The city of Berdychiv in central Ukraine’s Zhytomyr Region is known for its rich sacred heritage. It is enough to mention the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites and the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God.

The monastery was founded in 1630 by the voivode (governor) of Kyiv, a Polish magnate of Ukrainian background, Janusz Tyszkiewicz. This was one of the strongholds of Catholicism with a strong publishing and financial base in right-bank Ukraine during the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1866 the Russian authorities liquidated the monastery by force. Its real estate was used until 1917 as offices for the district. For the Roman Catholic parish that operated up to the 1930s a two-story building was left. Since 1928 the monastery complex has been part of the memorials of history and culture of all-Ukrainian significance. During the war years of 1941 to 1944, it suffered significant damage. In the post-war period the major part of it was restored.

In 1991 part of the monastery complex was returned by the authorities for the use of a monastic community and congregation. Every year approximately 4000 pilgrims travel to this, the biggest Roman Catholic shrine in Ukraine, to honor the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God of Berdychiv, crowned by Pope John Paul II in 1998. The icon is a copy of the original reproduced by the brush of Krakow artist Bozena Mucha-Sowinska., because the original was lost during World War I. Many faithful live with the conviction that this icon can perform miracles for people in difficult circumstances in life.

Not less important for its historical and religious importance is the Roman Catholic Church of St. Barbara, which the local Catholics are gradually renovating.

The Zhytomyr Region, in particular Berdychiv, played an important role in the life of classical French author Honore de Balzac. He married Ewelina Hanska at the Church of St. Barbara.

The church was built in 1759 on the site of an old wooden church. In its architectural forms it presents a type of parish church widespread in the 17th and 18th centuries and repeats the famous Jesu Church in Rome, built in the Baroque style.

In 1690 a daughter Barbara was born in the family of wealthy Polish magnate Kszysztof Zawisza. She married Duke Mikolaj Faustyna Radziwill and received for her dowry Berdychiv, in which in 1759 she built a church in honor of St. Barbara. Documents about this church are preserved in the Zhytomyr Region State Archives and in the Central State Archive in St. Petersburg.

On 2 March 1850 in the Church of St. Barbara, Abbot Wiktor Ozarowski blessed the marriage of de Balzac. In this church in 1857 English writer Joseph Conrad (Korzeniowski) was baptized.

The Radziwills paid for an organ to be installed in the church on which, according to tradition, composer Frederic Chopin played.

During the Soviet period the church went through significant changes and was rebuilt more than once. At the start of the 1990s a sports school was located in the building, in which V. Lonskyi, a trainer and pedagogue known throughout the Soviet Union, worked.

Through the efforts of the local Catholics the church was returned to its legal owner, the local Roman Catholic community. It is gradually being renovated, and the territory adjoining it is being beautified. A memorial plaque which recalls the wedding of Honore de Balzac has been placed on the façade of the church. The worship building has the status of an architectural monument of national importance (protection document #1093).

Much effort has been made to revive the church respected by all in Berdychiv. Fr. Bernard Mickiewicz is one of a few pastors who in 1993 received a letter of thanks from Pope John Paul II. The Pope wrote: “I know how difficult your work is in this location and I pray that the Most Holy Mother, whose image you received and who heard the words dedicated to her care of the whole Soviet Union on 14 August 1988, will be a strong support for your missionary work in these lands thirsting for faith in God. I cordially bless Father and his fellow brothers in the priesthood.” Fr. Mickiewicz was one of the first to request the authorities to return the church in Berdychiv to the faithful. Born in Latvia, a graduate of the Riga seminary who suffered for his religious convictions, Fr. Mickiewicz witnessed in our land to the truths of the Gospel for 30 years. Recently the honored pastor passed into eternity and was buried on the territory of St. Barbara’s Church, which he always considered part of his family. In this way the parishioners expressed their respect and gratitude to Fr. Mickiewicz for his ministry to the people.

At present there is a large Sunday school at the church, a group of Third Order Franciscans (Catholic lay faithful are members, they take part in the life of the parish and maintain certain internal rules of the order. As a rule they are involved in charitable activities.) Since 1994 the Berdychiv Madonna Legion of Mary has been active at the church, which is also involved in similar activities.

There is much the community of St. Barbara’s Parish in Berdychiv has to be proud of, above all its good works. An example of their Christian love, openness and readiness to help is the fact that they allow another Christian group, the community of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which right now has no church building in Berdychiv, to use the church premises free of charge.