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Lithuanians in the United States

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The Lithuanians ( Lietuvys ; adjective, lietuviskas ) are a people of Russia, occupying the territory of ancient Lithuania ( Lietuva ), now the present Governments or Provinces of Suwalki, Kovno, Vilna, Grodno, Vitebsk, Minsk, and Mohileff. Between 1300 and 1600 they formed an independent kingdom, but in 1500 their kingdom became practically united with Poland under a common sovereign and in 1569 the Diet of Lublin decreed a permanent union of Poland and Lithuania into a single kingdom with a Polish elective king. After the conquest and partition of Poland in 1795 Lithuania became separate Russian provinces, apart from Poland, and so continues, with the exception of Suwalki, down to the present time. Although the Lithuanian people were first under Polish and then under Russian domination they nevertheless preserved their nationality and language, and in late years their language has had a great revival. They are not a Slavic people, although surrounded by the Poles and the Russians. They are the descendants of the original races dwelling on the shores of the Baltic Sea but have of course absorbed many Slavic traits and expressions. Their language is unlike the Polish or the Russian, the nouns and adjectives having but two genders (masculine and feminine) unlike the three in Russian and Polish; and unlike them it has three numbers: singular, dual, and plural; and has an elaborate verbal inflection instead of the simpler one of the Slavic tongues. It has no article, not even the suffix forms used in Russian and Bulgarian.


The famine in Lithuania in 1867-68 drove many Lithuanians abroad. Some of them crossed the Atlantic and landed at New York. The first arrivals worked on farms around New York City or in brickyards along the Hudson River and in the Catskills. Later on they were attracted to north-eastern Pennsylvania to build railroads and they eventually went into the anthracite coal mines around Shamokin, Shenandoah, and other towns. Many of them went to Chicago after the great fire in that city in 1872. Others established themselves in the tailoring business in New York, Brooklyn, and Baltimore. Even at the present time Lithuanian tailors are comparatively numerous in large cities along the Atlantic coast, including Philadelphia and Boston. In the early eighties of the last century a permanent drop in the prices of Lithuanian rye and flax coupled with the overpopulation of the country caused an exodus of the young and enterprising men towards the large cities such as Riga, St. Petersburg, etc., but this large flow of emigration was immediately diverted towards America. Beginning with 1890 the Lithuanians began to come in large numbers, until at present it is estimated that nearly one-fifth of the nation is on American soil. Lithuanian immigration during the past decade shows the following yearly figures: in 1900, 10,311; 1905, 18,604; 1907, 25,884; 1910, 22,714; 1912, 24,119; and it is probable that many of them have been reckoned in the immigration reports as Poles instead of Lithuanians. Conservative estimates place the number of Lithuanians in the United States in 1912 at approximately 600,000, including the immigrants and the native-born.

In 1909 the Lithuanians of America celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Lithuanian immigration to the United States. They are distributed over large areas of the north-eastern states, being settled in the industrial centres of New England, and in and around New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburg, Cleveland, and Chicago (in the latter city about 70,000). They are in large numbers in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania (about 60,000), and are likewise settled in the soft coal regions. Small numbers of them are settled over the western states. Several hundred have settled in Montreal, Canada. Large Polish centres, such as Milwaukee, Detroit, and Buffalo, have had but little or no attraction for them. There are comparatively few Lithuanian farmers in America and these have not been very successful. All attempts to colonize them in Arkansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York have failed. Generally speaking, the Lithuanians prefer to be employed in factories, closed shops, and mines, and seem to dislike work in the open air. They have not met with any great success in business enterprises and there are few rich persons among them.


In order to understand properly the development of religious life among the Lithuanians in America some facts in their national life should be recalled. The Lithuanians received their Christianity from Poland in 1386, through the conversion of King Jagello, who became Regent of Poland upon his marriage. Subsequent political union with Poland had a disastrous and depressing effect upon the national development of the Lithuanians. For five centuries they were more or less polonized by the nobility and land-owning classes and even through the Church, and this process is not entirely at an end but is even reinforced by Russian pressure. Lithuanians were made to believe that they were a sort of inferior race and that their language was fitting only for a pagan people. Attempts to awaken their national consciousness in 1850 and 1860 and to create a national literature were suddenly arrested by the Russian Government, which in 1864 absolutely prohibited the publication and distribution of Lithuanian books printed in Latin characters. From that time the Lithuanians were deprived for over forty years of literature printed in their own language, since they absolutely refused to adopt the Russian characters. Even prayer-books and other literature had to be printed abroad and secretly introduced into Lithuania, where they were often confiscated by the Government and burned. Their only avenue towards literary and religious development was chiefly Polish during that period.

