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Maine

Maine has one of the prettiest and most popular Lithuanian locations in the USA: the Lithuanian monastery and park in Kennebunk resort.

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at the Kennebunk Lithuanian park

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at Kennebunk Lithuanian park

The calm town attracted the attention of Lithuanian Franciscans who fled the Soviet Genocide, arriving there in 1947. They acquired a 1908 Tudor-style manor originally built for industrialist A. Rogers (architects Green and Wicks) for their monastery, which still operates although is no longer the hub of Lithuanian Franciscans as that has relocated back to Lithuania after its independence. In 1953, the Kennebunk Franciscans attached a nice chapel to the manor. Its pretty expressionist stained-glass windows and metal decor were created by a famous Lithuanian church interior designer V. K. Jonynas. The windows are especially Lithuanian, as both the inscriptions and the depicted scenes are related to Lithuania (the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, the only Lithuanian saint Casimir, the coat of arms of Vilnius, etc.).

Lithuanian monastery palace

Lithuanian monastery palace

Monastery chapel stained-glass windows with St. Casimir and the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius (famous for its Virgin Mary painting)

Monastery chapel stained-glass windows with St. Casimir and the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius (famous for its Virgin Mary painting)

The former manor grounds were effectively turned into a Lithuanian park (19 ha) which now attracts many American tourists as well. In addition, to calm walking paths with nice river views, it has an impressive Stations of the cross chapel for those who died for Lithuanian freedom by another Lithuanian-American star-architect Jonas Mulokas. It is part of his attempt to create a new architectural style that would be both modern and Lithuanian. The materials are thus modern, however, the design evokes village belfries of the lost Lithuania. The sculptures of the chapel are by Vytautas Kašuba, a famous Lithuanian-American sculptor.

The close up of the Jonas Mulokas's chapel, with a  dedication to those who died for Lithuanian freedom visible in the center

Jonas Mulokas chapel from a closer location. Under the cross the inscription says 'In memory of those who died for freedom of Lithuania'

The park is teeming with more Lithuanian artworks: a wooden Lithuanian chapel-post that came from EXPO 1939 New York Lithuanian pavilion (this is a unique form of Lithuanian folk art), a sculpture by V. K. Jonynas from the EXPO 1964 Vaticanian pavilion that shows Triple church: triumphant (in paradise), fighting (on Earth), and suffering (in hell). The common Lithuanian interpretation is, however, that the "suffering church" was a depiction of the situation in the Soviet-atheist-occupied Lithuania at the time, when many churches and all the monasteries were closed, and the religious people persecuted (often killed, exiled or imprisoned) - inspiring the relocation of Lithuanian Franciscans to America in the first place.

Triple church by V. K. Jonynas

Triple church by V. K. Jonynas

Another large artwork by Jonas Mulokas is his Lourdes (a manmade cave with a Virgin Mary statue, 1953), crowned by a Lithuanian mini-chapel. The wall of the chapel includes a prayer inscription asking the Virgin to defend the Fatherland. Lithuanian coat of arms is also depicted. Undoubtedly, the "Fatherland" in this case is Lithuania rather than the USA, as back in the 1950s, the Lithuanian Soviet-Genocide-refugees felt that they could return soon once Lithuania is liberated and that their stay in the USA would be temporary (unfortunately, Soviets proved to stay much longer than they expected and only a few did actually return after the 1990 independence). The Lourdes used to serve as an altar for an outside mass; however, the mosquitos drove the believers away and now the mass is held in the monastery chapel.

Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

One may also stay within the Franciscan park as the Franciscan Guest House operates here. It has 65 rooms and is the most Lithuanian hotel in the USA. Numerous Lithuanians work there, there are many Lithuanian inscriptions and adverts. The guests may freely take English descriptions of all the artwork in the park. The guest house is located less than a mile from both the beach and the Kennebunkport resort center, making it a pleasant hike. The Lithuanian park itself includes nice walking paths with river views, non-Lithuanian artworks too (e.g. the native saint Kateri Tekakwitha sculpture).

A river view from a walking path within the Kennebunk Lithuanian park

A river view from a walking path within the Kennebunk Lithuanian park

The Guest House was constructed in 1959 as a Lithuanian gymnasium (high school) and it has replaced the manor stables. However, the gymnasium closed down in 1969 as there were few Lithuanians in the region. This meant that the students had to move in on a boarding-school-basis from Chicago, Boston, New York, and elsewhere, which proved unpopular. After all, the monks themselves would likely have not chosen Kennebunk for their monastery if not the negative attitudes of the local bishops towards the Lithuanian "refugee monks" in the more Lithuanian areas of the USA. Still, the situation may came out to be better, as Kennebunk is a very calm place popular among tourists, far from the urban areas and the associated negativities (high crime, ghettos, etc.) which have "consumed" numerous Lithuanian sites in America (as the "white flight" led to their abandonment).

