Part III: the Lithuanian Community of Cleveland to World War II

Religion and Education

Lithuanians tended to be close to their religion, and it is likely that almost from the beginning there was a desire to have their own church. At first they attended Saint Joseph’s Church at 23rd Street and Woodland Avenue. Every Easter a priest would come from Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Chicago to hear confessions. Then in September, 1895, they managed to establish their own parish, which met temporarily at Saint Peter’s Church,[1] with the Reverend J. Delinikaitis as pastor. From 1898 to 1901 Reverend J. Jankus took over leadership of the parish,[2] and purchased property on the corner of Rockwell Avenue and East 21st Street. The house on the lot was used as a rectory, and two years later a frame combination church and school was built.[3] Reverend Juozas Halaburda (Alaburda), who became pastor in 1906, immediately began making plans to activate the school, which was opened in 1908 under the guidance of the Sisters of Notre Dame. During the first year there were approximately 300 children in the first to sixth grades.

The curriculum was the same as that prescribed by the Cleveland Diocese for the parish schools, and in 1910 an additional course was offered when the organist, a Mr. Kimutis, began to teach the children to read Lithuanian. With his assistance the students were taught the daily prayers and a number of hymns in Lithuanian. This work was frequently aided by one or two sisters of Lithuanian parentage.

Since the parish was rapidly growing and it was evident that a new church was needed, Father Halaburda purchased property on the corner of Superior Avenue and 67th Street, near where many Lithuanians were beginning to move. In the autumn of 1920 ground was broken for a new structure, and its cornerstone was laid the following spring by Dr. Scullen, administrator of the Cleveland Diocese. By September 1921 the new combined church and school was completed.

The Sisters of Notre Dame remained at Saint George’s until 1931, and during their stay approximately 7,500 boys and girls attended the school.[4] In 1932 Reverend V. Vilkutaitis invited the Lithuanian order of the Sisters of Saint Francis to assume the duties of instruction.

The number of pupils continued to increase until there were 700 in 1930, but in 1943 this dropped to only 200, since many Lithuanians had moved to the suburbs. Then there was a period of renewed activity when a number of displaced persons arrived from Europe after World War II, and the total enrollment for the school in 1951 almost reached 400.[5] However, in 1970 the school was forced to close due to the continued movement of many Lithuanians to the outskirts of the city. Nevertheless, the Church remains open, and since 1965 has been under the leadership of the very active and capable Reverend Balys Ivanauskas.

The direct contributions of Saint George’s school to Cleveland and the nation as a whole were numerous. Functioning for over sixty years, the school provided a sound education for thousands of young students. This involved not only the basic disciplines but also a firm foundation in ethical and moral relationships. The quality of education received by the students was high, as was indicated by competitive parochial examinations given in 1919 for the city of Cleveland. Marked on an “A” to “F” scale, every Lithuanian student received an “A.”[6] In addition, between 1895 and 1942 the parish provided five priests and twenty-four sisters for the religious life.[7]

In 1929 Reverend Anthony Karužiškis founded Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a second Lithuanian parish, to serve the Lithuanians living between 116th and 185th Streets. Reverend Joseph Angelaitis, who had been very active in the unionization movement in western Pennsylvania, succeeded Karužiškis in 1939.[8] Father Angelaitis was known throughout Cleveland for his relentless energy, and under his guidance a church, school, convent, rectory, and monument dedicated to a free Lithuania, were built. Architectually, the buildings are among the most skillfully integrated of any parish in the Cleveland diocese. When Father Angelaitis retired in 1974, the entire parish debt had been paid off and there was $111,000.00 in the treasury. From the beginning Father Angelaitis had the school staffed by a Lithuanian order of nuns, the Saint Casimir Sisters.

