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Massachusetts

Massachusetts Lithuanian community is among the oldest and the fourth largest in the USA (~51 000 people, 0,8% of total).

The heart of the community is in South Boston where Lithuanian St. Peter church, clubs, and other institutions are located. Boston is also famous for having been the location where largest ever Lithuanian encyclopedia has been published.

In turn of the 20th century, Massachusetts Lithuanian communities also began in what were then industrial towns: Brockton and Worcester. Lithuanian Village was one of the hearts of Brockton and famous for its celebrations eagerly followed by non-Lithuanians as well. Worcester was the smallest US city outside Pennsylvania to have more than a single Lithuanian church.

Merrimack river valley and its long-gone textile industry made another Lithuanian heartland in towns of Lowell and Lawrence.

Beautiful Lithuanian church exists in Athol (Romance revival, 1912, still in use, 105 Main Street)

St. Francis church in Athol. Google Street View.

There are less Lithuanian institutions left in these towns today however as the communnity has not been replenished by new immigrants in 1950s and 1990s as was the case with Boston. Most Lithuanian churches have been closed in late the 2000s and sold to other denominations. They still stand however as do various monuments related to Lithuania. Some locations have names relating to Lithuania. Closed Lithuanian churches in small town Massachusetts include St. George at Norwood (built 1915, Polish seceded 1919, a convent was built 1955, closed 2004, converted into apartments).

The town of Stockbridge in the West of Massachusetts has few Lithuanians but it is the place of the National Shrine of Divine Mercy constructed in 1960 in support of the Divine Mercy worship which began in Vilnius.

Springfield, Massachusetts is the birthplace of Lithuania's national sport (basketball); the Basketball Hall of Fame there lists Arvydas Sabonis and Šarūnas Marčiulionis among the top players. Westfield, a suburb of Springfield, also has a former Lithuanian church.

St. Casimir church of Westfield, now a school. Google Street View.

Literature: Images of America: South Norwood, 2004, Norwood Historical Society, pg. 20-25

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Boston, Massachusetts

Boston was one of the first US metropolises and the heartland of US independence war (some Lithuanians, deeply pro-freedom, also joined the fight for US cause there). The extensive Boston Lithuanian community, however, dates to late 19th century when the city was 5th largest in the USA. Its numbers mushroomed in some 1904. There were so many Lithuanians that a demonstration at Boston Commons urging the USA to recognize newly independent Lithuania attracted 5 000 in the year 1919.

In South Boston, traditionally the heartland of Lithuanian community, there is Boston Lithuanian Citizen's Club (368 West Broadway) which houses a Lithuanian food bar and an auditorium for events where the bands from Lithuania have their gigs. This district also has a Lithuanian Saturday school, ethnographic bands, self-support community, credit union and local groups of Lithuanian organizations (Scouts, Knights, Ateitininkai).

The last remaining open Lithuanian church in Massachusetts is also located in South Boston, 75 Flaherty Way (others were closed down ~2009). Built in 1901 it is dedicated to St. Peter. The parish was established in 1896 through a hard struggle as the Irish community then dominated South Boston and Irish bishop Williams opposed the move. In 2008 the parish had 1000 member families, 100 of them newly immigrated and 900 descendants of earlier immigration "waves". Lithuanian and English mass are both celebrated.

St. Peter Lithuanian church; its car park has Lithuanian an American flags. Google Street View.

Previously other Boston conurbation areas had their Lithuanian churches as well. Immaculate Conception church of Cambridge (432 Windsor Street) has been built in 1913 and has been recently transformed into "affordable housing" by the "Just a Start Corporation". This corporation acquired the building in 2007. A municipal commission formed in 2009 deemed it to be of great significance as an example of Mission Style / Arts and Crafts (created by famous Maginnis and Walsh company) and for its possible inspirations in the Gothic architecture of Lithuania. It asked not to alter facades (was unaltered) and not to remove religious references where possible (crosses were however removed and frescoes whitened). The owners were however given a free hand in the interior which was entirely changed.

