Nicholas Thomas Elko was born in Donora, Pennsylvania on December 14, 1909. After receiving his elementary and secondary education in the public schools of his hometown, he attended and was graduated in 1930 from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Upon completion of his theological studies at the Greek Catholic Seminary in Užhorod (western Ukraine) and his graduate studies at the University of Louvain in Belgium, he, along with the future Bishop Daniel Ivancho, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Basil Takach on September 30, 1934 at St. Nicholas Church in McKeesport, Pa.
Following his ordination, Father Nicholas served as pastor in several parishes throughout the Exarchate. He became active in the Greek Catholic Union and was its spiritual director for four years. He was Dean of the Cleveland Deanery, Consultor and Vicar General. In 1952, His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, named him a domestic prelate with the title of Reverend Monsignor. In that same year, he was appointed Rector of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary.
In the summer of 1954 Monsignor Nicholas was appointed Rector of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall, Pa. His pastorate there, however, was destined to be a very brief one, as three months later came the resignation of Bishop Daniel. Following this sudden and unforeseen development, the Holy See named Monsignor Nicholas as Apostolic Administrator of the Exarchate on December 2, 1954. It is told that he received the telephone call from Rome notifying him of his appointment while he was supervising parishioners who were helping to repaint the rectory.
On February 16, 1955, Archbishop Amleto G. Cicognani, the Vatican’s delegate to the United States, announced that Monsignor Nicholas would be elevated to the episcopacy. On March 6, 1955, with his mother and two brothers in attendance, he was ordained a bishop by Eugene Cardinal Tisserant at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Thus at the age of 46, Nicholas T. Elko became the first American-born Bishop of the Greek Catholic Church.
Bishop Nicholas was a popular speaker and an accomplished writer who directed far-reaching changes and tremendous growth in the Exarchate. More than 100 churches and schools were constructed or reconstructed; English became the language for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the U.S.; a weekly newspaper, The Byzantine Catholic World, began publication; the use of “Greek Catholic” was replaced by “Byzantine Catholic,” and parishes were founded in California and Alaska.
In December 1967, he was transferred to Rome. Shortly after his transfer, Bishop Nicholas was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop and appointed the ordaining prelate for Byzantine Catholics in Rome and head of the Ecumenical Commission on the Liturgy. He therefore resigned from his position as Byzantine Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh.
Archbishop Nicolas returned to the United States in 1970 and became the Auxiliary Archbishop of the (Latin) Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, a position he held for 14 years. Upon reaching his 75th birthday, he retired. Afflicted with cancer, he fell asleep in the Lord in Cincinnati on May 18, 1991.
Though he became a controversial figure, Bishop Nicholas’ dynamic personality and energy accomplished much for the growth and recognition of the Byzantine Catholic Church.