Wednesday, November 29, 2006


"The “Rūpintojėlis”, which became a characteristic Lithuanian art form, expressed a deep spirituality peculiar to an oppressed people. Ignas Končius interpreted the figure as saying: “He speaks of hardship. He shows us the failures in our lives. He helps us bear the sorrow in our heart. He lessens our sadness and gentles our tears. Or perhaps people put him up as a witness to sorrow: that hearts would not harden and to remind them of the hard times of life so that in remembering them they would become better...”

from "Lithuanian Folk Art" by Sr. Ona Mikaila, published in Bridges

"What if God was one of us?"

The singer/songwriter Joan Osborne scored a hit by singing that question in 1995:

"What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us. Just a stranger on on the bus trying to make his way home."

God was and has been one of us since the first Christmas. But in the course of daily life, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of this. At Our Lady of Vilnius, we have had our priests to remind us.

At its beginning, in Father Šeštokas and recently, in Father Eugene, Our Lady of Vilnius has been blessed with worker priests who are also "one of us" in having other occupations before entering the priesthood and while serving as priests.

This living tradition is one of the unique gifts that make this parish so powerful in bringing us closer to God.

The spirit of FatherJoseph Šeštokas lives at Our Lady of Vilnius

Our Founding Father and Worker/Priest

Joseph Šeštokas was born August 4, 1867 in Trilaukis, county of Pajevonis, district of Vilkaviskis. After finishing 4 years of high school he emigrated to Glasgow, Scotland where he worked in a steel mill. With the money he saved, he soon crossed the Atlantic and settled in Brooklyn. His first job was at the Havemeyer Sugar Refinery in the Williamsburg section. He later opened a grocery store, the first one opened by a Lithuanian in that area.

After having earned enough money to pay the tuition, Joseph Šeštokas entered St. John College in Brooklyn in preparation for a priestly career. He was subsequently admitted to St. Bonaventure Seminary, Alleghany, NY.

Fr. Šeštokas was ordained on April 24, 1903 and celebrated his first Mass in the church of St. Mary Queen of Angels, in Brooklyn. After serving in Lawrence, Massachusetts and returned to New York to start organizing a new parish in Manhattan.

The Chancery and the pastor of the church of St. Teresa on the Lower East Side allowed Father Šeštokas to use the vasement of that church for services with the Lithuanian immigrants. That situation lasted until March 5, 1911, when the new church on Broome St. was blessed and solemnly open to public worship.

The corner-stone had been laid one year earlier,and unknown to most parishioners then and now, Father Šeštokas, after fulfilling his priestly duties during the day, would go two or three times a week to the docks of Manhattan to work as a longshoreman in the night shift in order to earn money for the building of Our Lady of Vilnius.

In November of 1912 Father Šeštokas bought the building at 32 Dominick Street to serve as a rectory. He lived there until 1937 running a very active parish, according to old timers who shared their recollections with Father Palubinskas in 1987. The parish books and records for baptisms, marriages and deaths confirm this. In 1937, after six month leave of absence related to declining health, the Chancery refused him permission to resume his duties as pastor. Father Šeštokas lived at St. Anthony's Hospital in Warwick, NY and later moved to Philadelphia, be be close to his relatives. He died in November, 1958 at the age of 91. He rests, expecting the resurrection of the dead in Calvary Cemetery, Long Island city, NY.

-from a biography prepared in 1987 by Father Vytautas Palubinskas on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the birth of Father Šeštokas.

Jazz at Our Lady of Vilnius Basement Hall this Friday Evening

Maloniai kvieciame Penktadieni, gruodzio 1d, 7:30PMi dziazo muzikos vakara Cartoon Satelite, kuris ivyks Ausros Vartu Baznycios apatineje saleje.

Vakare gros:
Dalius Naujokaitis - musamieji, perkusija
On Davis - gitara, smuikas, garso efektai
Nick Gianni - saksofonas, bosine gitara, klavisiniai

Originalios, naujos krypties harmoninio dziazo kompozicijos.

Kaina: auka prie iejimo
570 Broome gatv. / tarp Varick gatv. ir Holland tunelio ivaziavimo/A,C,E,1,2,3 pozeminis metro iki Canal gatv., eiti i siaure iki Broome gatv., po to- i vakarus.