The small square in front of the Immaculate Conception church is named after a Lithuanian-American Peter D. Sarapas who died fighting for the USA in the World War 2. This renaming was a part of a WW2-era campaign by various parishes that sought to have places near them renamed after the war heroes who were parish members.

Immaculate Conception church undergoing reconstruction into affordable housing. Google Street View.

Boston is also famous for the Lithuanian encyclopedia first published there in 1953-1966 (nicknamed the Boston encyclopedia). This 37 volume work is still the largest encyclopedia ever published in the Lithuanian language. At the time Lithuania had been occupied by the Soviet Union so there was no state funding and many sources were very hard to access making the job undertaken by some 200 Lithuanian American authors even more tremendous. The authors wished that liberated Lithuania would have its encyclopedia and their work is indeed still used. In 1970-1978 they translated the Lithuania-related articles to create 6 volume English "Encyclopedia Lituanica", still the most comprehensive English work on Lithuania.

Lithuania's Jews also moved to Boston before World War 1 forming the community of "Anshei Vilner" (Yiddish for "People of Vilnius"). Their modest synagogue (Vilna Shul) was built near the Boston Commons. It was abandoned in 1985 after the Jews left the district but unlike many other similar buildings, it was saved from demolition. It has since been repurposed as a museum which offers a chance to return back in time to the era when Jewish communities were poor.

Vilna Shul in Central Boston. Google Street View.

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Brockton, Massachusetts

Brockton currently houses a population of 90 000 but it was the world's main shoe manufacturing center in 1920-1935. Like other industrial towns of the era, it attracted Lithuanians who established their own district Lithuanian Village. It was full of Lithuanian businesses: bakeries, shops, pharmacies. To this day in internet forums, the inhabitants of Brockton remember it as the heart of their city. The center point of life there used to be St. Rocco church (later renamed St. Casimir, established 19th century, rebuilt 1957, 214 Ames St.). Many Lithuanians graduated from its Parish school and nearby Franklin school. Community events (sport matches, gigs, picnics of surrounding Lithuanian parishes) used to be celebrated in Romuva park ("Romuva" means a Baltic pagan temple and is now used as a name for Baltic neo-pagan movement; in the time the park was established however it was likely not seen as a religious but rather as a historical/cultural name as evident by Christians using it).

Monument to those died for Lithuanian freedom next to the former St. Casimir church. Google Street View.

Every Labour Day (First Monday of September) some 10 000 Lithuanians and non-Lithuanians used to come to Thatcher Street to a mass Lithuanian picnic. Such mass of people was used even by local politicians who would have come to tell their agendas. This tradition died out in some 1985 after the sale of alcohol and gambling was banned (there were attempts to reestablish it).

Unfortunately, other elements of Lituanity also decreased over the time. In 2009 the archdiocese of Boston went onto ethnic church closure spree and this included the St. Casimir church, the heart of Brockton's Lithuanians. To the very day of closure Lithuanian priest used to hold Lithuanian mass there. In 1910 this church was the place where the Knights of Lithuania community was established. Under the slogan "For God and Motherland" it unites Lithuanian Americans from many states.

Some objects dear to Lithuanians were moved from St. Casimir church to St. Michael church in Avon, a northern suburb of Brockton (211 North Main Street), where most former parish members now pray at. In its churchyard, the monument to Lithuanian defenders of freedom now stands (with a symbolic cross, sword, and memorial plaques). The St. Casimir furniture was donated to a newly constructed church in Tanzania.

Another churchyard monument For those who died for Lithuanian Freedom has been rebuilt in 2009 at the Our Lady of Sorrows monastery cemetery (as Massachusetts law forbids to remove what has been constructed in a cemetery).

Most of the Brockton's Lithuanian bars and restaurants also closed down (in 2009 there was one bar The Lit left owned by a 75-year-old Lithuanian woman) and the Romuva park feels abandoned. The once safe neighborhood is now inhabited by other ethnic groups and plagued by drugs and crime; more often than not it is referred to as "The Village" alone. Several generations old Lithuanian community however still remains in Brockton; some 2000 (1,4%) of town's inhabitants declared Lithuanian ancestry in 2010 census.

