ST. PETER LITHUANIAN PARISH
Mission: To provide a Lithuanian spiritual and cultural center to Lithuanians living in Greater Boston and surrounding areas and to provide aid to Lithuanian immigrants in the area.
February 11, 1896:The Lithuanian parish was established to provide a spiritual and cultural center to Lithuanians and to provide aid to Lithuanian immigrants. Masses were initially held in a German Jesuit church on Shawmut Ave; then a house on East 7th Street was purchased and converted into a hall where Masses were held. The parish did not belong to the Archdiocese.
March 24, 1889: The land for the present St. Peter Church was purchased for $6,500 by parishioners. There was no archdiocesan involvement, as the parish did not belong to the diocese.
1901: The present building was completed, with the main altar imported from Lithuania. For almost 3 years, the building was unused because Lithuanians did not want to join the archdiocese, but could not get a pastor without joining the Archdiocese. The church was surrounded by homes of Lithuanian parishioners, with the church in easy walking distance.
January 31, 1904: The parish received a pastor from the Archdiocese and the current church building was blessed.
September 7, 1908: The church building was dedicated by a new pastor.
1923: The main altar, imported from Lithuania, was consumed in a fire. The church was refurbished, a new altar installed, and stained glass windows installed, using only money from parishioners.
1941: The Lithuanian families living around the church were evicted by the City of Boston to make way for a government housing project. The City of Boston offered $85,000 for the church property, but Lithuanians did not accept the offer.
1942: A 3-family dwelling was purchased for $3,500 to serve as a convent for the Sisters of Jesus Crucified.
July, 1945: 2 schools were purchased from the City of Boston for $2,250 and $1,250.
1949: Lithuanian Saturday School was established, using the Parish school building.
1990-2003: $1,700,000 was donated by parishioners to refurbish the Church and parish hall.
Immigrants from Soviet and post-Soviet Lithuania:
Over 100 families (about 300 people) reside in Massachusetts, a dozen more in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, with 12 families still using addresses in Lithuania because they do not yet have a permanent address here. An estimated additional 500 young people are in the area in Travel & Work programs.
1,161 families reside in Massachusetts.
Greater Boston profile: Over 350 families reside in South Boston, over 80 in Dorchester, over 60 in Quincy, about 25 in Boston. Remaining parishioners are spread over most of the cities in Greater Boston, including Cambridge, where a Lithuanian parish was recently closed.
Profile to the North: Parishioners reside in over 40 cities to the North of Boston, including Lawrence and Lowell, where Lithuanian churches were recently closed.
Profile to the West: Parishioners reside in over 30 cities to the West of Boston, including Amherst, Lunenburg, Worcester, Framingham, and Natick.
Profile to the South: Over 35 families reside in Brockton. The remaining parishioners reside in over 30 cities to the South of Boston, including over 30 families in Milton, over 25 families in Braintree, and about 10 families in Norwood, where a Lithuanian church was recently closed.
Parishioners who move out of the extended Boston region continue to support St. Peter Parish financially and continue to maintain an interest in the Parish. Many return to Massachusetts to visit families. The whole family proudly attends Mass in St. Peterís, allowing the children to maintain relationships. In some cases, parishioners have followed jobs to Washington, DC, New York, Lithuania and other places, but intend to return and reside in the Boston area.
Profile of Extended Parish:
7 families in California, 3 in Canada, 2 in Colorado, 28 in Connecticut, 2 in Washington DC, 1 in Delaware, 13 in Florida, 1 in Georgia, 12 in Illinois, 1 in Indiana, 4 Lithuania, 1 in Maryland, 5 in Maine, 2 in Missouri, 4 in North Carolina, 27 in New Hampshire (where a Lithuanian parish was recently closed), 4 in New Jersey, 20 New York, 17 in Ohio, 1 Oregon, 2 Pennsylvania, 5 in Rhode Island, 3 in Texas 1 in UK, 2 in Virginia, 2 in Washington, 2 in Wisconsin.
The Center for Lithuanian Evangelization and Culture
Lithuanian immigrants established the parish more than 100 years ago to:
In 1896, the immigrants could not foresee World War I and World War II, both of which swelled the ranks of parishioners, strengthened the ties to the Mother Country, and repeatedly demonstrated the foresight of the first parishioners, as new immigrants found a warm welcome at St. Peterís. Nor could they foresee the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, which latter event created a new wave of immigrants to the area, immigrants with a need for a warm welcome and a need to share their concern and interest about the situation in the Mother Country, and a need to feel at home in a strange country.