You are invited to an evening of jazz with group
"Cartoon Satellite"
(Dalius Naujokaitis, On Davis and Nick Gianni)
on Friday, December 1 at 7:30 PM.

Price: Donation at the door

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Sad Goodbye to Dan Barry's "About New York" column in the New York Times

From time to time I have blogged Dan Barry's columns as they related to St. Brigid's Church, the vanishing tokens of New York history or topics related to Roman Catholicism. In his "About New York" column of November 15, Mr. Barry announced that that he would be moving on to another assignment.

I always read Mr. Barry's column with great enjoyment. His pieces featured people and places that were off the beaten path but portrayed what was great about New York city and great about humanity. I will miss his New York pieces, but await his observations on the national scene with great interest. The following is an excerpt from his last column,ABOUT NEW YORK; On a Corner Midstream In the Rush

"ON this just-another-Monday-in-Manhattan, I think of how extraordinary the city is even at its most mundane, and how proud I am to be a child of it, and how silly it is to harbor any proprietary sense about a place so old and so immense, simply because my Irish mother and New York father met at a church dance in Brooklyn long ago.

In truth, I pause beside the flow of the city to say goodbye to this column about the city, for this is my last ''About New York.'' They tell me I will be launching a national column in a couple of months. Still, the loss I feel is keen.

But before I rejoin that ever-flowing river, before I catch a train with return ticket clutched in hand, let me say this: It's been a privilege. Thank you. Now get outta here."

St. Brigid's Still Putting Up a Fight

After no media action for over a month, I was wondering what was happening at St. Brigid's. Today I was informed by The Irish Echo in an article entitled "St. Brigid's campaigners argue for landmark status"

The article included the following statement clarifying the legal status of the church:

"On July 28, Judge Barbara Kapnick of the State Supreme Court ordered a temporary halt to the demolition of the church that had begun the previous day and reaffirmed that decision a few weeks later. She has yet to issue a final ruling on the status of the demolition order."

The campaign to save St. Brigid's has a web site. Visit to see what they are doing to try to save their church.


Father Eugene looks startled by the photographer as he carries away his highly photogenic plate of dinner. Ramute, who coordinated the preparation of this delicious meal, smiles over his shoulder.

Thanks to Ramute and the other volunteers from the Lithuanian American Community for preparing and presenting such a lovely feast.


After Mass we gathered on the steps to sing hymns and make Our Lady of the Dawn Gate visible to New York by holding up her picture. Many heads among motorists and passengers turned to look more closely. Normally we come and go quietly through the basement entrance singly, in pairs or small groups. Today we were all present and visible at once on the front steps, as it would be every Sunday if our roof was repaired and our sanctuary restored to us.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Our Lady of Fatima was there, too

Among those who attend Mass regularly at Our Lady of Vilnius are a small contingent of Portuguese neighbors from the surrounding area. They are always very warm, welcoming and spirited. On this special day a group of the women brought their statue of Our Lady of Fatima with them. They carried her outside the church where we congregated and sang hymns after the Mass.

She stood at the head of the table where we later sat for dinner as the women hospitably shared their milky Portuguese liqueur with us. It was delicious and had a deceptive kick to it.

On my left, a Lithuanian man translated the label on my beer bottle for me. On my right a woman spoke in Portuguese with her sister. Very much in the spirit of Our Lady of Vilnius parish.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Feast of Our Lady: A Special Mass

On Sunday morning the metal pillars supporting the basement ceiling were bedecked with woven sashes and lillies in honor of Our Lady. The hall was overflowing as Mass was said in celebration of the feast of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn.

We were graced by the presence of a children's choir which sang the liturgy in Lithuanian with great care, poise and sweetness.

In his homily Father Eugene told us to remain aware of the mystery of God around us, to be mindful of His presence and His communication with us.

At this gathering it was easy to feel His presence among us in the care and tenderness with which the children sang, the effort put into cleaning and decorating the hall, the smiles, kisses and handshakes during the sign of peace. Two of my friends from St. Stanislaus Kostka in Hastings drove down on impulse and I was so happy to see their faces and share this occasion with them. I was also glad to be in the company of a longstanding parishioner whose attendance at this Mass was a reunion of sorts. She has been telling me about some of those who are now gone, like Dalia Bulvicius and Aldona Kepalaite, making them real to me when I had only known them as references in old bulletins, programs and pictures. My thoughts traveled to my grandparents, my father and my aunts who had all attended this church, the other Lithuanian friends and relatives that surrounded me as a child and all the others who had attended Mass here over the years.