The Lit bar in the Lithuanian Village. The Lithuanian-American community is younger than the Lithuanian nation just as the White America is regarded to be younger than Europe. However, this may seem arguable here: you wouldn't find a bar (or any other private institution) established in 1897 in Lithuania itself because of wars and the Soviet occupation (when everything was nationalized). Google Street View.

Brockton Lithuanian Village (now sometimes called just The Village) still has a playground named after Lithuanian Tukis and Baltic Street (Baltic Sea borders Lithuania and Lithuanian language is part of Baltic language group).

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Worcester, Massachusetts

Worcester, 64 km westwards from Boston has a population of 180 000, ~2% Lithuanian (~4000). This is the 5th largest number of Lithuanians among all US cities (after Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia).

St. Casimir Lithuanian area

Massive Gothic revival St. Casimir Lithuanian church (41 Providence Street) offered regular services here from 1916 to 2009. Final mass was held in 2010 for Lithuanian independence day and the building was sold in 2011 to charismatic Christians for 650 000 USD. Altair and other sacred items were removed beforehand, but the St. Casimir‘s bust on the facade remains with the Lithuanian words „St. Casimir, pray for us“.

St. Casimir church. Its massive size and a hilltop location shows the size of Lithuanian community Worcester once had.

The St. Casimir bust on the St. Casimir church.

Former members of the parish (established in 1894) maintained a large informative website dedicated to the church which was created for an unsuccessful struggle against merging their parish with English-speaking St. John parish (now offline).
Interestingly, one of the priests of St. Casimir drowned with Titanic while arriving in the USA. He is said to have acted especially heroically there, giving up his lifeboat seat and helping the dying passengers.

Not far away from the St. Casimir church stands the former St. Casimir Lithuanian school which has a bas-relief of Lithuanian coat of arms and a Lithuanian inscription with its name on its facade. Today, however, it is a school for difficult children.

Worcester Lithuanian school.

An old Massachusetts tradition is to call intersections as „squares“ named after World War 2 veterans who lived in the area. As every Lithuanian church centered a small Lithuanian district, so there are at least three Lithuanian-named squares in the vicinity of St. Casimir: Miglauckas, Kirminas, and Maleskas.

Maleskas Sq. sign.

Kirminas Sq. sign.

Our Lady of Vilna Lithuanian area

Worcester was large enough to have a second Lithuanian church, gothic revival Our Lady of Vilna (153 Sterling Street, built ~1925). Today it serves the Vietnamese community indicating that the modern migration to America is mostly non-White, unlike that of the 1900s. Vietnamese-Americans have one thing in common with Lithuanian-Americans however: many of them immigrated after their country has been overrun by a communist invasion.

Our Lady of Vilna church in Worcester. It is the last so-named church in the USA.

Despite the ethnic change, the impressive interior of the church remains staunchly Lithuanian. There are more Lithuanian inscriptions here than in nearly every other Lithuanian church (even the saints behind the altar have their Lithuanian names written near their images). Some Lithuanians still pray at the church, although its institutions (school, parish hall) are now mostly used by Vietnamese. Lithuanian visitors are welcome.

Our Lady of Vilna church interior.

Gediminas street still exists in church vicinity (named after Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania, 1275-1341, traditionally held to be the founder of Vilnius). In fact, the entire hill the church proudly stands on used to be referred to as Gediminas hill (which is a locality in Vilnius). After all, the church was built in the times of Lithuanian-Polish conflict over Vilnius, this likely influencing the prevalence of the Lithuanian language and Vilnius-related symbolism.

Gediminas street sign.

Another testament to that is the memorial for 7 local Lithuanians who died in WW2 in front of the church. Those people died for the USA rather than Lithuania, yet the memorial also has Lithuanian inscriptions and the names of the veterans are written in Lithuanian, with Lithuanian characters and without the changes imposed by the US immigration authorities.

Memorial for Lithuanians die din WW2.

