Mother Maria Kaupas — ‘Always More, Always Better, Always With Love’
Venerable Mother Maria Kaupas, the foundress of the Sisters of Saint Casimir, helped Lithuanian Catholic immigrants preserve their faith, language and culture in the United States.
“Always more, always better, always with love.”
The oft-repeated motto and way of life of Venerable Mother Maria Kaupas, the future foundress of the Sisters of Saint Casimir, seems to have been instilled in her from her earliest days of childhood. She was born Casimira Kaupas into a farming family of 11 children in Ramygala, Lithuania, in 1880. Their profoundly religious family was lead by her father singing the Psalms throughout the day and her mother consistently demonstrating care and compassion within the family and community.
Casimira was a devout child who was attentive to the role of God in her life. She was a happy young woman, spending days on the farm tending the animals and enjoying books, as she was an avid reader. She left her simple life behind when she came to the United States in 1897 at the request of her older brother, Father Anthony Kaupas, to serve as his housekeeper while he was pastor of St. Joseph Lithuanian parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania. When she arrived, her brother was astonished to not see the little farm girl he once knew but instead a fashionable young lady in front of him with stylish clothes and a straw hat.
Casimira enjoyed her first days in the United States but began to witness the difficulties and hardships of the Lithuanian immigrants in the United States. Most of the fathers were miners, and a large number of them were killed in the hazards of the work. As a result, many young women became widows and children were without parents. Casimira, with all her heart, wished she could do something for them. How could they be helped to keep their faith and maintain their language and their culture?
It was during this four-year stay in Scranton that Casimira witnessed women in habits for the first time and became attracted to an apostolic religious life. She was inspired by the sisters that she saw and asked her brother who they were, as she had never seen women members of a religious community in her life. He told her that they are “women who live for God alone.” After some discernment and reflection, she realized that if she were to enter religious life, she would be able to find a way to help these people for whom her heart was grieving. When she told her brother of her intent to enter a community in the United States, he informed her that the American Lithuanian clergy sought to establish a Lithuanian congregation of women religious for the purpose of educating the youth in a Catholic setting and preserving the Lithuanian language and customs. Casimira was then asked to lead this new venture that would sustain and nourish the faith of the early Lithuanian immigrants in the United States.
Mother Maria fashioned the spiritual identity of the congregation. She inspired the community and offered them a personal motto: “Fortified with a good intention, wherever you are and whatever you do, always keep it in mind: God is here!” She was often seen at night in deep prayer in the presence of the Eucharist: “What happiness will be ours as we work in union with him … our dearest Friend! After our daily tasks are completed, what joy we shall experience as we rest at his feet … and lovingly converse with him!”
In seeking to ameliorate the plight of the Lithuanian immigrant, Mother Maria decided to start first with the education of children, who would then share their knowledge and faith with their parents. From Scranton, Mother Maria traveled to Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, where Father Stanuikynas was pastor to prepare for the opening in 1908 of the congregation's first parish convent and school, opening with over 70 pupils. The establishment of Holy Cross school made an imprint, not only on the local Catholic community, but also on the entire community of mostly poor mining families. Within a few months, Lithuanian pastors throughout the United States sent requests begging for sisters to staff their parochial schools — first in Pennsylvania, later in Chicago, and then in New Mexico and other parts of the country.
Because of the large concentration of Lithuanian immigrants in Chicago and considering the advantages for the Sisters to be more centrally located, Bishop John W. Shanahan of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, consented to have the Sisters build their motherhouse in Chicago. The first classes were composed of preschool children and grammar and high school pupils. Some were boarders at St. Casimir Academy and continued at the high school within the Motherhouse facility until 1952, when the Maria High School was built to accommodate the growing number of girls seeking a Catholic education under the direction of the Sisters of Saint Casimir.
In 1916, the bishops of Lithuania wrote to Mother Maria seeking her assistance. They had heard about the great advancement that she and her sisters had made amongst the Lithuanian-American immigrants and asked that she return to Lithuania and establish her congregation there. In 1920 Mother Maria sailed to Lithuania with four of her sisters and, within weeks, new candidates arrived in the congregation. As the sisters increased in number, they opened schools and other institutions in various cities throughout the country.
For the first 20 years, the Sisters of Saint Casimir were focused in the United States on education as their primary apostolate. When the United States experienced the influenza epidemic of 1918 to 1919, it was evident to Mother Maria that there were too few doctors and too few to give care. Responding to growing healthcare needs, she prepared her sisters as nurses and administrators to staff Holy Cross hospital, which was built in 1927 and opened in 1928.
Within a few months of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the congregation, it became evident that Mother Maria was suffering from a malignant condition. She persevered for the next eight years with great courage as the bone cancer spread. On April 17, 1940, Mother Maria passed onto her eternal reward at the motherhouse, surrounded by her sisters. She had served in the office of General Superior for 27 years, from 1913 to her death. It was commonly accepted among the sisters, priests and laity who knew Mother Maria that she was a very holy person. Within a matter of hours after her death, the newspapers carried articles, with headlines like “Sainthood Sought for Mother Maria.” Thousands of people came for her wake and burial.
In October 2009, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome completed their review of the positio, the academic position paper on the heroic virtuous life of Mother Maria Kaupas. The commission of bishops completed their review and likewise gave a unanimous positive vote. Less than a year later, the results were presented to Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 for his approval, after which Rome sent word that Mother Maria Kaupas had been decreed to be Venerable.
Throughout the years, possible miracles through the intercession of Mother Maria have been submitted to the Vatican for evaluation and review. When a healing is determined by the medical commission to have been the instantaneous, complete and lasting cure of a serious condition without any medical intervention that relates to the cure and it has been established by cardinals and theologians to be a case of singular intercession, then a miracle will be declared and Mother Maria Kaupas will be named a Blessed.