Immersed in the mystery, it was a reunion for us all.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

November Pilgrimage, NYC: Sunday, November 19 at 11:15 AM

"Please continue to pray that Our Lady Of the "Dawn Gate" remains open to serve all who need her shelter.........including her Beloved Son!"

This is how Pat of Annunciation "Zinios" fame prefaced her e-vite to our celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Vilnius on Broome Street. We welcome you to join us this Sunday in prayer and festivity.

You are cordially invited
to participate in the feast day celebration of
Our Lady of Vilnius
Sunday, November 19th, 11:15 AM

Our Lady of Vilnius Lithuanian RC Church

Bring your rosaries, holy pictures of Our Lady of Vilnius, Lithuanian flags. After the celebration, a concert and refreshments will follow in the church hall.

Jūs esate maloniai kviečiami dalyvauti
Aušros Vartų atlaiduose
Sekmadienį, lapkričio 19 d., 11.15 v.r.

Niujorko Aušros Vartų bažnyčioje

Atsineškite savo rožančius, Aušros Vartų Marijos paveikslus, vėliavas
Po atlaidų, vyks koncertas ir pietūs parapijos salėje

November Pilgrimage: Vilnius

Every year in the middle of November, tens of thousands of believers gather in Vilnius for the annual pilgrimage to honor Our Lady of Vilnius in the Gates of Dawn.

The streets are covered with wood, and kept especially clean, as many pilgrims approach the chapel and climb the stairwell to the icon on their knees. For eight days, Masses, prayer services, recitations of the rosary, and communal meditations occur around the clock.

The culmination of the pilgrimage is November 16th , the Feast of the Protection of the Merciful Mother of God.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

November 16th , the Feast of the Protection of the Merciful Mother of God


Pray to Our Lady for the protection of Our Lady of Vilnius Parish, NYC. May her presence be a comfort and inspiration to us all.

1522 – Responding to fears of attack from Crimean Tartars, Grand Duke Aleksandras of Lithuania fortifies the city of Vilnius with a wall with five gates. The present Gates of Dawn was the easternmost, and most dangerous access to the city.

1626 – Carmelite monks establish a monastery next to the Gates, and began to care for the icon of Our Lady of Vilnius.

1671 - A wooden chapel was erected atop the Gates to house the icon. At least 17 miracles were recorded around this time.

1655-1661 – Our Lady frequently appears in the city’s night time sky to residents praying for her intercession, while defending the Gates from Russian attack.

1671 – The icon is “clothed” in fine metallic robes, the work of Vilnius goldsmiths.

1702 – Sweden captures Vilnius, and outlaws public worship of the icon. The icon gets hit with a bullet during a battle at the Gates.

1715 – The wooden chapel burns in a fire. The icon is saved and put into a new cement chapel.

1799-1802 – Although the wall around the city is demolished, the Gates are spared because of the miracles that occurred here.

1927 – The icon undergoes restoration, and is crowned in an elaborate ceremony.

1945-1991 – Scores of pilgrims from Byelorussia come to worship at the chapel, as most of their churches have been closed by the Soviet Union.

1993 – His Holy Father Pope John Paul II prays the rosary in the chapel, fulfilling a dream he first had while praying in the chapel of Our Lady of Vilnius in the Vatican when he first become Pope.

1997 – The Orthodox Patriarch Aleksei II and the Archbishop of Vilnius Audrys Bačkis pray together for peace in the chapel, as thousands in the streets below kneel in prayer.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Gates of Dawn

The icon of our Lady of Vilnius is housed in a chapel situated atop the eastern gates of the wall that once surrounded the entire city of Vilnius. It was here that she often appeared to the residents of the city as they defended the gates from the attack of foreign armies. While the wall was ultimately demolished, the eastern gates remained standing, and during the Lithuanian national renaissance in the late 1800s, came to be known as the Gates of Dawn. As the city of Vilnius has grown, the chapel is now actually in the heart of the old town, situated between the Catholic Church of St. Theresa, and the Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Miraculous Picture of Our Lady of Vilnius

The miraculous picture of Our Lady of Vilnius is the most revered icon in all of Lithuania. She is venerated by both Catholic and Orthodox believers not only in Lithuania, but throughout Latvia, Poland, Russia and Byelorussia as well. Numerous miracles through her intercession have been documented through the ages.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mary is Not Missing At Our Lady of Vilnius

As the feast day of Our Lady of Vilnius approaches, my new collaborator, who wishes to be known as "Someone Else" for the time being, contributes the following:

"In "Missing Mary," Charlene Spretnak laments the marginilization, the absence, the "disappearing" of Our Lady since the Second Vatican Council.

