LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 45, No. 4 - Winter 1999
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 1999 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
William Wolkovich-Valkavičius. The Lithuanian Religious Life in America.
A Compendium of 150 Roman Catholic Parishes and Institutions. Volume 1: Eastern United States. 1991, hard cover, 629 pages; $89.50. Volume 2: Pennsylvania. 1996, hard cover, 551 pages; $49.50. Volume 3: The Midwest and Beyond. 1998, hard cover, 415 pages; no price given. Publisher: Lithuanian Religious Life in America, Norwood, MA. Sole Distributor: Corporate Fulfillment Systems, 1 Bert Dr., P.O. Box 339, W. Bridgewater, MA 02379-0339. Tel. 1/800344-4501.
Soon after I completed reviewing this most impressive three-volume Compendium, a story was carried by the Associated Press. It was also published in the Lansing State Journal (November 28,1998). The heading for the story: "Croatians fight for a church", the subtitle: "Despite threats, ethnic group demands Mass in a tongue it understands." This was the story of an ethnic St. Mary's church in Steelton, PA, being consolidated with "an American-based, English-speaking parish". This could have been the story of a number of Lithuanian Roman Catholic churches so vividly described in the Compendium.
A multi-volume reference work never is an overnight product. The genesis for the Compendium goes back over half a century. Ideas and developments were evolving all along. In May of 1987, Bishop Paulius Baltakis, O.F.M., who has a papal appointment for the Pastoral Care of Lithuanians Outside Lithuania, learned that William Wolkovich-Valkavičius had just completed a history of the Knights of Lithuania. This happened during the Bishop's visit to St. George Parish in Norwood, MA. "Thereupon, Bishop Baltakis directed me to prepare this multi-volume compendium of the U.S. Lithuanian parishes. Thus, the origin of this series" (Vol. 1, p. 45).
While the author acknowledges his gratitude to a number of individuals and institutions, the Compendium, essentially, was a one-person work. In preparation for the first two volumes, he visited the chancery archives of every diocese on the east coast. The third volume led him in the summer of 1996 to the diocesan archives of Cleveland, Ohio; Gary, Indiana; Grand Rapids and Detroit in Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois. Archivists in more distant cities supplied needed date by mail.
"The start of Lithuanian religious life is necessarily interlinked with Polish immigrants, and accordingly one finds numerous inter-ethnic references. Limited attention also extends to periodic interaction with other ethnic groups. In keeping with the title of Religious life, an effort was made to describe the small minority of Lithuanian Protestants as well, and also to acknowledge Lithuanian Jews. During the preparation of this series, it seemed best to add other related material to provide at least a minimum of background. Thus, one finds mention of nationalists, socialists, leftists, and freethinkers so often in conflict with clergy and laity" (Vol. 3, p. 242).
In the Foreword, Victor Greene, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, noted the Compendium's great potential among American historians. "A constant demand over the last three decades among American social historians has been our need to learn more about ordinary people, their lives and their concerns. To a large extent that is what Rev. Wolkovich has done. While he does emphasize leaders, both lay and religious, by his immense coverage of Lithuanian Americans around the country in every one of their major centers, he really has brought the life 'history from the bottom up' as has been requested" (Vol. 1, p. xi).
The author quotes an unnamed scholar who has said that a historian should write as if he or she had no country. "In the same vein, someone pursuing religious history should write as if he or she has no religion. Though complete objectivity is ever a demanding and elusive goal, historian's first allegiance is to truth" (Vol. 1, p. 48). This was noted and commented on by Victor Greene in the Foreword. "He and his compendium have met the rigorous standards of scholarship, that of balanced coverage.
As a work on a small and really little known American minority by one of its members, the tendency of such a study would be to emphasize the accomplishments of the group and omit or neglect the deficiencies. Rev. Wolkovich, as the true scholar, avoids the pitfall of being ethnocentric; his study reveals both heroes and villains" (Vol. 1, p. xii). I, as the reviewer, have to agree with these observations. Furthermore, I have to admit that if I did not know the fine scholarly reputation of the author, who is also a Catholic priest, I would have been most skeptical about his claim of objectivity. Having read numerous other "ethnocentric" studies and books, in line with their typical tendencies, I could have erroneously concluded that the Compendium was written by an "enemy of the Catholic Church". Now, knowing that the numerous stories come from a reliable source, reading of the Compendium was that much more enjoyable.
Volume 1 starts with a guest essay by Thomas A. Michalski. In the essay he covers "Some Aspects of the European Heritage of Early Lithuanian Immigrants in the United States." These include the land, the people, national characteristics, village life, social structure, priest and parish, the glorious past, the dreaded military draft, and, finally America. Following another essay, depicting the "Religious Cultural Shock and Adjustment: the Lithuanian Minority in an American Home," the author gets into the "meat and potatoes" of his monumental work. There are separate sections on churches and parishes in New England, The Empire State, Urban New Jersey, and Miscellaneous Institutions. The latter section covers the Marians in Marianapolis, the Nuns' Lithuanian stronghold in Putnam, Connecticut, Sisters of Jesus Crucified Motherhouse in Brockton, Massachusetts, Franciscans in Brooklyn, New York, etc. Highly informative and user-friendly indexes are given for Parishes, Places and Institutions, Persons, and Subjects.
