Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

St. Louis, Missouri and Illinois

St. Louis is one of the great historic metropolises of USA which were developed in the 19th century while gradually settling the Western plains of American continent.

Mississippi river which straddles the city served as a premodern freight highway. Industry developed along it attracting European migrants, including Lithuanians.

East St. Louis Lithuanian church

Church of Immaculate Conception at East St. Louis (1509 Baugh Ave) is one of the best examples of Lithuanian-American national romantic architecture. It has been designed by Jonas Mulokas, its interior was created by V. K. Jonynas (year 1956). Together these two authors created the post-WW2 style of Lithuanian churches where they sought to represent their lost homeland as best as they could (after all the post-WW2 migrants have been forced from their country by Soviets rather than emigrating on their own will).

Immaculate Conception Lithuanian church of East St. Louis is among the best examples of Lithuanian-American search for a modern ethnic style. Google Street View.

The forms of the church aren't resembling any single historical style but they are not modern either. Even the Christian church elements have been "ethnicized" here: the cross is mixed in form with sun and moon (inspired by peasant or even pagan Lithuanian symbolism), the front side has bas-reliefs in the form of crosses of Vytis and towers of Gediminas, the main entrance incorporates Vytis, while the tower is inspired by Baroque although not copying it directly (this is symbolic as at the time Baroque was regarded to be the most Lithuanian of Western styles due to its prevalence in Vilnius church architecture). There are ethnic wooden carvings above doors.

Inside, the altar is also decisively ethnic Lithuanian, carved from wood.

There are over 50 stained glass windows, most of which have Lithuania-related topics. For instance, the southern wall is adorned by stained-glass windows of Mary-related places of Lithuania (whereas the northern wall is likewise covered with windows with Maryan sites outside Lithuania). There are historical scenes, such as Baptism of Mindaugas (first king of Lithuania), there are coats of arms of the Lithuanian cities. There are so many ethnic Lithuanian details that it is impossible to list every one and the church could serve as a kind of repository of the Lithuanian history.

The parish is much older than the church itself, established in 1895. Its first church has been constrcuted in 1897, enlarged in 1928 and destroyed by fire in 1943.

Since the year the current church was built East St. Louis became an infamously unsafe district, declining in population from ~80 000 to ~20 000. Despite that, the church remained open, even though 11 of 13 Catholic churches in the area have been closed by 2018. Its location next to a highway attracts attention and even new parishioners, as the members of the parish have told "Global True Lithuania". Nevertheless, the church also had some problems: two of the Lithuanian sun-crosses that have adorned the roof had to be removed after there was an attempt to steal them and put in a safer place near the basement stairs. In the basement, one can find a parish hall where the Lithuanian activities, as well as post-Mass events, take place, as well as a small parish museum. There, you can also see the images of the way the church had to look like as designed by an American architect L. Prens. While even that design included some Lithuanian features (as was likely requested by the Lithuanian parish), altogether it looked much more like a regular church of the era. Architect Prens died, however, and the order has been entrusted to Mulokas and Jonynas who ethnicized the entire design of the church.

East St. Louis Immaculate Conception church looks is similar to the All Saints Lithuanian church in Chicago and also has similar elements to the Nativity BVM church of Chicago (the last of them being created by the same tandem of designers).

Collinsville and its Lithuanian Lutheran church

Further east the suburb of Collinsville has a small white church built by Lithuanian Lutherans in 1903, known as the Jerusalem Lutheran church (305 Collinsville Ave). This is one of merely 3 Lithuanian Lutheran churches in the USA, two other ones standing in Chicago. The building is small and wooden. It still has Lithuanian names of the sponsors inscribed on its stained glass windows, among them "Shimkus" (relatives of the US congressman Shimkus).

The church has been also organized by the victims of Russian occupation but the earlier Imperial (1795-1915) rather than the Soviet one (1940-1990). The pastor Keturakaitis who established this church previously worked as book smuggler in Lithuania, importing Lithuanian books into Russian-occupied Lithuania at the time the Russian regime banned Lithuanian language (and serving in prison for that). He lived in Tauragė, an area that used to be near the border of the Russian and German empires and had many Lutherans. It were precisely the Lutheran areas of Lithuania that gave most emigrants for the Collinsville coal mines and even before Keturakaitis came they used to have Lutheran worship in their homes or other churches.

The parish reached the high point after World War 2, when the community has sponsored arrival of the refugees from Lithuania who fled the Soviet occupation. Most refugees were Reformed rather than Lutheran, however, leading to a dispute among the "old" and "new" parishioners whether the next priest should be Reformed or Lutheran. The dispute ended up in favor of Lutherans, however, most of the Reformed Christians then left the parish, attending only the ethnic Lithuanian but no religious festivals. Some of them still supported the parish, though, but the number of parishioners declined since, sometimes joined by non-Lithuanians.

Even though in the 2000s only some third-to-half of the congregation are of Lithuanian heritage, the parish sponsored a constrcution of a Lutheran church in Palanga, Lithuania then. The church is part of the Missouri Lutheran church, in contrast with the two other Lithuanian Lutheran parishes in the USA which are part of the Lithuanian Lutheran church.

Collinsville Jerusalem Lutheran church

Collinsville Jerusalem Lutheran church. Google Street View.

Lithuanian heritage in downtown St. Louis

St. Louis metropolis straddles across two states as the Missouri/Illinois borderline here follows the Mississippi river. Both the aforementioned Lithuanian communities are located on the Illinois side but the Missouri side (which also has the St. Louis downtown) also had its own Lithuanian church dedicated to St. Joseph, acquired from Protestants in 1916 in the historic Lafayette Square district famous for its turn-of-the-century architecture (address: corner of Park Avenue and MacKay Place). Small, looking as if built of stones, the church has been closed in 1970 when Lithuanians left the then-poor neighborhood.

St. Joseph Lithuanian church in Lafayette Square.

St. Joseph Lithuanian church in Lafayette Square. Google Street View.

St. Louis is also famous for its City Museum. For kids, it may seem to be a large playground while for adults it is a work of art and a memorial for the declining American cities. Much of its interior is filled with the details of demolished pretty buildings and closed institutions. Among the main details is the St. George bas-relief that used to be above the main entrance to the Chicago St. George Lithuanian church, demolished in 1990.

Source on Lutheran church.

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