The Knights of Lithuania

The Knights of Lithuania is an organization of Roman Catholic men and women of Lithuanian ancestry and their spouses located in the USA.  Adhering to the motto, “For God and Country,” the Knights of Lithuania aim to keep alive among its members an appreciation of the Lithuanian language, customs and culture while also stressing the importance of Roman Catholic beliefs.
Organized on April 27, 1913, the Knights of Lithuania began as a youth organization.  Its purpose was to unite the Lithuanian youth living in the USA, and through them, preserve Lithuanian culture and restore freedom to Lithuania, then divided between Russia and Germany.  It has since become a family organization.  St. Casimir, patron saint of Lithuania’s youth, is honored as the organization’s patron.
With Lithuania’s regained freedom, the Knights of Lithuania have worked to continually expand on our current goals and work towards new ones. Currently, our ancillary organizations are aiding the Lithuanian Pontifical College in Rome through the St. Casimir Guild, Inc.; supplying Roman Catholic reading materials and additional needed aid through the Knights of Lithuanian Foundation, Inc. and promoting a deeper understanding, reverence and knowledge of the Blessed Mother’s appearance in Siluva, Lithuania in 1608, through the Our Lady of Siluva Fund, Inc.  We also work to assist the needs of Lithuanian causes and Lithuania through our Lithuanian Affairs Committee which works to disseminate information on current issues both here and abroad.  We encourage everyone to visit their separate pages of this website for additional information as it becomes available.
Here in the United States, we strive to keep alive our Lithuanian heritage through cultural presentations, lectures, trips, choral and dance groups.  A longtime member once said, “Our youth is our future”. and the Knights of Lithuania have heeded these words.  Through the efforts of our National Scholarship Fund, the organization is able to help talented members further their education.  In addition we encourage all councils to form Junior Councils for our younger members.
The Knights of Lithuania is a member of the Lithuanian American Council, and the Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation.
Keeping busy is always healthy for an organization.  The Knights of Lithuania not only believe this, we practice it every day!  We invite you to browse through our site and hope you enjoy learning more about us.  New members are always welcome!

 

Lithuanian Communities and Heritage in Connecticut

Connecticut is a small state and although the number of Lithuanians is only ~33 000, this means almost 1% of the entire population (the largest share among US states). Most of them are descendants of Lithuanians who immigrated before World War 1 to work at the then-burgeoning Connecticut factories.

Lithuanian churches built in the 1900s-1920s still tower among historic townhouses. These churches are massive; built in various revival styles in 1900-1930 period, they look as if teleported from a Lithuanian countryside. The size makes you think they have been constructed for an entire town of tens of thousands rather than a single minority. They are surrounded by equally old parish houses and Lithuanian schools. Interestingly, these were established at roughly the same time as the first official Lithuanian schools in Lithuania itself where Lithuanian language has been banned by the ruling Russian Empire until 1904 (something that surely played a role in increasing emigration to the USA and Connecticut in particular). 

***Waterbury Lithuanian school entrance adorned by Vytis***

 

Lithuania-themed stained glass windows at the Putnam convent

In addition to the churches, there are numerous Lithuanian monuments in Connecticut, especially the massive traditional Lithuanian sun-crosses that combine Christian and pre-Christian messages. There are also old clubhouses and a single Lithuanian cemetery. The cemetery is located in Waterbury, where there is an entire district of Lithuanian buildings. More early-20th-century Lithuanian heritage exists in Hartford, New Britain, Ansonia, Bridgeport, and New Haven.
After World War 2, Connecticut received a massive center of worldwide Lithuanity in its Putnam village. There, a Lithuanian female monastery, a large Lithuanian-American art museum, Lithuanian-American library and Lithuanian-American sculptures attract many Lithuanians and non-Lithuanians alike.

 

A massive Lithuanian chapel-post in New Britain, the city where the famous anti-Soviet partisan A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas hailed from

However, in general, after the massive “First wave of immigration”, Lithuanians ceased to migrate into Connecticut. Small cities famous for their Autumn leafs were not as attractive as Chicago or New York. Perhaps this has saved the old churches: they haven’t been rebuilt into modern-yet-less-appealing ones, still engulfing the visitor with a nearly century-old splendor of stained glass windows. Out of the six Lithuanian churches ever built in Connecticut, four are still open, four have just recently been officially Lithuanian and three even had Lithuanian mass until some 2015 despite the community being third or fourth generation already. It’s very different from Chicagoland where a far smaller percentage of Lithuanian churches survive, even though the number of Lithuanians is twice that big. Perhaps a more compact and more provincial life helped Lituanity to survive longer.

