Vern and Vera Korchinski
Vern and Vera Korchinski
Deacon Vern Korchinski, 86, died Oct. 20, nine months after his wife, Vera, 89, died Jan. 29. The two had been married 56 years at the time of her death. There will be a funeral Mass Thursday, Oct. 28, at 1 p.m. at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Preceding Mass, at 12:30 p.m., will be a rosary.

The Korchinskis were stalwart evangelizers and servant-leaders in the Catholic church in the east Portland metro area, working in St. Therese Parish in Northeast Portland, St. Henry in Gresham, St. Joseph the Worker in Southeast Portland — as well as St. Paul in Silverton and Our Lady of Victory in Seaside.

Their story reads a bit like those of steadfast Christians in the early church.

Deacon Vern Korchinski, born July 24, 1935, in Ituna, Saskatchewan. He grew up in a Ukrainian immigrant family in Saskatchewan and Los Angeles.

After a stint in the Air Force, he graduated from Seattle University (a Jesuit school) in 1962 with a degree in philosophy.

Vera, born Jan. 12, 1932, grew up in Chicago. Her parents immigrated in the 1920s from Ukraine.

Family lore has it that their Ukrainian villages were only 40 miles away from each other but it took over 4,000 miles for them to meet.

Vera attended Rosary College in Chicago and received a master’s degree in education. She traveled to Indonesia as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching English to children there. After returning to Chicago, she taught elementary and middle school education for several years; her favorite age group was fourth through sixth grade. Vera also taught Ukrainian folk dancing and cultural classes and sang in Ukrainian church choirs. In Chicago, Vern met Vera through the match-making efforts of a friend over a Ukrainian meal and conversation. Vera thought Vern was pleasant but didn’t like how loudly and boldly he spoke.

A few weeks later Vern attended a slide presentation given by Vera and he approached her and began to win her over afterward.

They married July 19, 1964, and raised three children in the Ukrainian Catholic Church (Byzantine Rite) in Chicago.

The couple made a home of an empty convent and served at the cathedral.

Holidays were celebrated with family and friends and included Ukrainian foods and traditions such as making pysanki, singing Ukrainian tunes and carols — and Ukrainian folk dancing.

Vern learned many of the Ukrainian recipes by taking meticulous notes while watching his mother-in-law cook and bake by memory. (Each recipe was a little different from the year prior!)

The family relocated to Northern Virginia in 1980 where Vern partnered in a venture providing telecommunications in the Middle East. From 1979 to 1991, Deacon Vern was based part time in Iraq. He attended daily Mass in Baghdad and other cities with the nation’s Syrian-rite Catholics.

Vera continued to teach at a local Catholic school. The couple flourished in the Roman Catholic community, helping to build a church in Reston, Virginia.

They directed the children’s choir, taught religious education, led RCIA groups, and participated on parish councils and committees.

In 1991, the war between Iran and Iraq forced Deacon Vern ced to close the company — and allowed him to think about becoming a deacon. Vera had studied advanced theology at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. Deacon Vern embarked on a similar course of study, completing three years of coursework in 18 months.

The couple moved to Oregon when Vera was offered work at St. Paul Parish in Silverton.

“We told people we were taking a leap of faith,” Deacon Vern told the Sentinel in 2002. “Our son said that it sounded more like a belly flop of faith.”

Deacon Vern was told, when he entered the diaconate process to be ordained, that it would be necessary to change rites. He was willing in order to serve the Catholic people.

Archbishop William Levada accepted Deacon Vern and his Ukrainian bishop in Chicago signed off on the arrangement. “We completed much paperwork forwarded through the nuncio to the Vatican,” Deacon Vern remembered in 2020.

After several months, the Vatican’s reply arrived. The message essentially said, “No, he will not be granted permission to change rites. However, he can be ordained a Roman (Latin) Catholic deacon.”

Deacon Vern was ordained by Bishop Kenneth Steiner in 1997, Archbishop Francis George having just been transferred to Chicago.

In 2001, Vera began work at St. Therese Parish, where Deacon Vern was pastoral associate.

“My wife is very heavily involved in supporting me and we are involved together in serving the church,” Deacon Vern told the Sentinel in 2002.

The couple prayed together regularly.

Deacon Vern was praised for his fidelity to church teaching. “Vern is solidly with the magisterium and the Holy Father,” said Deacon John Reis, who for eight years served as director of the diaconate for the Archdiocese of Portland.

Deacon Vern told the Sentinel that being a deacon is a vocational calling. “It is not primarily a choice on the part of the person. It is a response to the call of Christ.”

Deacon Vern was known for his solid, businesslike organizational and managerial skills.

“It was almost a bigger shock [than when he learned he could remain in the Ukrainian Catholic rite as a Roman Catholic deacon] when Archbishop John Vlazny asked me to be the associate director in the office of the diaconate,” Deacon Vern said in 2020. “I spent 12 wonderful years in the office, and I had many opportunities to expand the minds of candidates and their spouses as to how large the Catholic Church really is and give them experience of both ‘lungs’.”

Deacon Vern was referring to Pope St. John Paul’s statement — “The Church needs to learn to breathe again with its two lungs – its Eastern one and its Western one.” —on the Byzantine Catholic and Roman Catholic rites.

After attending an Eastern Catholic Church liturgy, prospective deacons would ask Deacon Vern, “Did that fulfill our Sunday obligation?” “Was that a real Mass?” “How about the Communion?”

“In all fairness, some were quite knowledgeable about the Eastern Catholic Church and even the distinction between them and the Eastern Orthodox churches,” Deacon Vern said.

The couple eventually lived in Arch Cape on the Oregon coast, supporting the church through their service at Our Lady of Victory in Seaside and its mission, St. Peter the Fisherman.

In 2015, Deacon Vern retired and the couple moved to Montana to be closer to family.

Their family said the couple’s faith sustained them through both calm and chaotic times, and that they shared their faith through words but also by their actions.

“I am still a Ukrainian Catholic,” Deacon Vern said in 2020.

Vern and Vera are survived by their three children, Paul (Eve), Mark and Lisa, and two granddaughters, Kira and Sophia.

Interment follows the funeral Mass and will be at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Southwest Portland.