Dominican priest Fr. Michael Romaniv speaks with an elderly Ukrainian woman as he delivers a propane tank, radio, batteries and other vital supplies as the war-torn community was left without running water, electricity or gas. This woman was upset that the Russian soldiers ate everything she had, including chickens, and she was very grateful for the priest’s help. Fr. Romaniv has received financial help and boxes of medical supplies and other needed items from fellow Ukrainian and childhood friend Tanya Zangri, a resident of Cable and the secretary/bookkeeper for St. Ann’s Catholic Church. (Submitted photo)
Catholic Herald staff
“Thank you so much for your help in spreading the word about our amazing Catholic priests who are risking their lives to help people.”
Tanya Zangri, a Ukrainian native who lives in Cable, shared this thought in closing her interview with the Catholic Herald. Zangri is the secretary and bookkeeper for St. Ann’s Catholic Church.
Having first come to Northwest Wisconsin as a high school exchange student, Zangri returned to finish her studies in Lublin, Poland, later returning to Cable to marry a student she’d met and kept in touch with. While the couple is no longer married, Zangri and her three children, ages 19, 17 and 13, have called Cable home for many years.
“When this war started, I was completely shocked,” Zangri said. “I didn’t know what to do … You feel helpless. You see the people being killed and their homes and churches destroyed.”
Zangri turned those feelings of helplessness into action. She contacted a childhood friend and convert to Catholicism, Fr. Michael Romaniv, OP, who is a parish priest in Fastiv, southwest of Kyiv, and also runs a ministry called the House of St. Martin de Porres.
The ministry is housed in a former Dominican monastery that was ravaged during the Communist rule. The building was given back to the Fastiv Roman Catholic community – a minority in the predominantly Eastern Orthodox country – but was dilapidated and in need of major renovations.
Fr. Romaniv was able to fundraise and the House of St. Martin de Porres has served underprivileged children and the marginalized in the community since the military conflict with Russia began in 2014 when the Crimea region was seized. The home has offered physical and mental health services including medical care, a petting zoo, art therapy and psychotherapy.
Zangri visited the center in 2019 when visiting her mother in western Ukraine, outside of Lviv, where she and Fr. Romaniv grew up.
She commented how “Miszka,” as she calls her friend, worked so hard to help restore churches that had been in disrepair since the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991. As a member of a minority religion, Fr. Romaniv was elated when an average of 40 people attended Masses.
He has “always made people feel welcome,” Zangri said of the priest. “It didn’t matter their religion or social status.”
It might be a carry-over from the welcome the priest himself received as a young man who, not even Catholic, felt drawn to religious life after meeting a Dominican priest through another schoolmate.
“No one thought he was serious when he mentioned wanting to join the order,” Zangri stated. “Now 30 years later…” everyone around him is taking seriously the needs he has taken upon himself to fill.
Soon after the Russian invasion began in February, Zangri texted Fr. Romaniv, wanting to do something, anything, to help. She was saddened to know how hard her friend had worked to build up his parish and ministry – St. Martin de Porres House also runs their own bakery, coffee shop and a pottery studio.
The Dominican immediately responded that they needed bandages, tourniquets and blood-clotting powder – things Zangri wasn’t even sure how to go about finding. Within weeks, they were shipping boxes to Warsaw, Poland, to be taken across the border into Ukraine by Dominican priests and volunteers.
As of Easter, the Cable parish, with help from Cable’s United Church of Christ community and Hayward’s St. Joseph Catholic Church, had raised more than $25,000 and collected numerous boxes of supplies that have been sent to Ukraine.
Zangri admits she’s been speechless and shed many tears of gratitude for the support of her home country. Her own son, 17-year-old Timmy, has been very motivated and engaged, initiating his own fundraisers to help the cause.
Of her three children, Timmy has spent the most time in Ukraine. He was there with his mom in 2019 – the last time they were able to visit Zangri’s mother, who has since passed – and was able to visit Fastiv and see all of Fr. Romaniv’s work.
The young man fell in love with the region – the people, the culture and good – and since the conflict began, he watches the news of the war and keeps his mom updated. Their remaining relatives in Ukraine still live in the western part of the country – “safe for now,” Zangri said, but they keep watching and waiting.
“I keep counting my blessings,” she expressed. “I cannot thank God enough for what I have.”
She is deeply moved by the posts and videos the priest shares on his Facebook page – photos of giant depressions from missiles, dozens of buses full of women and children they have helped evacuate to safety, elderly whose windows have all been blown out, stories of mine-riddled roads that make smaller villages unreachable.
“You think you’ve seen it all,” Zangri said, when some other unbelievable post is shared.
Fr. Romaniv gave an Easter message from inside the parish church with a full congregation behind him. In the video, the pastor addressed parishioners who had had to leave Fastiv. He told them how much the rest of the parish loves and misses them terribly.
“Soon the war will be over and we will gather again at the Lord’s table,” the priest said.
He and numerous volunteers have delivered more than 800 boxes of food and supplies to people who have been completely cut off. The “multiplication of the loaves” is how the Dominican has described it to his friend.
Referring to her own pastor, Fr. David Neuschwander, Zangri said, “Fr. David has been so very supportive of the fundraiser from day one.”
She also acknowledged Cable United Church of Christ pastor Phil Milam and another Ukrainian couple, Roman and Ursula Lucyk, who have done much for the cause and been able to make personal connections with Fr. Romaniv over the phone with Zangri.
Roman was a refugee from Communist Ukraine as a little boy, so he “feels for the country who still has to fight for its freedom,” Zangri said.
Sharing about an interview she heard recently with a woman who had lived through World War II, Zangri relayed her message, “The world’s support is so great this time around. People and especially fighters in Ukraine are truly charging their strength from it. They know what they are fighting for and having the world’s help and support makes them unstoppable.”
Zangri acknowledge her people’s fearless and tireless spirits but knows prayers and support need to continue.
Donations are truly saving lives, she affirmed.
Anyone interested in contributing to the cause can write checks out to St. Ann with Fastiv in the memo line and sent them to St. Ann Catholic Church, PO Box 37, Cable, WI 54821.
The world is such a giant place – and yet so small – because we’re so similar, Zangri reflected. Even with different languages, religions and skin color, people are people, and the sense of accompaniment and support across borders and barriers gives hope to all involved.
In a parish bulletin thank you note, Zangri wrote how proud she is of her faith community, the “small parish with a giant heart.”
To follow Fr. Michael Romaniv’s efforts in Ukraine, find him and his posts on Facebook at facebook.com/miszka.romaniv.
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