VENERABLE MARIA KAUPAS, Foundress of the Sisters of St. Casimir, was born Casimira Kaupas in Ramygala, Lithuania in 1880. At the request of her older brother, Rev. Anthony Kaupas, she came to the United States in 1897 to serve as his housekeeper. Rev. Kaupas, who had previously immigrated to the United States, was serving as pastor of St. Joseph Lithuanian parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It was during her four-year stay in the United States that Casimira met Sisters for the first time and was attracted to an apostolic religious life.
Mother Maria’s dream to provide a religious education for the children of Lithuanian immigrants became a reality when on January 6, 1908, Holy Cross School opened with over 70 pupils. Lithuanian pastors, recognizing the depth and strength of this new Congregation toward preserving the faith life of the immigrant people, sent requests begging for Sisters to staff their parochial schools, first in Pennsylvania, later in Chicago and in many other parts of the United States.
|Mother Maria on left|
For the first twenty years, the Sisters of St. Casimir focused on their primary apostolate of education. When the United States experienced the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, it was evident to Mother Maria that there were “too few doctors and too few to give care.” (Letter to Sr. M. Josepha, October 16, 1918).
In 1916, with an element of freedom returning to Lithuania because of Czarist Russia’s pre-occupation with its own revolution, the Bishops of Lithuania wrote to Mother Maria seeking her assistance. They had heard about the great advancement she and her Sisters had made among the Lithuanian American immigrants. They wrote asking that she return to Lithuania and establish her Congregation there.
|First Lithuanian postulants|
In 1920, Mother Maria sailed to Lithuania with four of her Sisters. They were given as a residence the beautiful seventeenth century historic, baroque monastery of Mount Pacis, today known as Pazaislis, outside of Kaunas, Lithuania. Within weeks new candidates arrived and the Congregation began to grow. As the Sisters increased in number, they opened schools and other institutions in various cities. The American and local Lithuanian Sisters remained and served in a variety of ways until 1934 when the Lithuanian Congregation became independent from the American Congregation in Chicago.
The 25th Anniversary of the Congregation was celebrated with great joy in 1932. Within a few months of the celebration, it became evident that Mother Maria was suffering from a malignant condition. She persevered for the next eight years with great courage as the bone cancer spread. On April, 17, 1940, Mother Maria died at the Motherhouse in Chicago, surrounded by her Sisters.
Within a matter of hours after her death, the newspapers carried articles titled, “Sainthood Sought for Mother Maria.” Thousands of people came for her wake and burial.
Lithuanians in Bethlehem, Conn. played a major part in our Abbey's beginnings. They had settled in the area years before our arrival in 1947. Mrs. Lazauskus, the wife of a local farmer, prayed for years for a church where she could go to daily Mass. After our foundation, she came daily, often having her son plow ahead of her up the steep drive in the midst of blizzards. For many years we paid 30c a dozen for her eggs, when the going rate was 3x that. In the days before our gardens were planted and livestock purchased, baskets of food would appear on the doorstep.
Over the years the Lazauskus', Marchikitis, Yurgaitis, etc, etc. have remained benefactors and friends keeping the faith of their fathers, some perhaps educated by the Sisters of St. Casimir.
|Abbey Co-foundress MM Aline & artist Lauren Ford |
in front of old Lithuanian tower on Abbey property