Volume 2, almost as long as Volume 1, focuses on the State of Pennsylvania. Section one depicts the Origins in anthracite Region; Section Two covers Southern Pennsylvania; Section Three is reserved for Western Pennsylvania. Besides the same topics for indexes found in Volume 1, Volume 2 has a unique section on Clergy Biographies. It's not just a few pages, but some seventy pages full of detailed biographical sketches of Lithuanian clergy who had lived and worked in the US.
Finally, Volume 3 - The Midwest and Beyond - starts with a section on Wisconsin. Then it goes to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois. Chicago, with eleven parishes, has its own section. Beyond the Midwest covers the rest of the US and includes Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Arizona, California. Briefly mentioned are church-related activities in Minnesota, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Texas. The section on "Miscellany," like the ones in the other two volumes, describes a number of institutions that are located in the region, but many times have a bigger sphere of influence. Among them we find the Marian Fathers and their daily newspaper Draugas, Jesuits, the Lithuanian Catholic Federation, the Catholic Women's Alliance, the Future (Ateitis), Lithuanian World Archives, etc. Entries on Lithuanian Protestants and Synagogues of Lithuanian Jews are brief, but informative and welcome.
A section on "Clergy Biographies," once again, is a nice and unexpected "bonus." In Volume 3 this section is over a hundred pages long. Taking the two sections on "Clergy Biographies" (from Volume 2 and 3), could add up to a 170 page book. To my pleasant surprise, up until now I did not consciously realize how many clergy and religious people listed, especially in Volume 3,1 have personally known or know. The Indexes carry the same topics as the other volumes.
In the "Epilogue" the author makes observations and assessments derived from themes that emerged in the trilogy. These reflections are grouped under the headings of Parish, Laity, Hierarchy Clergy, and Ethnic Cohesion. "As one might expect, there are some golden moments that evoke admiration and applause, alongside some unsavory episodes - a series of pluses and minuses that are the bright and dark chapters of human triumph and frailty" (Vol. 3, p. 242).
The Compendium is a rich source of little known historical facts and proposed projects that never developed. A few examples follow. The Lithuanian movement generated at least fifteen breakaway religious congregations because of property ownership disputes with local bishops. Then there is a story about Louis Vezelis, a parish native in Rochester, New York, who for eighteen years was a Franciscan missionary clergyman in Korea. In time he was suspended from priestly duties, dismissed from his order, and in 1979 returned to Rochester. He then created a "traditionalist" church of his own, and with a handful of followers took over a vacant church. In 1982 he arranged to become a bishop (Vol. 1, p. 379).
Almost everyone knows about the Lithuanian Franciscan monastery in Kennebunkport, Maine. President George Bush has visited it, too. "Besides the friars' interest in Maine, there was another Lithuanian incursion... In 1945, officials of the Lithuanian Relief Fund (BALF) eyed the large pine tree state as a potential location for a colony of war refugees, and even a Lithuanian University!" Msgr. Joseph Končius discovered a suitable site in the abandoned military reservation at Quatty Village that included 280 buildings on a 230-acre plot. The War Department required a minimal sale price of one dollar. Everyone - the governor, the State Board of Education, the National Catholic Welfare Conference in Washington - supported the project. "Lack of sufficient funding alone proved the death knell of what could have been an intriguing development" (Vol. 1, p. 257).
Finally, a few disputable points. "The most distinguished DP was the refugee president of the homeland - Antanas Smetona who perished in a house fire here [in Cleveland] in 1944" (Vol. 3, p. 50). Usually a reference to DP (Displaced Person) is limited to a person who came to the US as a result of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948.I believe that Smetona came to the US as a foreign diplomat or head of the state, but not under the DP Act. There is a reference to Lithuania's President Vytautas Landsbergis (Vol. 3, p. 153), when, in reality, he did not have that title. However, other sources, perhaps out of respect to his role in history, have also attributed this title to him.
It is easy to misspell a name. The Compendium had thousands of opportunities to do just that because it contains thousands of names. While I was not looking for misspelled names, very few misspellings caught my eye. Fr. Jonas Borisevičius (Vol. 3, p. 137) should be Fr. Jonas Borevičius (which it becomes on p. 270). Antanas Liulevičius (Vol. 3, p. 198), incorrect (?) first name, becomes Vincentas Liulevičius in the "index of Persons" p. 387). He is also listed correctly on p. 229, but not noted as being listed there in the "Index." It remains a mystery as to who Antanas Liulevičius is. Česlovas Grinkevičius (Vol. 3, p. 198) correctly becomes Česlovas Grincevičius (p. 229), but ends up being incorrectly listed as Česlovas Grinkevičius in the "Index" (p. 383).
The author reminded the reader that Lithuanians bear the distinction of being the last nation in Europe to accept the Christian religion. "Recently in 1987, Lithuanians celebrated the six hundredth jubilee of permanent Christianity" (Vol. 1, p. 21). He also noted that most likely, next to the Irish, Lithuanians emigrated in the highest numbers, proportionate to their entire population. "It is probably safe to hold to an estimated half-million in the phenomenon of a 'people drain' " (Vol. 1, p. 21). One must agree with the author that Lithuanians succeeded to a commendable degree in carving out their own circuit of ethnic shrines in their Diaspora within the New World. The Compendium is a living, historical monument of these ethnic shrines for everyone to see and admire for many years.