Not far away from the Our Lady of Vilnius church is the building of Lithuanian club, which is adorned by bas-reliefs of both American and Lithuanian coats of arms. Worcester Lithuanians built everything in a way that even after losing their buildings the decor still reminds of the history.

The former Lithuananian club in Worcester.

Maironis Park in Shrewsbury

The suburb of Shrewsbury includes Maironis park (52 South Quinsigamond Avenue), named after the famous Lithuanian patriotic poet of 19th-century national revival. This is a building rented out for celebrations (including Lithuanian holidays).

The building has a rather plain exterior as the historic club which stood here burned down several decades ago. The interior of its replacement, is, however, rather grand, as it includes Lithuanian paintings on its wooden walls. These were painted by a Lithuanian-American Rūkštelė who lived within the premises while he worked.

Some of the Lithuanian scenes at the Maironis Park hall.

Next to Maironis park stands a Memorial for those who died for Lithuania adorned in patriotic symbols (Columns of Gediminas, Vytis (the coat of arms), two Crosses of Vytis). Built in 1978, this memorial initially stood at the St. Casimir church. However, it was relocated after the church was sold in fear that the new owners would have destroyed it otherwise.

Memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom at Maironis park.

In 2010 the Worcester municipality recognized its partly Lithuanian roots by twinning with a town of Ukmergė in Lithuania.

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Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts

Lawrence (pop. 70 000), Massachusetts is known as the "immigrant city" for the numerous early 20th-century European migrant communities. And nearly every ethnicity built its own church.

Lithuanians constructed two churches (both now closed). The first one was the usual Roman Catholic St. Francis (94 Bradford Street), currently used as a Christian Belessini Academy (Lithuanian mass was transferred to Corpus Christi parish in 35 Essex street).

St. Francis Lithuanian church in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Google Street View.

The second Lithuanian church, constructed in 1855 (Garden Street 150), used to be owned by an independent Lithuanian National Catholic Church which has acquired it in 1917. This has been a unique denomination established in early 20th century by Lithuanians which considered itself Catholic but denounced the authority of Roman Pope (thus they are not Roman Catholics). Lithuanian National Catholics had their cathedral in Scranton, Pennsylvania (still operational) and Lawrence was its only other parish.

Lithuanian National Catholic Church in Lawrence. Google Street View.

Lawrence's Lithuanian National Catholic Church building has been sold again (to the Haitian Baptists this time). But the Methuen suburb still has a Lithuanian National Catholic Cemetery, the final resting place of the parish. They could have been buried neither in the unsanctified Protestant cemetery ground nor together with the papal followers, that's why they established their own cemetery which has received a nice arch in 1997 and a memorial to Lithuanians who fought for the USA in 2016.

Lithuanian National Catholic Cemetery in Methuen. Google Street View.

Methuen suburb also has a unique-in-America area where, near Forrest lake, entire district has its streets named in Lithuanian. There are Palanga, Varniai, Kaunas, Luoke streets (all named after Lithuanian cities), as well as Birute street (named after a Duchess of Lithuania) and Vytis street (Vytis being the Lithuanian Coat of Arms). This was the former resort area owned by the St. Francis church, which the Roman Catholic church had swiftly sold for residential construction after disestablishing the parish.

Lowell, Massachusetts

10 km further west from Lawrence along the Merrimack river (its valley once a major hub for textile industry which has attracted Lithuanians in the first place) lies the town of Lowell (pop. 100 000), a kind of Lawrence's twin. The local Lithuanians also had their church dedicated to St. Joseph (151 Rogers Street). Built on 1911 it has been closed on 2003.

Lowell still has Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas club named after the famous Lithuanian leader under whose rule Lithuania was the largest medieval European state. Opened in 1920 the club moved to its current location at 447 Central Street in 1966 and its entrance is still adorned by a Lithuanian flag and a pre-modern Lithuanian abbreviation of its name DLKV. Theoretically, it's still open although practically its doors are rarely opened as the community is already senescent.

Lowell DLKV Lithuanian club. Google Street View.

In 2012 a commemorative stone to local Lithuanians has been unveiled near Lowell municipal building.

