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Lithuanians in Arizona:
Lithuanian Roman Catholic Mission
Rev. Antanas Bertašius, a priest who recently arrived from Lithuania, started work at St. Gregory's Parish in Phoenix in 1953. He also found time to provide pastoral services to local Lithuanians. But soon, in 1954, he was transferred to the El Paso diocese and for a long time Phoenix was without a Lithuanian priest.
Establishment of the Mission
Finally, in 1968, through the efforts of Justinas and Teofilė Šaulys, a Lithuanian Mission was established in Phoenix and Rev. Antanas Valiuška was assigned as its chaplain. In the fall of the same year a mission support committee was formed. Because Phoenix Lithuanians came from three distinct groups (old immigrants, new immigrants, and those who grew up in the U.S. or English speakers), all three groups were represented in the committee: chairman Justinas Šaulys represented the new immigrants, treasurer Romualdas Stasiūnas - the old immigrants, and secretary Betty Medzius - the English speakers.
Among the first supporters of the Mission were Leonardas Strikauskas, Jenny Petrošius, Betty Medzius, Justinas Šaulys, Emilija Josen, Marijonas Dambrauskas, Konstancija Rudaitytė, Romualdas Stasiūnas, B. Millius, Algis Rimavičius, Vytas Sinkus, J. Globis, Jonas Kranauskas, and L. Behnle.
On Sunday's after the Mass, local Lithuanians had an oportunity to associate with each other. Often Mass was followed by meetings, discussions, and other events.
From the very start, the Lithuanian Mission found a home in the very nice facilities of the Sacred Heart Home of The Little Sisters of the Poor) Rev. A. Valiuška was allowed to live there rent-free, which he did for about a year. The chapel within the spacious Home was used for Lithuanian Mass, funerals, Stations of the Cross, rosaries, choir practice and even meetings. The sisters even joined in Lithuanian activities. Sister Aimee often sang with the choir and solo, Sister Gabriele played on the organ, and Sister Teresa decorated the altar for the Lithuanian Mass.
Since the Sisters did not charge for the use of the chapel, Lithuanians showed their gratitude by participating in large numbers at events and bazaars organized by the Sisters. Lithuanians prepared food and lotteries for these events. Proceeds from these events helped the finances of the Home. Key organizers of the Lithuanian contributions were Vytautas and Lucija Mozartas, William and Angie Faber and Stanley and Sally Pudinas.
In 1969 the Lithuanian Mission started publishing a newsletter in Lithuanian named Arizonos Lietuvis ("Arizona's Lithuanian") with news of the Lithuanian parish.For English speakers a part, first prepared by Betty Medzius and later by Violet Kurilla, was in English. For a long time the newsletter was published by Leonardas Strikauskas, who donated his time and effort. The newsletter survived on the donations of the parishioners.
In 1969 Rev. A. Valiuška acquired a small house, because the Sisters needed more space for the old people they took care for. After a year, the house was slightly expanded, but it was still too small for the activities of the Mission. In 1973 a bigger house was bought, where meetings, choir practice and other activities could be accommodated.
On Feb. 15, 1970, when Lithuanians in Phoenix were celebrating Lithuanian Independence Day, Edward McCarthy, the new Bishop of Phoenix participated in the Lithuanian Mass with a nice sermon. The Mass was attended by bout 200 people. Music professor Aleksandras Aleksis, a visitor from Waterbury, CT, prepared the church choir to sing Lithuanian religious hymns and himself sang solo Panis Angelicus. After Mass the bishop met with Lithuanians and was presented with a gift of Lithuanian art.
1971 was a year of expansion for the Mission due to the arrival of more Lithuanians in Phoenix. Among them were Stanley and Marijona Druktenis, Marija Gilys, Joe and Ann Lalis, Petras and Jadvyga Maldeikis, Antanas and Ona Metrikis, Pijus and Adolfina Mickevičius, Bruno Steponaitis, Mačys and Z. Pagrandis, Jonas Šereiva, Veronika Usoris, Joe Biknius and others. They joined the activities of the Mission and the wider cultural activities of the local Lithuanian community. Ona Metrikis was a musicologist, she quickly took charge of the Lithuanian choir, and the quality of the singing during Mass started to improve. When Ona Metrikis moved to California, the leadership of the choir was taken by Sister Gabrielle, later by Evelyn Winters, and later yet by Rose Sanders.
Move to Sun City and Glendale
After a number of years the city of Phoenix decided to build an expressway through the area and the Home operated by the Sisters was torn down. For several years until Rev.Valiuška moved to California, Lithuanian Mass was celebrated at the Sunland Memorial Park chapel in Sun City.
After 40 years of service in Indian-Mexican parishes in Tucson, on February 24, 1989, Rev. Romanas Klumbys was confirmed as the chaplain of the Lithuanian Mission. He moved to Sun City. Because of his good connections with Mexican parishes he was able to transfer the Lithuanian religious services to the Our Lady of Guadalupe chapel in the nearby town of Glendale, Arizona.
After retiring from papal service in the Vatican, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus moved to Sun City, Arizona in January, 1991. When Rev. Klumbys passed away on October 11, 1991, Archbishop Marcinkus assumed the pastoral duties at the Lithuanian Mission until his own death on February 20, 2006. Because the Archbishop did not accept any financial compensation for his service to the Lithuanian Mission, the Mission made substantial donations to the St. Casimir Lithuanian College at the Vatican in the Archbishop's name twice a year: on his birthday and on his name's day.
End of the Mission
After the Archbishop's death in February 2006, Lithuanian Mission stopped functioning.
Mission Support Committee
In the performance of his duties and in serving the Lithuanian public, the chaplain was assisted by members of the Mission Committee. The Committee was headed by (the list is incomplete):
Lithuanian Mass and other events organized by the Mission served the spiritual and social needs of the Phoenix area Lithuanians. Coffee and snacks after Mass was very popular. Other Lithuanian organizations (e.g. Arizona Chapter of the Lithuanian American Community) used these opportunities to hold their meetings as well.
From 1991 to 1997, the Mission organized Lithuanian Christmas Eve dinners.
In April of 1997, Mission organized the 50th anniversary celebration of Archbishop Marcinkus priesthood.
Deaths and illnesses continued to diminish the number of regular attendees. By the fall of 2000, the numbers were down to 15-20 and Lithuanian Mass became celebrated only twice a month. On some important holidays, however, the numbers would swell to as high as 40.