 

Putnam convent chapel interior

Putnam Area - Lithuania outside Lithuania

Putnam town may have merely 9000 inhabitants and relatively few Lithuanians, yet it has become one of the most important Lithuanian-American centers.
The Lithuanian sites in Putnam grew around the Lithuanian female convent of Immaculate conception. Originally established in 1936, it gained importance after the Soviets occupied Lithuania in 1940 and banned the monastic life there. At that time, the convent effectively became independent and sought to promote Lithuanian cause in addition to the religious cause. Lithuanian-Americans thus rallied around the convent, helping it to expand into a massive Lithuanian area both by their donations and their work. As those working there included the most famous Lithuanian-American artists, the Putnam area is full of top Lithuanian-American art as well.
The convent is centered around a chapel (1954) created by a famous Lithuanian painter Kazys Varnelis. Its stained-glass windows are especially Lithuanian, showing Lithuanian ethnic symbols and Lithuanian locations strong in Maryan veneration (the churches there and the coats of arms of these locations are depicted, among other symbols). The altar of the chapel is of the unique Varnelis’s style. Near the entrance stands the statue of Our Lady of Šiluva (the earliest Maryan vision in Lithuania) created by a famous Lithuanian-American sculptor Vytautas Kašuba (the mosaic behind the sculpture was created by his wife).

 

Putnam Convent Lithuanian Library

The massive convent building adjoining the chapel once was full of Lithuanian nuns. However, after the independence of Lithuania, the convent did not attract new nuns and thus more and more of the rooms were used for other purposes, such as recollections of lay people. In any case, the key Lithuanian parts of the convent remained, including the Lithuanian museum and Lithuanian library, as well as Lithuanian artworks exhibited in the corridors.

 

Siberian Book of Prayers

Other Soviet-expelled Lithuanians in the Convent Museum

Among the exhibits in the museum is the famous “Siberian book of prayers”, published by the convent’s nuns in 1959. This book by Adelė Dirsytė was written after her exile to cold and dreary Siberia by the Soviet occupational regime for her disapproval of communism. She wrote her hopes and prayers onto a manuscript in 1953 but only by 1959 could it go beyond the Iron Curtain (the author deceased in 1955 unable to withstand the harsh conditions after being moved to a lager). The prayer book has been a major success, it had been translated into many languages (even Chinese), had a massive circulation (450 000 Dutch books alone) and many issues (5 times issued in Germany), helping the world to learn about both the tragedy and determination of the Lithuanian nation. This is likely the most widely published Lithuanian book.

 

Mindaugas Castle in Putnam

In addition to the Lithuanian-American artworks, the monastery (and its museum) has even more traditional ethnic artworks form Lithuania. During the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, many Lithuanian-Americans felt it as a part of their mission to save such works by bringing them into the USA. For example, in the entry hall of the monastery stands a traditional Lithuanian wooden wayside cross smuggled from the Soviet-occupied Lithuania where such crosses were often destroyed by the atheist regime.
In addition to the buildings, the convent has rather massive grounds. In the forest near the grounds stands what is one of the most interesting and unique Lithuanian sites in the USA: Mindaugas castle built in a forest by a Lithuanian priest Stasys Yla who escaped into the USA after being a prisoner of the Nazi Stutthof concentration camp.

 

The interior of the Mindaugas castle in Putnam with a mosaic of Mindaugas (left) and the stone around which the building was constructed (center)

While the castle was built by priest Yla as a hobby and is not a chapel, currently it is sometimes used for prayer and is especially loved by the youth, for whom the rather mystical nature of the castle-within-a-forest may appeal more than regular chapels or churches.

 

One of the mystical stained glass windows within the Mindaugas castle of Putnam

While the castle was built by priest Yla as a hobby and is not a chapel, currently it is sometimes used for prayer and is especially loved by the youth, for whom the rather mystical nature of the castle-within-a-forest may appeal more than regular chapels or churches.

 

Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Putnam

The keys to the castle interior are held by the nuns of the convent. The convent itself is generally always open and may be visited. The convent grounds are not fenced and can be visited even without meeting the nuns.
Between the convent and Mindaugas Castle lies the small Gate of Heaven cemetery. Only the nuns, their relatives and the sponsors of the monastery are buried there. However, such sponsors includes many famous interwar Lithuanian figures, such as Magdalena Avietėnaitė, who had an almost unprecedented diplomatic career for a woman anywhere in the world at that time (famously, she was not given a higher diplomatic rank solely because the prime minister believed that “the Western world would not understand Lithuania if it would appoint a woman to such a rank”). Juozas Brazaitis (Ambrazevičius), the prime minister of the anti-Soviet 1941 June revolt, also used to be buried there (however, he has since been reburied in Lithuania). Of course, Stasys Yla’s grave is also there.