In the forty years time since then a political battle has ensued with the Catholic right claiming Mary as their own and the leftist, progressive side reducing her to a model of the obedient Nazarene village woman. Spretnak clearly states that her book is for neither the right nor the left but for the "large, nonideological middle range of the spectrum of Roman Catholics."

Since Vatican II, Mary's cosmological presence has been diminished. Statues of her have disappeared from our churches or been removed to less prominent places. Prayers to Mary at the end of the Mass were eliminated in the 1960s. Marian processions in the month of May when statues were crowned with wreaths of flowers have long been gone from our modernized cultures.

Spretnak does find some hope however for Mary's return as the Queen of Heaven and her re-emergence in the church. Mary's full spiritual presence is alive and well and thriving in many ethnic parishes.

Surely Our Lady of Vilnius on Broome Street in New York City is one of those places! That is just one more reason why we should work to save the church from being closed.

More about the book can be found at"

Upcoming Event in Our Lady of Vilnius Church Hall

New Yorkers With Us (Niu Jorkieciai Salia Musu) invites you to the premiere screening of a film by Saulius Siuksta about New York and New York's art galleries. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 18th, at the parish hall.

Click here to see event flyer (PDF)

Feast Day Celebration of Our Lady of Vilnius

You are cordially invited
to participate in the feast day celebration of
Our Lady of Vilnius
Sunday, November 19th, 11:15 AM

Our Lady of Vilnius Lithuanian RC Church

Bring your rosaries, holy pictures of Our Lady of Vilnius, Lithuanian flags. After the celebration, a concert and refreshments will follow in the church hall.

Jūs esate maloniai kviečiami dalyvauti
Aušros Vartų atlaiduose
Sekmadienį, lapkričio 19 d., 11.15 v.r.

Niujorko Aušros Vartų bažnyčioje

Atsineškite savo rožančius, Aušros Vartų Marijos paveikslus, vėliavas
Po atlaidų, vyks koncertas ir pietūs parapijos salėje

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Our Lady of Vilnius

"Within the large dome above the altar, an icon of Our Lady of Vilnius glows with her golden halo of sunrays as she rests upon a sliver of the moon. She graces this New York church as she does Dawn's Gate in Vilnius.

The painting of the icon was made possible by the generosity of Dr. Grazina Austin. She commissioned the artist Tadas Sviderskis to create the image of the Madonna of Dawn's Gate, an important spiritual center in Vilnius. Grazina, her mother and many others have a powerful response to this icon which affirms their Lithuanian identity within the Catholic Church."

-Aukse Trojanas, in Bridges: Lithuanian American News Journal, July/August 1995


"She appreciated the indomitable spirit of the small community: it was like a community of the first Christians, fighting against all odds. Aldona is often the first to arrive and the last to leave. She says that when the church is empty, it glows in its own light."

-Aukse Trojanas, in Bridges: Lithuanian American News Journal, July/August 1995

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish Lives Again, Briefly, at Noon on Sunday

On Sunday, November 12, 2006, the parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kostka will celebrate the feast of its Patron with a 12:00 PM Mass at the Church of St. Matthew on Warburton Avenue in Hastings-on-Hudson.

A descendant of the man who called a meeting in 1914 to discuss the founding of the church will carry the icon of St. Stanislaus down the center aisle. The members of the disbanded choir have reassembled to sing Polish hymns honoring its patron and petitioning Our Lord for protection and fortitude.

"Marija, Marija" will be played as an Offertory meditation and I will pray for the survival of my two parishes, so similar and so rare.

St. Stanislaus Kostka, Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

My Other Endangered Parish

Before I began attending Our Lady of Vilnius regularly, I attended Mass at St. Stanislaus Kostka. It is a small church, a Polish analog of Our Lady of Vilnius. It was built on the wages of Polish workers when Hastings was a factory town. Over time, as Hastings evolved into a suburb, St. Stanislaus became smaller and more diverse as the descendants of Eastern European immigrants consolidated and were joined by people of other backgrounds who enjoyed the small scale and strong feeling of community among parishioners.

