November 28, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible U.S. saints: Maria Kaupas

John F. Fink(Twenty-seventh in a series of columns)

Catholics in Lithuania had to practice their religion underground when Casimira Kaupas, born in 1880, was growing up.

Russia ruled

two-thirds of Lithuania and its czars decreed the Russian Orthodox Church the state religion. Casimira’s father, at risk of imprisonment, helped smuggle Catholic literature from Prussia into Lithuania.

In 1892, Casimira’s brother, Anthony, immigrated to the United States to become a priest. After his ordination in 1896, he was assigned to St. Joseph Lithuanian Church in Scranton, Pa. He wrote home to see if Casimira, 17 at the time, was willing to serve as his housekeeper. She was, and she traveled to Scranton in 1897.

After four years, she got homesick and returned to Lithuania. Four years later, now 25, she was ready to return to the United States, but this time she wanted to become a teaching religious to help Lithuanian Americans practice their faith.

First, though, she needed religious formation. A friend of her brother provided financial support and she went to Ingenbohl, Switzerland, where she spent time with the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross.

Believing herself ready, she asked her brother to identify a spiritual adviser for her intended community. He chose Father Anthony Staniukynas, who then asked Bishop John W. Shanahan of Harrisburg to sponsor the new congregation. The bishop agreed, and Casimira returned to the United States with two companions.

The congregation of the Sisters of St. Casimir was founded on Aug. 29, 1907. Bishop Shanahan gave Casimira the religious name Maria.

The sisters received further spiritual formation from Scranton’s Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When Sister Maria took her perpetual vows in

1913, she was elected superior general and was thereafter called Mother Maria. She led the community for 27 years until her death.

By that time, the community had grown to more than 340 sisters living in more than 30 houses.

The congregation’s first school was in Mount Carmel, Pa., 60 miles from Scranton. However, as the community grew, it moved its motherhouse to Chicago, which had the largest concentration of Lithuanian immigrants. The sisters began schools in Chicago and Waukegan, Ill., and in Philadelphia and Newtown, Pa.

In 1927, Cardinal George Mundelein asked the sisters to operate Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago when Lithuanian Catholic Charities could no longer do so.

In 1937, the community started schools in New Mexico. Mother Maria made plans to expand to Argentina, but that happened a year after her death.

After the Lithuanian people gained their freedom from Russia at the end of World War I, Lithuania’s bishops asked Mother Maria to expand the Sisters of St. Casimir to her homeland. She did, with four of her sisters opening a convent and school in Pazaislis. Fourteen years later, though, the Lithuanian branch separated from the American community because the bishop wanted it to be a diocesan community.

Mother Maria contracted breast cancer, which advanced to bone cancer, when she was 53. She survived to age 60, and died in 1940.†

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