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Springfield, Illinois

Chicago is both the largest city of Illinois and the largest city of Lithuanian Americans. However, Springfield (the capital of Illinois) also has some Lithuanian history.

Springfield once boasted a St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian church (built in 1909 on the corner of 8th and Enos streets). It was simple and towerless, surrounded by various Lithuanian clubs and collectives. Despite the opposition of the parishioners in has been closed in 1972 and torn down in 1976 (replaced by a parking lot). It was the final ethnic parish of Springfield.

Not far away from the location of the church, on the corner of 7th and Enterprise steets (near Enos park) a memorial plaque has been built in 2012 with the following text on it, telling the story of Springfield Lithuanians: "LITHUANIANS ARRIVED EN MASSE DURING SANGAMON COUNTY’S COAL BOOM. NUMBERING SEVERAL THOUSAND WITH THEIR FAMILIIES BY 1920, THEY FLED POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS REPRESSION, CONSCRIPTION, POVERTY, AND A TOTAL BAN ON THEIR LANGUAGE IN THE CZARIST RUSSIAN EMPIRE. IN 1908, AT 8TH AND ENOS ST., THEY BUILT THEIR “NATIONAL” CATHOLIC CHURCH, ST. VINCENT DE PAUL’S, WHICH FOR 63 YEARS WAS A FOCUS OF LITHUANIAN LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY. IN 1917, THE CHURCH WAS CALLED THE MOST IMPORTANT “MELTING POT” IN THE CITY WITH 1,200 SUNDAY WORSHIPERS. IMMIGRATION RESTRICTIONS, COAL MINE CLOSURES, AND ASSIMILATION TOOK THEIR TOLL ON LOCAL EUROPEAN ETHNIC GROUPS AFTER 1920. HOWEVER, THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ST. VINCENT DE PAUL’S ONLY GREW WHEN LITHUANIA WAS ANNEXED BY THE SOVIET UNION IN 1940 FOLLOWING 22 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE. WITH FREEDOM IN THE HOMELAND AGAIN EXTINGUISHED, LITHUANIAN IDENTITY ABROAD ASSUMED A MORAL IMPERATIVE. NATIONAL FEELING ALSO WAS REINFORCED BY A LOCAL INFLUX OF WORLD WAR II REFUGEES UNDER THE U.S. DISPLACED PERSONS ACT OF 1948. AND, IT PERSISTED DECADES AFTER ST. VINCENT’S BECAME SPRINGFIELD’S LAST “NATIONAL” CHURCH TO CLOSE IN 1971. IN 1988, A DARING “SINGING REVOLUTION” IN LITHUANIA (1987-91) INSPIRED 439 LOCAL LITHUANIAN-AMERICANS TO FORM A NEW CLUB TO CELEBRATE THEIR HERITAGE. LITHUANIA WAS RESTORED TO INDEPENDENCE WITH THE BREAK-UP OF THE SOVIET UNION IN 1991.

SPONSORED BY THE BAKŠYS, CHERNIS, COLANTINO & URBANCKAS FAMILIES; LITHUANIAN-AMERICAN CLUB; IN MEMORY OF MARIJA JOMANTIENE, MECYS & ANTANAS VALIUKENAS, VITA & DARIUS ZEMAITIS."

A long-time US congressman senator Richard Durbin (born to a Lithuanian mother) has lived in Springfield. He supported the memoral plaque and visited Lithuania on numerous occasions, supporting its independence before 1990.

It was that rebirth of Lithuania which united Springfield Lithuanians once again and made them to establish a Lithuanian Club. Currently this community has one of the more informative websites and due to its activity the memorial plaque has been erected.

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