 

Mindaugas Castle in Putnam

The center of the Gate of Heaven Cemetery is marked by a stone monument with such Lithuanian phrases as “Don’t forget us, oh the Highest one, and don’t forget our dear Fatherland” (“Neapleisk, aukščiausias, mūsų ir brangios Tėvynės”) by the famous poet Maironis. The fatherland mentioned here is Lithuania rather than the USA.
Also at the cemetery stands a large Lithuanian sun-cross that was originally located in New Haven near its now-closed Lithuanian church (see below). As one of the most well-surviving Lithuanian religious institutions, Putnam monastery collects Lithuanian monuments from the Lithuanian institutions that are closed down (especially the churches).

 

The Lithuanian sun-cross relocated to Putnam from New Haven

Crucified Lithuania, one of the Lithuanian artworks at the Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive

On the other side of the Mary Crest Dr from the convent stands yet another one of the America’s top Lithuanian sites – the Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive (Museum). The archive is open to the public as a museum which has a great and diverse collection of Lithuanian-American art, including paintings, sculptures, and crafts. Famous Lithuanian-American artists such as Vytautas Kašuba, Kazys Varnelis, Kazimieras Žormosnkis, and Vytautas Kasiulis are represented (the latter two are famous enough to each have a museum dedicated to him in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania). Most of the art dates to the 1940-1990 era. Some of the art is dedicated to the Soviet occupation and its horrors. other art tries to convey the beauty of Lithuania that was inaccessible to the artists or depicts the scenes of Lithuanian Medieval history that served as an inspiration. Yet other art is not related directly to Lithuania but was still created by the top Lithuanian-American artists.

 

Lithuanian routing out the Bermontians in the wars of independence (ALKA collection)

The Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive is open by appointment. The building also includes a massive Lithuanian library. Even if you don’t want to read these books, ask to access it as some of the better artworks are on the walls of the library rather than in the museum.

 

Sculpture of S. Kudirka. A topic in numerous ALKA paintings, he was the Lithuanian sailor of the Soviet navy who defected to the USA yet was given back to the Soviets, drawing many Lithuanian-American protests.

 

A historical painting by Kazimieras Žoromskis

 

Miniatures of traditional Lithuanian woodcarved crosses and chapel-posts in ALKA. Many Lithuanian-Americans have such crosses at home as symbols of Lituanity.

The Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive collection was largely amassed through donations and, currently, through legacies, as the descendants of Lithuanian-Americans who no longer speak Lithuanian and have little knowledge in Lithuanian art tend to donate all their dead parent’s or grandparent’s Lithuanian properties to a key Lithuanian institution, such as the Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive. The Archive reviews these donations and, if it already has similar books, re-donates them to those who ask (e.g. libraries in Lithuania). Artworks, on the other hand, are not re-donated, forever staying in what has become one of the key Lithuanian museums in the Americas.

 

The Exterior of ALKA

The archive was created by Monsignor Francis Juras, who used to be pastor of the Lithuanian parish in Lawrence, MA. He transferred ownership of ALKA to the Lithuanian Catholic Academy of Science. The institution is housed in a rather simple house that has been decorated with Lithuanian symbols. The wooden carvings have been brought in from a closed Lithuanian club in Boston; there are also the Columns of Gediminas and a chapel-post.

 

Matulaitis Home entrance with Lithuanian sun-cross on the top of the name

The nuns still care for the Jurgis Matulaitis Home for senior citizens somewhat away from the monastery. Initially started as an assisted living facility for Lithuanian-American seniors, the Home now has clients of all ethnicities. However, the interior is still pretty much Lithuanian with Lithuanian artworks on the walls. The Matulaitis Home’s chapel was created by V. K. Jonynas, a famous Lithuanian-American church interior designer. However, it lacks visibly Lithuanian details. Jurgis Matulaitis himself is a Lithuanian arch-bishop who attained the blessed status (one of two Lithuanians to do so). His name and image are popular in Lithuanian-American religious institutions. Jurgis Matulaitis is also famous as the effective re-founder of the order of the Maryan priests (at one time, he was the only surviving member of this Ancient order, yet the order flourished again due to his work and now has many members even in America). Maryan priests had their own convent near Putnam in Thomson, which has also served as the Marianapolis gymnasium for Lithuanian-Americans. Lithuanians from all over America would study in this boarding school, which had massive grounds and many buildings, retaining their Lithuanian language and culture that way. The school is still open, albeit transferred to lay people in the 2000s and now accepting all students (as the school is prestigious, there are many students sent in by rich Asian families).

