Part II: Lithuanian Immigration to the United States

Religious Congregations

With the establishment of churches and schools, the need for Lithuanian priests and nuns became clear. With this realization, Rev. Petras Abromaitis in 1895 agreed to donate his farm near Baltimore for the establishment of a Lithuanian order of nuns. The feelings of some of the leading Lithuanian priests at the time, however, was that there would not be enough aspirants, and Rev. Abromaitis died before any solid steps were taken.[1] Despite this, individuals continued to push ahead until success was gained. One of these was Casimira Kaupas, who upon the urging of her brother, Rev. Anthony Kaupas, came from Lithuania to Scranton, where for the first time she saw nuns in religious dress. Although she soon became homesick and returned to Lithuania, she had been infected with the idea of joining a religious order and could not divorce herself from this urge. At this point Reverend Anthony Milukas, who was very active throughout his life with Lithuanian affairs and published numerous works on Lithuania and Lithuanians, entered Casimira’s life and urged her to establish a Lithuanian order of sisters,[2] which she did. On August 30, 1907, Casimira, Judith Dvaranauskas, and Antoinette Unguraitis became novices, thus instituting the Sisters of Saint Casimir. Instrumental in the founding of the order was Rev. Anthony Stasiukynas, who had convinced the Bishop of Harrisburg of the necessity of the order, and who later tirelessly worked to put it on a sound footing.

The congregation was originally located in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, where it served the grade school of the Lithuanian parish. In 1910 it moved to Chicago, where the sisters established their motherhouse. Nine years later a branch was founded in independent Lithuania and the order continued to grow until it had some 500 members who administered forty-one grade schools, four high schools, three hospitals, a parochial center, and one home for the aged.[3] Their motherhouse, a high school, and a hospital, along with a Lithuanian parish church, are all located in a one block section of Marquette Park in Chicago, and officially designated as the Lithuanian Plaza.

The next step was to establish a Lithuanian order of priests in the United States. This was to be the Congregation of Marian Fathers, already in existence in Lithuania. However, due to the restrictive policies of Czar Alexander II, the order was dying. Rather than passively watch their order wither, two members, Rev. Andrew Strupinskas and Rev. George Kolesinskas, left for America, arriving in 1874 and 1890, respectively.

Both tirelessly worked among Lithuanians, but it was not until the time of Rev. George Matulaitis that a congregation was founded. In 1900 Matulaitis approached Rev. Vincent Senkus, the only remaining member of the order, and asked to become a member and to change the order to a congregation.[4] Final permission to do so was received by Pope Pius X in 1910, and by the summer of 1911 a sizeable class of novices was studying in Fribourg, Switzerland. In 1913 Matulaitis, along with Reverends Julian Kazakas and Felix Kudirka, founded the first Marian House in the United States in Chicago which remains their center.[5]

The congregation grew rapidly, and in 1923 land was purchased in Hinsdale, Illinois, for a second seminary. In 1931 a third was founded in Thompson, Connecticut. In addition, they attend parishes in Chicago, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Niagara Falls, Racine, and Plano, Illinois, as well as parishes in Avellaneda and Rosario, Argentina. Their publication activity has also been prolific. In addition to printing the daily newspaper Draugas (Friend) since 1919, they also print the Laivas (Ship) and The Marian magazines, as well as numerous pamphlets and monographs.

A second order of Lithuanian nuns, the Sisters of Saint Francis, was founded in Pittsburgh in 1922. In addition to running St. Francis Academy, a private girls high school on the grounds of the motherhouse, the Sisters of St. Francis staffed twenty-nine elementary schools and four high schools. They also established a mission in Lithuania during the independent period, and one in Sao Paulo, Brazil.[6]

The last religious order to be founded in America was the Sisters of Jesus Crucified, which came into being in 1924 and had its first motherhouse in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania. In 1945 the motherhouse was transferred to Brockton, Massachusetts. The order has taught catechism classes in parishes and instructed in five elementary schools. For a number of years the spiritual director of the order was Msgr. Francis Juras, who created the ALKA Museum and Archives now located in Putnam, Connecticut, which houses the largest collection of Lithuanian printed material and artifacts outside of Lithuania itself.

