The Mother Maria Kaupas Center in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, seeks to honor within Divine Redeemer Parish and the Diocese of Harrisburg the life and work of the Venerable Mother Maria Kaupas, foundress of the Sisters of Saint Casimir. It is a ministry within Divine Redeemer Parish – a center for volunteerism and community service, and a place where spirituality, community, and leadership merge.
In 1897, seventeen-year-old Casimira Kaupas journeyed from her native Lithuania to Scranton, Pennsylvania, to be companion and housekeeper for her brother Anthony, a priest serving the needs of Lithuanian immigrants. In America Casimira saw religious Sisters for the first time, and was drawn to their life of prayer and service to God’s people. After four years she returned to Lithuania, but with questions about her future. What should she do with her life? After only a few months, she realized that her calling was to religious life, and she wrote to her brother that she would return to America and enter a community of Sisters. Her brother responded that the Priests’ League in Pennsylvania wanted her to establish a new religious congregation to teach children in the schools they would build. Casimira readily agreed.
Casimira went first to Ingenbohl, Switzerland, for education and religious training. During her time there, she was notified that the Priests’ League had failed to find sufficient resources for the future Congregation, and were abandoning the idea. Casimira, however, would not give up. She wrote to her brother and asked him to find a bishop who would sponsor the Congregation and a priest to serve as spiritual guide, and she set sail for America with two companions – Judith Dvaranauskas and Antoinette Unguraitis.
Upon arrival in Scranton, she discovered that Bishop John W. Shanahan of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Mother Cyril of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scranton agreed to receive this small group and help them prepare to form a new Community of Sisters. Father Anthony Staniukynas, pastor of Holy Cross Church in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, became their spiritual guide. On August 29, 1907, the three women put on the religious habit and were received into the novitiate of the Immaculate Heart Sisters. The new Congregation would be named in honor the patron of Lithuania – Saint Casimir – and the new Sisters’ religious names would honor the Blessed Mother. Casimira would be called Sister Maria, Judith would be Sister Immaculata, and Antoinette would be Sister Concepta.
The new Congregation’s mission of education began at Holy Cross School in Mount Carmel, which opened on January 6, 1908. In 1964, Holy Cross School was consolidated with five other parish schools to form Holy Spirit School. The Sisters of St. Casimir continued to staff the school until 1973. In 1995, Holy Cross Parish merged with four other ethnic parishes in Mount Carmel to form Divine Redeemer Parish.
The Sisters of Saint Casimir chose Chicago, with its large Lithuanian population, as the site for their Motherhouse and moved there in 1911, continuing to grow in numbers and to respond to requests for Sisters from parishes throughout the United States. As a response to the influenza epidemic in 1918, Mother Maria began preparing Sisters for the ministry of health care in addition to education.
After 33 years of serving God’s people and watching her Congregation grow, Mother Maria Kaupas died on April 17, 1940. Since that time, her life has been carefully studied, witnesses interviewed, and depositions taken. In 1986, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome declared Mother Maria “Servant of God,” and on July 1, 2010, she was declared “Venerable” – one step closer to being named “Blessed,” and, ultimately, “Saint.”
Mother Maria Kaupas lived and worked in Mount Carmel, responding to the needs of God’s people. We desire to continue her legacy by doing the same . . . “always more, always better, always with love.”