Mother Maria Kaupas
Venerable Servant of God
Served in the Diocese of Harrisburg
Casimira Kaupas (“Kaze”) was born on January 6, 1880, in Gudeliai, Lithuania, into a family of 11. They were pious and practiced their religion as best they could, as Russia ruled in the majority and Russian Orthodox was the state religion. Catholics could not openly practice their faith.
In 1892, her brother, Anthony, emigrated to the United States, was ordained a priest in 1896 and assigned to St. Joseph’s Lithuanian Church in Scranton, Pa. He asked Kaze to come to America to be his housekeeper. She arrived, age 17, and for the first time witnessed women religious and became aware of the plight of the immigrants. After four years, she became homesick and returned to Lithuania, but always discerned her vocation. An American Lithuanian clergy wanted to establish a Lithuanian congregation for women to address the faith and educational needs for the children. Eventually, Kaze trained with the Sisters of Mercy in Switzerland and returned to Scranton in 1905.
Bishop John Shanahan of the Diocese of Harrisburg agreed to sponsor the new congregation in 1905. He made arrangements with Mother M. Cyril of the Servants of the Sacred Heart (IHM) for Casimira and her two companions to begin religious life. In 1907, Pope Pius X approved the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Casmir, and on August 30 Mother Maria Kaupas and her two companions were professed. With the opening of the new Holy Cross School in Mount Carmel in 1908, Mother Maria and two Sisters began their first teaching assignment with 125 students.
In 1911, Archbishop Quigley of Chicago opened St. Casmir Academy with a large Lithuanian population. They began to staff schools in other Lithuanian parishes across the United States. In 1913, Mother Maria Kaupas became the first Superior General, a post she held until her death 27 years later. Free from Russia after World War I, the Lithuanian bishops asked Mother Maria to establish a foundation of Sisters, coming to fruition in Pazaislis, Lithuania. The Lithuanian government bestowed the highest decoration, The Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas, upon Mother in 1933 for her work with the Lithuanians in America.
That same year, Mother was diagnosed with breast cancer which metastasized to the bone. She survived seven years. She told her nurses, “I am happy that I have an illness which gives me time to prepare for death by suffering to atone for sins.” Pain was etched on her face; she was ashen but serene. As her eyes brightened with a radiant smile, Mother Maria closed her beautiful blue eyes and breathed her last breath on April 17, 1940, at age 60.
In the Diocese of Harrisburg, Holy Cross in Mount Carmel in the Anthracite Coal Region, 73 miles from the capital city of Harrisburg, was considered the Lithuanian Church throughout its history. The Lithuanian people have a deep devotion to the “Weeping Christ” and the “Holy Cross.” Holy Cross Church was dedicated on September 14, 1892, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Mother Maria and her two companions began teaching there in 1908 and the Sisters kept their presence after it had been merged until 1964. The church and school have since been suppressed.
In April 2015, The Mother Maria Kaupas Center was dedicated in Mount Carmel. The center houses spiritual and charitable initiatives and programs that give parishioners, Confirmation candidates and college students an opportunity to become immersed in community service projects.
By Angela M. Orsini, The Catholic Witness
Saint Spotlight – Mother Maria Kaupas
Mother Maria Kaupas
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