After World War II, members of three other religious orders fled Russian persecution and sought refuge in the United States. These were the Jesuit Fathers, Franciscan Fathers, and Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although the Lithuanian Jesuits had members of its group in the United States since 1931, it was not until after the War that thirty were to arrive and establish their headquarters in Chicago. They became very active in several fields. In journalism they began publishing two monthly journals, Laiškai Lietuviams (Letters for Lithuanians) and Žvaigždė (The Star), and later printed additional periodicals and monographs. Believing that the future lies with the youth, the Jesuit Fathers also focused their energies on the young, as witnessed by the recent completion of the Lithuanian Youth Center as an annex to their headquarters. In their attempt to preserve rapidly disappearing Lithuanian printed materials, they also established the Lithuanian World Archives. In addition, the Jesuits built a Lithuanian parish in Montreal and Montevideo, and took over the leadership of one of Cleveland’s two Lithuanian parishes. On August 2. 1941, the Lithuanian Franciscan Fathers received permission from the Bishop of Pittsburgh to establish a temporary monastery there; on July 22, 1944, a permanent monastery was founded in the Diocese of Portland, Maine. The work of the Franciscans was made easier by the generous donations of Mrs. Magdalen Clayton, who gave her entire fortune for their work. In 1947 a large monastery was purchased at Kennebunkport, Maine, and later a mission opened in St. Catherines, Ontario. Recently an impressive monastery was erected in Brooklyn, which is now a center of Lithuanian activity for the New York City area. The Franciscans also administer the Lithuanian parish in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania.[7]

In the area of publication, the Franciscans also became active, publishing the journals Varpelis (Little Bell) and Aidai (Echoes). Additionally, three semi-weekly newspapers, Amerika (America), Lietuvių Žinios (Lithuanian News), and Darbininkas (The Worker), were consolidated under the last title and published by the order. Later Ateitis (The Future) and Karys (The Warrior) were also printed by the Franciscans.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary already had strong ties to the United States. In 1936 Sister Mary Teresa came to America with five other sisters, and after a stay at Marianapolis in Thompson, Connecticut, they went to the Marian Hills Seminary in Hinsdale, Illinois, where Chicago’s Cardinal J. Mundelein gave permission for three of the sisters to settle. In 1939, the order moved to Connecticut, and shortly thereafter bought a home, Villa Maria, in Thompson. Noviciates were sent to study in Lithuania until that country’s occupation. Then they were educated at Villa Maria until 1943, when a large farm was purchased near Putnam, Connecticut, which became the order’s motherhouse. The next year the first of a series of summer camps was held for girls and has successfully continued to the present. Here the girls are taught Lithuanian history, literature, dances and songs. Later other camps run by the sisters were established at Camp Dainava near Manchester, Michigan, and in New Hampshire. In 1948 Msgr. Francis Juras purchased a press for the order, and it has since been very active printing Lithuanian books and periodicals.[8] Msgr. Juras was also instrymental in founding the Matulaitis Nursing Home for the Sisters in Putnam, Connecticut.

Kanklės Lithuanian folk instrument
Kanklės Lithuanian folk instrument

  1. J. Konsius, Švento Kazimiero Seserų Kongregacija (1907-1932) (The Congregation of the Sister of Saint Casimir, 1907-1932) (Mount Carmel, 1932), 68.
  2. Katherine Burton, Lily and Sword and Crown (Milwaukee, 1958).
  3. Jubilate Deo 1907-1957 (Chicago, 1957).
  4. P. Paul Gabris, The Past Fifty Years (Chicago, 1964), 9-13.
  5. Gabris, The Past, 17.
  6. L.E., XXIII, 418, 419.
  7. Lithuanian Franciscan Fathers (Brooklyn, 1952).
  8. L.E., XX, 145, 146.


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

Share This Book