When Sir Eugene Sadowsky stood at the front of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral to receive the blessing of his bishop and the recognition of his fellow parishioners, another momentous occasion had been reached in the already remarkable life of the composer, conductor, and ever-faithful Catholic.
On May 5, 2013 the Maestro will be celebrating his 100th birthday.
“I still feel good, very good” Sir Eugene stated after the Divine Liturgy. “Sometimes I do not even need the cane!”
Even if he now needed a little something to lean on from time to time, it was his church and his community that had leaned on Eugene O. Sadowsky for decade after decade. Now retired as the long time choir director of St. Josaphat, he still holds the title Cantor Emeritus, and participates as fully in the life of the parish as he is able. In fact his entire life has been dedicated to the music and culture of his native Ukraine, and to the Ukrainian Catholic Church where that music finds its ultimate expression.
Born on 5 May 1913 in Ripniv village into the family of a priest, Yevhen Orest Sadowsky was always oriented to the service of the people of God through his gifts at the service of the church. Already conducting a choir while still at student at the Zolochev Gymnasium, Sadowsky explored the rich music and patriotic culture of the region, taking part in the wandering theatres of the time, and working at the Ivan Franko State Theatre in Stanislav.
When the Second World War forced the mass migration of many of the embattled Ukrainian people west, Sadowsky made his way by train across Eastern Europe, arriving in Austria, but still needing to go further west. So, just as he did at the celebration of his 99th birthday in the Cathedral in Parma, he put one foot in front of the other and set out for his destination.
“I walked the whole way to Innsbruck,” he recalled. It was a distance of some 400 miles winding across the rugged and increasingly mountainous terrain. “It took a month,” the Maestro remembered with great clarity.
When Sadowsky arrived in the United States in 1951 with his wife Stefania, whom he had met in Austria, and their son Borys, they quickly made their way to Cleveland. And the choir-master, who had already built a significant reputation and repertoire in Europe, went immediately to work in service of his new church and community.
At Ss. Peter and Paul, the home parish of Ukrainians in the Northeast Ohio area, Maestro Sadowsky became a legendary figure, adding his original compositions to his acclaimed arrangements of the songs and poetry of Ukrainian masters including Bortyansky, Ivan Franko, Lesia Ukrainka, and Taras Shevechenko.
In 1955 he founded the Dnipro Chorus, which was soon proclaimed “one of the best vocal groups in the free world.” Within a few years, Dnipro was performing religious music, ballads, operettas, and songs of the Cossacks to audiences and to great critical acclaim across the Midwest. By 1962, Dnipro had grown to more than 100 men and women, and appeared at Expo ’67, the World’s Fair held in Montreal. In 2012, as Sir Eugene was celebrating his 99th birthday, the choir was still captivating audiences far and wide, among its ranks the children and grandchildren of some of the original members.
Sadowsky’s musical and cultural accomplishments reached back to Ukraine, as well. Always trying to keep the spirit of independence of his native country alive, his compositions were recognized for both their musical quality and their reflection of the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. He was honored with medals and the title “Laureate,” as Ukraine resoundingly welcomed him and recognized the Maestro as a patriot and an artist. In 2000 he achieved a singular honor when Pope John Paul II proclaimed him Knight of the Order of St. George, for using his astounding musical talents in a tireless lifetime of work on behalf of the church.
As he begins his 101st year, Sir Eugene Sadowsky has to look back upon but prefers to look forward to what his second century of life will bring!