The Lithuanian national movement started in 1883 when Dr. John Basanavicius in conjunction with some other enthusiasts in Prussia began to publish a patriotic newspaper called "Ausra" (The Dawn). In a short time many Lithuanians -- both clergy and laity -- were thoroughly aroused and rallied to the support and ideas of the paper. This was the beginning of a national movement which was destined to play a distinct role even in the religious life of the nation. The most difficult task for the young patriots was to draw the Lithuanians away from the Polish language and Polish ideals. Unfortunately some leaders of the national movement who had been educated in the anti-Catholic Russian schools soon brought an anti-religious propaganda into this national movement, on the ground that everything taken from Polish sources, -- even the Catholic religion -- was detrimental to the Lithuanian nation. So hand in hand with this national awakening there came into play an atheistic teaching which soon estranged the clergy and laity. Even now when Lithuanians use the word "national" it is often taken to mean something which is non-Catholic or non-religious. And this is why Protestantism and the so-called "independent" movements have taken no root among the Lithuanians, although in a few places under peculiar local conditions there have been attempts to found parishes along the lines of the Polish "national" or "independent" churches.

When Lithuanians began to come to America there had been no national awakening among them. They then leaned towards the Poles and built churches jointly with the Poles. The first purely Lithuanian congregation was organized in 1885 at New York, but it ceased to exist the following year owing to the unfavourable attitude taken by its organizer, John Szlupas, who was a freethinker although secretary of the parish. However there is now at New York the Church of Our Lady of Vilna. The first Lithuanian church (St. Casimir) was built by Father A. Burba in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, in 1889. It was undertaken when the Poles refused on account of his nationality to accept him as rector of a Plymouth church which had been built some years previously principally by the Lithuanians and had always hitherto been in charge of a Lithuanian priest. Soon afterwards separate Lithuanian churches were built in other places: St. Casimir at Pittston, Pa. (1890); St. Joseph, Mahanoy City, Pa. (1891); St. John Baptist, Baltimore, Md. (1891); St. George, Chicago, Ill. (1892); etc. At present (1913) there are in the United States 72 exclusively Lithuanian parishes with resident priests, and one (St. Casimir) in Montreal, Canada. There are also about 15 churches and chapels attended from adjacent parishes and others in the course of erection.


In the beginning of 1913 the Lithuanians in America had one academy for girls and 22 day-schools taught by the Sisters of St. Casimir, Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Sisters of the Holy Ghost, and the Dominican Sisters; some ten schools had lay teachers. Nearly 5000 children attend these schools. In 1907 Bishop J. W. Shanahan of Harrisburg got permission from Rome to found in his diocese the Institute of St. Casimir, the object of which was to teach Lithuanian schools, take care of Lithuanian orphans and the like. The first three sisters came from Ingenbohl, Switzerland, to Mount St. Mary's Seminary of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart at Scranton, Pa., in 1905 and made their profession there in August, 1907. Immediately afterwards they went to Mt. Carmel, Pa., where they started a Lithuanian school whilst other postulants were left for training in Scranton. In 1910 the Sisters of St. Casimir moved to Chicago and occupied their newly-built mother-house at the corner of West 67th and South Rockwell Streets. There are at present (1913) 17 professed sisters, 25 novices, and 25 postulants and aspirants. They also have in the mother-house an academy for girls, both a boarding- and day-school. So far they have four parochial schools under their care: Chicago, Waukegan, Philadelphia, and Mt. Carmel. The St. Casimir Institute is still under the general charge of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart. Its finances are supervised by Father A. Staniukynas who has been interested in the institute since 1905, and on giving up parish work in 1906 he has ever since devoted all his time and energy to the growth of this educational institution.


About forty per cent of the Lithuanians belong to some kind of organization. Every parish has one or more Catholic beneficial societies ; they are often Catholic only so far as the fulfilment of Easter duty is demanded from their members under penalty of expulsion from the society. The Lithuanians of America since 1886 had a general alliance of their societies, but in 1901 it split into two branches, the Catholic and the National. At present the Catholic branch has about 6500 members, while the National has about 6000. In Sept., 1912, Lithuanian Catholic beneficial societies at their convention in Newark, N.J., formed still another alliance, whose membership has not yet been reported. In April, 1906, the Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation was formed but it has not been active since 1908. In the New England states a Lithuanian Young People's (men and women ) Federation is being formed. The Lithuanian Catholic Temperance Association was formed in 1909, but in 1911 a large number seceded and formed a separate Confederation of Total Abstainers, membership over 1000. The Lithuanian Roman Catholic Priests' Association, established 5 May, 1909, devotes its energy to the publication of Catholic literature. It issues a weekly paper "Draugas" (The Companion) in Chicago. "The Apostleship of Prayer" under the direction of Rev. P. Saurusaitis of Waterbury, Conn., circulates in many parishes. There is also a Lithuanian Catholic Educational Society, "Motinele", which was founded in 1900. There are other societies which are socialistic, atheistic in their aims, or devoid of any religious character whatever.


There are more than twenty-five Lithuanian periodicals published in America, but only two weeklies, "Draugas" in Chicago and "Zvaigzde" (The Star) in Philadelphia, and one monthly, "Sviesa" (The Light) in Waterbury, are strictly speaking Catholic publications. The Lithuanian publications of the largest circulation are "Lietuva" (Lithuania) of Chicago, "Keleivis" (The Wanderer) of Boston, and "Vienybe Lietuvniku" (Lithuanian Union) of Brooklyn, but these are all non-Catholic. Five of these Lithuanian journals are more or less anticlerical, six are rabidly atheistic and socialistic, one free-thought, whilst the remainder of the non-Catholic ones are "national", permeated with irreligion, although not openly antagonistic to the faith.

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