in Melbourne.
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