Childhood, youth, priestly vocation
From his early childhood years, Kazimierz Szeptycki liked to learn. He graduated with honours from the St. Anne’s University in Kraków and then form the Jagiellonian University, and he received a doctorate in law. He also studied in Paris and Munich. After graduation, he returned to his hometown to help his father run a country estate. He settled in the village of Dzięwiętniki, near Bóbrka close to Lviv.
The young Szeptycki was a promise of an outstanding politician and economic activist. From 1900 to 1907, he was a member of the Chamber of Deputies (Abgeordnetenhaus) of the Vienna Parliament and its secretary on behalf of the Polish Club. He was also active in the Galician Economic Society and the Galician Forestry Society that he presided from 1908 to 1911. He was a member of a range of social organisations in Galicia and he implemented numerous civic initiatives. Instead of pursuing a dazzling career and entertaining himself in European salons, however, the count asked God, as he wrote in a letter dated 21 August 1915, to make him his ‘good soldier’ and dress him in a cassock so that he could serve the Ukrainian people in Galicia.
In 1912, after a novitiate with the Benedictines in the German town of Beuron, Szeptycki joined a congregation of studite-monks and took the name of Klimentiy (Clement). He chose St Clement I, one of the seventy disciples of Jesus, as his patron. Clement I, who was the fourth pope of the Roman Catholic Church, was exiled to Crimea where he died a martyr’s death in the first century AD.
In 1915, Kazimierz Szeptycki – after appropriate theological preparation at Western European universities – was ordained a priest, and soon, as Father Klimentiy, he headed the monastic order of St. Theodore the Studite. In 1918, he graduated from the University of Leopold and Franz in Innsbruck, Austria. At the same time, he became involved in his brother’s, Metropolitan Bishop Andrew, initiative to care for children orphaned in World War I in Galicia. For this purpose, the ‘Metropolitan Bishop Andrew Count Szeptycki Protection for Orphans’ organisation was established. The care of children also became one of the priorities of the activities of studite-monks who would establish orphanages and schools at monasteries.
Priestly work, persecution, and repression
Father Klimentiy faced a tremendous challenge concerning not only his priestly activities, but also the implementation of his brother’s, Archbishop Andrew, grand plan to extend the ecclesiastical union to include the Orthodox Church in Russia. In his life and priesthood, Father Klimentiy repeatedly gave examples of heroism and moral virtues, especially during the period of the murderous Nazi regime when, disregarding his own life, he saved Jewish children in the monastery under his charge. He did it together with his brother, Archbishop Andrew, who, though confined to a wheelchair for years and relying on information from those around him, made every effort to keep up the morale of the Ukrainian people. The two brothers saved several hundred Jewish children from extermination by hiding them in many Greek Catholic monasteries.
Father Klimentiy remained faithful to the principles he had received in his family home and formed in the Catholic Church even after a new murderous regime – the Soviet Russia – settled in Eastern Galicia.
After the end of World War II, Klimentiy Sheptytsky (Klemens Szeptycki) was blacklisted by the Soviet authorities. The NKVD arrested him in June 1947. He was first imprisoned in Lviv and then in Kyiv, and later sentenced to eight years for ‘treason against the motherland.’ Imprisoned in a political prison in Vladimir-on-Klyazma, the archimandrite died on 1 May 1951.
In 1995, Father Klimentiy was post-mortem awarded the title of the Righteous Among the Nations and honoured with a tree of honour by the Yad Vashem centre. In November 2008, he was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta by Polish President, Lech Kaczyński, for saving Jews from extermination during the World War II. When Pope John Paul II visited Ukraine in 2001, Klimentiy Sheptytsky was raised to the altars and declared blessed by the Catholic Church.