 

Priest Jonas Navickas Grave

The school’s history is still visible, however. In the Marianapolis school grounds near the school stands the Grave of priest Jonas Navickas, instrumental for the school’s history; it is one of the largest grave memorials for a Lithuanian in America.

 

Marianapolis school chapel with a massive painting of Jurgis Matulaitis

In the massive Marianapolis school chapel there are Lithuanian exhibits, Our Lady of Vilnius painting and, the most strikingly, a large painting of Jurgis Matulaitis over the altar. This is actually the same painting that hanged in Rome during his beatification ceremony. Maryan priests were actually those who helped the Lithuanian nuns to settle in Putnam, and some of the older buildings of the school grounds were used as the nuns’ first convent before the current land was acquired.

 

Waterbury Lithuanian district

The city with most Lithuanians in Connecticut is Waterbury (2 500 out of 100 000). It has an entire Lithuanian district with a large red St. Joseph church, where a traditional wooden “chapel-post” stands in front (a form of ethnic art). The interior has stained-glass windows (with Lithuanian-inscriptions) that are among the most impressive in the East Coast Lithuanian churches. Originally, the interior of the church was even more impressive but it was simplified by overpainting much in white after the Vatican II church reforms. Moreover, originally, two impressive Baroque Revival Towers were planned for the Waterbury Lithuanian church which would have made it definitely the most impressive Lithuanian church in Connecticut. However, the community chose to build a massive Lithuanian school instead of the towers. The cornerstone of the church has a Lithuanian inscription “Szvento Juozupo lietuviszka bažnyczia” – this inscription still used the old semi-Polonized Orthography for the Lithuanian language with “sz” for a modern Lithuanian “š” and “cz” for “č”.

 

An example of the stained glass windows with Lithuanian inscriptions

 

A close-up of Waterbury Lithuanian church stained glass window with Lithuanian inscriptions. Every Connecticut church has such elaborate Lithuanian stained glass windows.

 

The Lithuanian Parish House of Waterbury

Two rooms at the sides of the church work as improvised Lithuanian museum, showing Lithuanian memorabilia and the parish history. The original Lithuanian museum used to be at the Parish house, however, it was closed down by the parish’s non-Lithuanian priest in 2017. The parish house, which once housed the masses in winter, is now largely devoid of Lithuanian atmosphere. As not all of the museum’s exhibits fit into the two small rooms, many are crumbling in the church basement.

 

Mindaugas Castle in Putnam

The site of the burned-down Lithuanian club in Waterbury
Waterbury also has a Lithuanian cemetery (est. 1902), the only one in Connecticut. Established by the atheists (there is even a gravestone with hammer and sickle), it was later blessed and used by the Catholics as well. The later graves often have Lithuanian ethnic symbols, such as Vytis. The inscription at the entrance declares it to be (in archaic Lithuanian) “A free graveyard of the unified Lithuanian societies” (“Lietuviu suvienitu draugiyu laisvas kapinynas”).

 

Mindaugas Castle in Putnam

A Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery grave with ethnic symbols
Clubhouse of the burned-down Lithuanian national club stands at the cemetery entrance. The cemetery entrance gate is painted in the Lithuanian flag colors and a Lithuanian flag (together with the US one) is perennially waving above the cemetery.

 

Mindaugas Castle in Putnam

Interior of the Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery club at the cemetery
Away from the center, Waterbury has Brooklyn Bakery in one of its shopping parks. While the bakery is no longer Lithuanian-owned, it was once located in the Lithuanian district and it still has the historic photos of Lithuanians working at its former place inside, as well as an original table.

 

Mindaugas Castle in Putnam

Interior of the Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery club at the cemetery
Away from the center, Waterbury has Brooklyn Bakery in one of its shopping parks. While the bakery is no longer Lithuanian-owned, it was once located in the Lithuanian district and it still has the historic photos of Lithuanians working at its former place inside, as well as an original table.

 

Mindaugas Castle in Putnam

Hartford Lithuanian church and monuments
Lituanity still exists in the state capital Hartford (pop. 124 000). Red gothic revival Holy Trinity Lithuanian church slightly reminds in its form the old French cathedrals. A nearby old house is a parish home; both US and Lithuanian flags are waving in front of it. The land has been purchased in 1900, the church constructed 1915-1928; parish school was open until 1964.

 

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