Kennebunk Lithuanian guest house guests are greeted in Lithuanian language as well

Kennebunk Lithuanian guest house guests are greeted in Lithuanian language as well

The entire Lithuanian complex of Kennebunk has been funded by Lithuanian-Americans whose surnames now are inscribed on many of its objects. Today, however, the area attracts non-Lithuanian-Americans as well, perhaps the most so among the Lithuanian-American sites of New England. It is even described in the "Lonely Planet" books. G. W. Bush Sr. is said to have visited the site regularly as he has a house in Kennebunkport. By the way, when Lithuania fought for its freedom restoration in 1990, the Franciscans organized a march from the monastery to the Bush's house (he was president back then), asking for his support.

The plaque of the sponsors of the Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

The plaque of the sponsors of the Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

After Lithuania became independent (1990) and opened up, the Lithuanian activities in Kennebunk declined somewhat as the Lithuanian Franciscans have moved their hub back to Lithuania. Parts of the Lithuanian religious activities have folded earlier, e.g. minor seminary in the 1960s and the recollections house in the 1970s. However, the Lithuanian atmosphere remained, the Lithuanian monuments were restored in 2004. At its apex, some 30 Lithuanian Franciscans lived in the monastery. At the beginning of the monastery (and now) merely four. The Guesthouse is overlooked by the secular people since 2001.

V.K. Jonynas artowk in the monastery chapel

V.K. Jonynas artowk in the monastery chapel

Much further north in Maine, in the Alexander Art Trail of wooden sculptures created by a Latvian artist Roland Paegle and his wife Grazina there is also a sculpture of Lithuanian goddess of forests Medeinė, modeled after a similar one in Vilnius.

V.K. Jonyno kūryba vienuolyno koplyčioje
DESTINATION - AMERICA 2017 diary

When I saw the Kennebunk Lithuanian site the first time, my heart was happy. This is how all the Lithuanian-American places could look like, instead of slowly disappearing! After arriving at the Guest House, we barely found a place to park a car. The director explained that usually there are even more cars, however, at that time one student group arrived in the bus.

Far in the park, we could see the nicely-lit Mulokas's Lithuanian chapel and Lourdes, mystically glowing in the dark. The American students were walking around, reading the dedications to Lithuania and mentioning Lithuania in their silent conversations. Some of them, perhaps, heard its name for the first time, some others heard about the occupation of Lithuania and the dangers to Lithuania for the first time. Perhaps this will stay somewhere in the corner of their memory. The Guest House reception is full of English booklets describing what, how, and when was built in the park and what are the meanings of that.

The most important fact is, perhaps, that the Lithuanian complex may this get revenue to support itself. Even though many employees have been hired from Lithuania (one guy through Work and Travel, two women come there every summer for decades) there are non-Lithuanian Americans as well, including the director. The survival of it thus depends less on the goodwill of some 'old' Lithuanian-Americans, the ranks of whom become scarce.

Lithuanian Franciscan activities in Kennebunk may have declined and could decline further. As the Fr. Jonas Bacevičius told "Destination - America", the novitiate has been relocated to Lithuania according to the wishes of the superiors (after all, Lithuania became independent, the Soviet occupation and atheism has ended so there were no reasons to expand in exile). However, the Lithuanian Franciscans are still very active in America although they are getting older (the bishop Baltakis is 92 already). Some of the monastery programs, e.g. the icon-painting-workshops, are now presided by Lithuanian Franciscans arriving from Lithuania.

Still, in Kennebunk, you may feel that nothing will be quickly lost. Lithuanian masterpieces will continue to make visitors happy in the 21st century as well, even if these visitors will be different. Although Kennebunk never had an "old" Lithuanian community, the monastery actually attracted lay Lithuanians to the area as well. In the morning mass, we met a Lithuanian who relocated to Chicago and a 31-year-old immigrant from Lithuania who established the Maine Lithuanian community.

Elsewhere, Lithuanian-American communities may be getting old and dying off, while here a new-generation-inspired community of ~35 people was created. Would this have happened if not the Lithuanian park? Fr. Bacevičius told about an Italian who was so enthralled by the monastery that he decided to join the Lithuanian Franciscans even though that required learning Lithuanian. "In Kennebunk, you couldn't speak Lithuanian expecting that no one will understand" - we were told by the aforementioned vice-leader of the local Lithuanian community while taking the walk in the monastery woods.

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 23-24.

Augustinas Žemaitis with Jonas Bacevičius at Kennebunkport monastery

Augustinas Žemaitis with Jonas Bacevičius at Kennebunkport monastery

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