In addition to these two institutions, a number of Lithuanians attended public schools. While data of the exact number in various schools does not exist, it is known that in 1908 there were approximately 200 students in public schools compared to 300 at Saint George’s school.[9]

An extremely important, cohesive factor of any ethnic corrmunity is the native tongue, and over the years the Lithuanians in Cleveland have made strenuous attempts to preserve their language. The most extensive program was carried on in Saint George’s school. For almost a half century, from 1910 until the early 1950’s, one class a day in a five day week was devoted to the teaching of Lithuanian. In addition to this, there were also a number of individuals who worked to preserve and foster the language. One of the early central figures’was Juozas Sadauskas, who actively fought to retain the use of Lithuanian in all Lithuanian affairs, and taught the language, gratis, for over four years. From 1923 to 1927 he instructed approximately forty children, ten to fourteen years of age, on Saturdays, and about thirty older students on Sundays during the regular school year.[10]

Lithuanian respect for education is well documented by the establishment of the two grade schools. Even during difficult economic times they persisted. Their reverence for education was further stressed by a “voluntary pledge of each Lithuanian society to help one promising and ambitious boy to secure a higher education.”[11]

Besides these formal educational situations, there were many other worthy, but isolated, scholarly endeavors that have largely gone unnoticed. This was often true with the earlier immigrants. A number obtained college degrees, a major accomplishment for an American-born citizen at the time, let alone an immigrant. One of the first Lithuanians to do so in the Cleveland area was Jonas Purvis, who became a mathematics professor at Baldwin Wallace College. Not much is known of Purvis, except that he held the position from 1913-1916.[12]

Of great significance to the education of the first Lithuanians in Cleveland was Valparaiso University. Oddly enough this institution functioned in part to teach the Lithuanian students the new Lithuanian literary language,[13] since the Lithuanians coming to the United States at the turn of the century had been victims of Russian oppression, and were forbidden to learn their own language.[14]

A noted Valparaiso graduate was Vincas Greičius, who came to the United States in 1904. After studying music at the University for six years, he returned to Cleveland, where he taught piano, formed and directed a number of singing groups, and presented various contatas and operettas. In addition to these activities, he also taught English to his fellow Lithuanians and helped approximately one hundred obtain their citizenship papers. His genius and love of music and learning were passed on to his children, with one son, Vincent, becoming a professional violinist, and the other, Francis, a physician. The former was invited in 1935 to play at the First Lithuanian World Congress in Kaunas. Upon returning to Cleveland he received a scholarship to Western Reserve University, where he majored in music. In 1940 he began playing with the Cleveland Orchestra as one of its youngest members, and in 1948 he was recruited by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, where he is currently in the first violinist section. Francis Greitius chose medicine as a career, and after finishing his initial medical studies went on to specialize in surgery. His footsteps are being followed by his son, Francis, Jr.[15]

After graduating from Valparaiso University, another Clevelander, Peter V. Chesnul, successfully went on to study law and later became assistant county prosecutor. He, along with N. A. Wilkelis and others, formed the Lithuanian University Club of Cleveland to which a Dr. J. Vitkus also belonged. Dr. Vitkus was another alumnus of Valparaiso and became the first Lithuanian physician in Cleveland. By 1938 the city could boast of six Lithuanians in medicine and dentistry.[16]

The Muliolis family gives further evidence of the Lithuanian drive for education. Peter P. Muliolis had received a primary school education in Lithuania and came to the United States in 1906. After operating a small printing shop on 21st and Hamilton, he successively worked as a pattern maker for the Otis Steel Company, managed the St. Clair Savings and Loan at 2006 St. Clair Avenue, and for many years was a member of the Board of Directors of Superior Savings and Loan. Finally, he opened his own real estate office which he operated until his death. Speaking seven languages, he often served as an interpreter for people in court, and was very active in many Lithuanian groups. When he died in 1955 the Cleveland City Council, recognizing his service to the community, passed a resolution praising his fine work.