Other Merrimack valley

A little north Nashua, New Hampshire is also considered a part of the Merrimack valley. That textile town has its own Lithuanian heritage.

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Springfield, Massachusetts

Springfield, Massachusetts is the birthplace of Lithuania's national sport (basketball); the sport was invented by Dr. James Naismith in the local college. As such the city hosts the massive ball-shaped Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Among the many inductees of this ball-shaped building, there is also a Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis (2011), widely regarded to be the nation's best-ever basketball player, in addition to being the first European to be selected in NBA draft (as Lithuania was still occupied by the Soviet Union, Sabonis was precluded from leaving for several years). Šarūnas Marčiulionis, also a former NBA star, is another Lithuanian inductee (since 2014).

The interior of Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame with the faces of all the inductees

The interior of Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame with the faces of all the inductees

Sabonis face at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Sabonis face at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

As every inductee, both Sabonis and Marčiulionis have their faces on the „dome“ of the ball-shaped building. Their careers are briefly described in the 3rd-floor gallery where all inductees are listed. In addition, Marčiulionis‘s jersey is hanging among the jerseys of the world‘s best point guards, while Sabonis‘s quotation is next to the main entrance to the hall (a rather simple one: „It‘s a dream of every player to play in the NBA“). Only a few players are honored this way, among them Wilt Chamberlain and other main stars.

Jersey of Šarūnas Marčiulionis at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Jersey of Šarūnas Marčiulionis at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

In general, Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame offers many activities beyond the Lithuanian-related things. One may, for example, watch short films about the basketball history (including at least one where Sabonis is shown), try to comment a basketball game and listen to one‘s record, compare one‘s height and arms length to that of the various basketball players and so on. As the Hall is in America, NBA receives most of the attention, yet the international basketball also gets some.

By the way, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame has another Lithuania-born inductee: Sara Berenson Abbot (1868-1954), who is a Lithuania-born Jewess (inducted in 1984). She is called the „Mother of women basketball“ as she has „updated“ the Naismith‘s game rules for women (at the time, men and women played according to greatly different rules, with Abbot‘s rules greatly limiting moving of the players). Abbot has been relatively unknown in Lithuania, however, as she did her inventions in the USA and did not participate in the Lithuanian activities there (she emigrated with her parents when she was just 7 years old and effectively cut any ties with Lithuania).

Description of Senda Abbot at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Description of Senda Abbot at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Springfield area also had a Lithuanian church: St. Casimir in Westfield (38 Parkside Av, construction started on 1917). Since its closure in 2003, it has been sold to the school system and used as a school for kids with ADHD. Even that school was closed in several years, and the church is now used as a warehouse of the school system. If you look through the glass of the main entrance, you may still catch a glimpse of surviving Lithuanian stained glass windows (with Lithuanian inscriptions) inside. Most of the interior is destroyed, however, and filled with various things; a statue of a saint outside is also removed.

Westfield St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Westfield St. Casimir Lithuanian church

St. Casimir name remained however as the parish was unified with St. Peter (Slovak) to form St. Peter's/St. Casimir's parish. The congregation now prays at the former Slovak church, however (24 State Street).

West of Springfield lies Stockbridge, notable for its Divine Mercy shrine. Divine Mercy is a Catholic tradition that originates in Lithuania. In addition to that, the shrine is led by Marianite priests who are inspired by the Lithuanian blessed Jurgis Matulaitis. His images, as well as those of Our Lady of Vilnius, are also prominent in the church there.

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Athol, Massachusetts

Athol is a small town (population 11 000), yet it has a significant number of Lithuanian locations.

The most striking is the Romance Revival St. Francis church, constructed in 1912 and still operating (105 Main Street).

St. Francis church in Athol. Google Street View.

Moreover, there is the Amer-Lithuanian Naturalization Club (365 South St).

In the nearby Gardner, there is a Lithuanian Outing Association, a kind of club near the lake (23 Airport Rd).

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in New England

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in New England (Connectictut, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire) and Quebec.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire,
Rhode Island, Quebec.

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