The Church is especially appropriate for creating this welcome for Lithuanian immigrants, as Lithuanian culture is inseparable from its Catholic attributes. Some of the greatest Lithuanian heroes were priests and bishops. Bishop Valancius, born in 1800, was responsible for the resistance of the peasants against Russian rule, ultimately resulting in the Declaration of Independence in 1918. Vilnius University, the pride of Lithuania, was established by Jesuits in 1575. The most popular Lithuanian poet, Maironis, was a priest. Numerous heroes and heroines were created during Communist persecution, including Bishop Matulaitis and Sister Nijole Sadunaite. Even Lithuanian folklore includes tales of Christ and St. Peter walking the Lithuanian countryside.
This inseparable tie of Lithuanians with the Catholic Church has dramatic and astounding proof in Lithuania. One example is the Hill of Crosses near Siauliai. Thousands of crosses, big and small, crowd the hill, with paths left for visitors to walk and meditate, listening to the sad moaning of the wind as it blows through the crowded crosses. The crosses were placed there by Lithuanians wishing to offer their suffering to God. The crosses were frequently torn down by Communists, but just as frequently brought back up again, becoming a symbol of national resistance against Russia. Another example is the numerous wayside crosses and wooden figures of Christ dotting
the countryside. These figures of Christ are a part of authentic Lithuanian folk art and are called "Rupintojelis" (The Beloved One Who Cares). A third example is the miraculous locations where Mary has appeared, including Siluva and the Dawn Gate in Vilnius, where Mary continues to perform miracles for the faithful. Lithuanians call their country "The Land of Mary". It is not possible to study Lithuanian history and culture without getting inundated with the activities of the Catholic Church in Lithuania.
Lithuanians have a liturgy peculiar to the Lithuanian culture, which is tied to ancient Lithuanian pagan rites. Many Lithuanian traditions are centered around religious feasts. For example, the celebration of Ash Wednesday is reminiscent of Mardi Gras celebrations, but with a uniquely Lithuanian character. Various games involving fortune-telling take place during Christmas Eve. And Lithuanian religious celebrations of the various Catholic holy days are uniquely Lithuanian. During Easter Lithuanians make "verbos" (reed-like constructions made of flowers, grasses and reeds) and carry them in procession to greet the risen Christ. The carrying of Christís prostrated corpse around the church on Good Saturday is another example. Lithuanian Christmas season terminates only after Three Kingsí Day. The Christmas tree is decorated with beautiful Lithuanian ornaments made of straw.
To maintain a strong tie with Lithuania, St. Peter Parish has invited visitors from Lithuania, including politicians, musicians, poets, ambassadors, evangelists, priests and scholars. The famous Vilnius Quartet has played in the very acoustic church at least twice in the past 5 years. Evangelical groups invited to St. Peterís included the group Vilniaus Akmenys. The most distinguished visitor from Lithuania was Blessed Archbishop Matulaitis, beatified in 1953, who visited St. Peterís in 1926. He is expected soon to be sanctified.
Many organizations were established under the auspices of St. Peterís. Organizations which continue their activities in the parish include: Knights of Lithuania, a social organization; Scouts, a social organization focused on working with young people; Ateitininkai, a religious and social organization focused on working with young people; Lithuanian World Community, a cultural and social organization; the Sodality, a religious organization. The Lithuanian Saturday school continues to hold commencements in the Church and hall. Lithuanian school children celebrate First Communion and Confirmation at St. Peterís Samburis, the Lithuanian folk dancing group, take advantage of the parish hall.
It is not surprising that, given this history, this financial stability, this generosity and this cultural activity, the recent decision to close the church has thrown the Lithuanian world community into an uproar. The parish closing made front-page news in "Lietuvos Rytas", the largest daily newspaper in Lithuania, and continues to be tracked in daily articles and television programs across the ocean. The situation is also being reported in "Draugas", published in Chicago, as well as in the Lithuanian television station based in Chicago.
Most unfortunately, the decision to close the church has undermined Lithuanian trust in the hierarchy, echoing concerns of Lithuanian immigrants more than 100 years ago.
Dr. Mirga Girnius