Married to Mary Diraitis, the sister of John DeRighter, the couple raised seven children, six of whom went beyond the high school level. Joseph received a BBA from Ohio State University, rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel during the Second World War, and was selected as one of 66 civilian aides to the Secretary of State. Another son, Bernard, also received a BBA from Ohio State University and went into the real estate and insurance business. Rosemary received her BA from Long Beach State College and now teaches. Marjorie became a registered nurse through St. John’s Hospital. Donald received his Juris Doctor from Wake Forest Law School and now practices out of his father’s old real estate office. Jane Frances attended the Cleveland Institute of Art.[17] A number of other Lithuanians in Cleveland went on for higher degrees, such as Dr. Albert Korsak (Korsakas), who is a professor in the Department of Geography, and Dr. Albert Rakas, who is Dean of the Law School at the University of Akron.

Another Clevelander to make a significant contribution in the cultural area was Anthony Vaiksnoras. He received a scholarship to attend the Cleveland Art Institute, from which he graduated in 1942. Exhibits of his paintings have been widely viewed and include the Carnegie Art Museum in Pittsburgh, Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Since 1945 he has won over 23 awards in the May Show at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Museum possesses seven of his paintings. His works are also found in a number of other art museums, and have been bought by hundred of individuals.[18]

  1. Casimir Širvaitis, "Cleveland's Industrious Citizenry", The Marian, IV, (December 1951), 10.
  2. P. Lapelis (ed.), Metraštis, 363.
  3. Hazel Fetzer (ed.), Parishes of the Catholic Church Diocese of Cleveland (Cleveland, 1942), 119.
  4. The information on St. George's parish, while under the guidance of the Sisters of Notre Dame, was extracted from the annuals of St. George's, which are located in the Mother House at Chardin, Ohio.
  5. J. Končius (Chief ed.), Amerikos Lietuvių Katalikų Darbai (Work of Catholic Lithuanian Americans), (1943), 207, 208. Sirvaitis, "Cleveland's", 10.
  6. Coulter, The Lithuanians, 11, 12.
  7. Fetzer, Parishes, 120.
  8. Kazys S. Karpius and Vacys Rociūnas, 1968m. Vasario 18d. Cleveland, Ohio (18 February 1968, Cleveland, Ohio ), (Cleveland, 1968), 12.
  9. Lapelis, Matraštis, 363.
  10. Interview with Sadauskas on 14 April 1972.
  11. Coulter, The Lithuanians, 12.
  12. Vytis (The Knight), 16 April 1916, 14. The dates of instruction were verified through the Alumni Office at Baldwin Wallace College on 21 May 1972.
  13. There were a number of institutions of higher education, which taught the Lithuanian language. These included; St. Bede College (Peru, Illinois), St. Bonaventure Seminary (Olean, New York), Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary (Orchard Lake, Michigan), and St. Lawrence College (Montreal, Canada). "Valparaiso Universitetas ir Kitos Mokyklos" (Valparaiso University and Other Schools), Vytis, 15 April 1920, 20.
  14. This period, which lasted from 1864 to 1904, witnessed the growth of numerous secret schools in private homes, where parents instructed their children. The threat of arrest and possible imprisonment was a constant danger, but the efforts would definitely have to be considered as a success. Nevertheless, a number, who under normal circumstances could have received an education, did not.
  15. Joseph Bendler, "Violinist Vincent Grečius", Lietuva, II, No. 6, (June 1940), 17.
  16. S.E. Vitaitis (ed.), Susivienijimo Lietuvių Amerikoje Auksinio Juviliejaus Albumas (The Lithuanian Alliance of America Jubilee Album), (New York, 1936), 201.
  17. Interview with Marjorie (Muliolis) Leivlinger 16 April 1975. Further indication of the educational bent of Peter P. Muliolis can be seen by the fact that he had over sixty volumes of Lithuanian periodicals bound. These were printed around the turn of the century and in some cases are likely to be the only surviving editions. His son, Donald, donated them to the Kent State University in memory of his father.
  18. This information was extracted from the resume of Vaikšnoras.


Lithuanian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland Copyright © 2020 by Cleveland State University . All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book