On Palm Sunday of 2005 our Administrator informed us of the realignment and implied that, due to our small size, low "sacramental viability" statistics and assimilation (Polish language Mass no longer a necessity), we were likely to close.

In September, 2005, the church was closed due to water damage related to a roof leak. Repairs were made to the extent that they were covered by insurance. The repairs included a roof patch, moisture control, mold abatement and rewiring of the sacristy.

Due to a decision made by our Administrator, our parish has not had its own Mass despite the apparent feasibility of holding Mass in the intact church basement, the rectory or the Church of St. Matthew.

When St. Stanislaus Kostka was placed on the list of churches designated for closure under the Archdiocesan realignment in April of this year, all repair work ceased, even repairs that would have been covered by insurance.

At the time that the parish was placed on the list for closure it was debt-free and had cash assets. A major asset is a large brick rectory with Hudson River views on a large corner lot.

In December of 2005, the parish was lauded in the centerfold of Catholic New York for being the #6 parish in the Archdiocese for the percent of parishioners participating in the Cardinal's Annual Appeal.

At present all that remains of the parish are the Holy Rosary Society, coffee social held in St. Matthew's Rectory Meeting Room after the 9:00 AM "Family Mass" for St. Matthew parish and the "envelopes".

Though not officially closed, the parish has diminished from a small but thriving community to a historical footnote with an occasional reunion.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Our Lady of Vilnius: Nurturing the"face-to-face ties that build social trust"

As "Nobody's Wife" I took special interest in today's New York Times Op-Ed piece by Stephanie Coontz. Too Close for Comfort, captioned "We are placing too many burdens on the fragile institution of marriage, making social life poorer in the process."

Ms. Coontz goes on to say, "As Americans lose the wider face-to-face ties that build social trust, they become more dependent on romantic relationships for intimacy and deep communication, and more vulnerable to isolation if a relationship breaks down. In some cases we even cause the breakdown by loading the relationship with too many expectations. Marriage is generally based on more equality and deeper friendship than in the past, but even so, it is hard for it to compensate for the way that work has devoured time once spent cultivating friendships.

Happy Birthday to Father Eugene Sawicki

Friday, November 03, 2006

Cultural Event: Gytis Luksas Film Festival on November 12 at Kaufman Studios








36-45 37th Street
Astoria, NY 11106

12:30 Doors open

1:00 Presentation and first film: “Virto azuolai” (“The Oaks Fell”) 1:28 min.

2:30 Intermission and coffee

3:00 Second film: “Zalcio svilgsnis” (“The Gaze of the Grass-snake”) 1:39 min.

After the showing, wine reception and a chance to meet and talk with the
director Gytis Luksas

Tickets for both sessions: $15.

You may reserve and order tickets by calling 1-718 776-1687
Or by e-mail:

P.S. The films are not subtitled

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sainthood Revisited:Thoughts from a Fellow Parishioner

About All Saints' Day-

I like to think of the idea of "saint" as it was first used by early Christians. It meant allthose who had received the grace of Christ through baptism. It includes the living and the dead, the known and the unknown, a community of believers transcending time. It is really the beginning of the idea of the communion of saints to which all are called.

Anyway, those are my thoughts

On All Saint's Day: An Outsider's Perspective

What is A Saint?

"What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love. "

Leonard Cohen, from his novel, Beautiful Losers (1966)

Visit and Revisit the On-line Petition - and please sign if you haven't already signed

I have been checking out the on-line petition daily. It seems to have taken on a life of its own and shows signs of becoming a community in itself. I enjoy seeing the names and reading the comments. Please visit, revisit and SIGN!

Save Our Lady of Vilnius

Words of Encouragement on All Saints Day

The New York Times provides us with inspiration in the form of Father James Martin's Op-Ed piece Saints That Weren't. He takes the story of the recently canonized Mother Theodore Guerin as a point of departure. He mines history for further examples, then goes on to say:

"The church's long history of "faithful dissent" offers both hope and perspective to Catholics in our time. It echoes the call of the Second Vatical Council, which, in 1964, declared that expressing opinions "on matters concerning the good of the church" is sometimes an obligation for the faithful."