As we enter into August, we should take time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Marian Congregation in the United States on Aug. 18, 1913. To mark this moment, here is a little more of the history of Blessed George Matulaitis’s trip to the United States and the foundation of the first Marian house in America.
In an excerpt taken from Archbishop George Matulaitis by Dr. Anthony Kucas, we learn that Blessed George was struggling to establish a home for the Marians. He was unable to create a center in his native Lithuania, Poland, or Western Europe.
The problem was easy to solve, according to Father Anthony Staniukynas (1865-1918), founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Casimir in Chicago, and its chaplain. He had wanted to join the Marian Congregation and was in correspondence with Father Matulaitis since 1911, inviting him to establish a monastery in Chicago. He wrote: “I think the spacious chaplain’s residence next to the Sisters’ convent, which I built almost with your needs in mind, will be adequate.”
Father George Kolesinskas, one of the old white Marians [named for their white habits] and pastor of St. George parish in Chicago, arranged for a donation of $5,000 for the construction of the chaplain’s house. He was overjoyed when he found out about the revival of the Order, and immediately exchanged his white habit for a black cassock.
After much deliberation and consultation, Father Matulaitis decided to go to America and establish a house for the Marians there. (Archbishop George Matulaitis, Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, 1981).
In a letter to Fr. Staniukynas in Chicago on April 13, 1913, Blessed George writes that he’s trusting in Divine Providence since he was traveling with virtually no money:
There is no great hurry about the purchase of land or building. When we arrive we shall discuss the matter. But we have no money at all. We are concerned that we will have enough with which to reach America; after that the good Lord will have to provide for us and feed us. If God only gives us health we will earn our bread. We will be very grateful if, at least in the beginning, you give us a place to stay and a bite to eat. We are not fancy folk and will be satisfied with anything at all. (For Christ and the Church, Marian Fathers, Marian Press, 2012).
Father George and two other Marians, Fr. Felix Kudirka and Fr. Julian Kazakas, left on July 12, 1913 from the port of Le Havre on the ocean liner Ile de France and arrived on July 19 in New York. After a short stay, the group traveled to Chicago on July 22. Kucas writes about the trip:
Shortly, they had an audience with Archbishop Edward Quigley who received the new missionaries very cordially. Father Matulaitis presented his credentials, explained the purpose of their mission, and asked permission for the Order to work in the diocese. Permission was readily given along with the promise that one of the Lithuanian parishes would be given to the Marians.
Finally, a historic event took place. On Aug. 18, 1913, the first monastery of the new Marian Congregation was formally established in Chicago. Temporarily, it was in the residence of Fr. Staniukynas. On that same day, Fr. George left for New York to participate in the convention of the Lithuanian R.C. Priests’ League of America, and then to return to Fribourg [Switzerland].
Although Father Matulaitis had intended only a brief stay in America, he took advantage of the permission and immediately began a priestly ministry.
In a letter dated Sept. 8, 1913 to Fr. Peter Bucys, a fellow Marian in St. Petersburg, Russia, Blessed George writes:
Right after my arrival I began to work. I directed a 10-day retreat for the Sisters of St. Casimir. God blessed us as the fruits of the work were good. I also preached several sermons and heard the whole Community’s confessions a few times. Besides, I corrected, completed, and coordinated their Constitution according to canon law and the requirements of the Church. In three parishes, I gave lectures on social questions. In Brooklyn, I preached two sermons in church and gave a lecture in the parish hall; the lecture was quite stormy because the socialists kept badgering me, but it all ended harmless enough. I am of the conviction now, however, that such lectures do not produce much good: a specially prepared mission would be better for the people. (For Christ and the Church).
Once the Marians were established, it did not take long for them to make their mark. They took over administration of St. Michael’s Parish in Chicago, which housed the priests and the postulants, creating a vibrant parish that required more Marians to come to America.