Some time ago, I was told the following story:
A young man was asked by a friend to be picked up at the airport. He was coming home after spending some time on vacation in Ireland.
During the trip home, he had met an Irish gentleman named Patrick who was emigrating from Ireland to United States. Patrick’s family was quite poor, and he was chosen to go to the United States, get a job, and send his salary back to Ireland. The American traveler was taken aback, not only by Patrick’s eagerness, but also by his lack of fear. Patrick had never met his future employer. He was told that “everything was arranged.” All he had was a name, a telephone number and a promise that someone would pick him up at the airport.
As the two American friends were reunited, Patrick was introduced to his fellow traveler’s friend outside of customs. The two American men quickly exchanged Patrick’s story. He was absolutely thrilled to be in America! The two Americans waited to see if someone would “claim” Patrick.
After the crowd from the flight departed, it became apparent that no one showed up for Patrick. Since this was the “pre-cell phone” era, the American men searched for a telephone booth and dialed the phone number that Patrick had in his possession. It had been disconnected.
Terror quickly replaced the eagerness in Patrick’s eyes. What could be done? The men did not want to leave him at the airport. He had no money for lunch, let alone a ticket back to Ireland.
One of the Americans had an idea. He asked Patrick for a reference; a name and telephone number in Ireland. He folded $20 in the hand of the other American and told them to go eat lunch. As Patrick and his new American friend walked away, the other American began a flurry of telephone calls. He called the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Christian Charity in New Jersey. It seemed that one of the maintenance men had just resigned his position and the job hadn’t been filled. He asked the Sister who was in charge of the working men if she was still hiring because he had a “guy in mind.” He then called his administrative assistant and asked her to call Ireland, inquiring about Patrick’s character and work. He asked her to call the payphone when she got the answer.
When Patrick and his new friend returned from the lunch, the man who made the phone calls sat down with Patrick and began interviewing him regarding his work experience and what he could expect working for the Sisters. Meanwhile, his administrative assistant called to give Patrick a “gold star.” Needless to say, Patrick was hired at the terminal of the airport! He would go on to work for the Sisters of Christian Charity for more than 30 years!
I could not help think about this story as I reflect on the life of Venerable Mother Maria Kaupas, Foundress of the Sisters of St. Casimir. She was completely unknown to me before I began doing research about the saints who lived in our diocese.
Casimira Kaupas was born in 1880 in Ramygala, Lithuania. When she was 17, her brother, a pastor of St. Joseph Lithuanian Parish in Scranton, requested her to come to America to be his housekeeper. During the four years she stayed in Scranton, she met religious Sisters for the first time and realized that she was attracted to religious life.
Casimira was asked to begin a Lithuanian congregation of women religious for the purpose of educating the youth in a Catholic setting, preserving the culture, customs and language of Lithuania.
She then spent three years in Ingenbohl, Switzerland, in formation with the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, who prepared her for missionary work in America. At the same time, her brother searched for a priest who would guide the Congregation in the United States.
Bishop John W. Shanahan of the Diocese of Harrisburg granted the request of sponsorship. He requested the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scranton to accept Casimira and her two companions into their formation program.
On August 29, 1907, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Casimir was founded. Mother Maria was appointed Superior of the group. Bishop Shanahan recommended the title of the congregation to give honor to St. Casimir, the patron saint of Lithuania. Mother Maria Kaupas then traveled to Mount Carmel where the small community of Sisters opened up their first parish convent and school. On January 6, 1908, Holy Cross School opened with more than 70 students! As the congregation grew, she sent other Sisters to teach Lithuanian immigrants throughout the United States and South America. She established her Motherhouse outside of Chicago, within the heart of a large Lithuanian community.
The Mother Maria Kaupas Center in Mount Carmel stands as a testament to her today. It serves as a home for projects and programs that benefit the community’s elderly, the sick and the home-bound, and those who are in need of food or basic home maintenance.
During her lifetime, it has been said that Mother Maria, with the grace of God, formed the spiritual identity of the congregation. She taught the Sisters that the “mission entrusted to them by the Church – works of faith and love – must flow from a life of union with God rooted in faith, built on love and imbued with a spirit of hope.” 1
Hope is the powerhouse that leads every immigrant to begin a new life in a new country. Pope Francis says it this way: “Hope is the push in the heart of those who leave their home, and sometimes their family and relatives – I am thinking of migrants – to find a better life, with more dignity for themselves and their loved ones. … It’s also the push in the heart of those who welcome: the desire to encounter, meet, dialogue… hope is the push to share the journey.” 2
Hope is was the powerhouse that gave Patrick eagerness and courage to go someplace and to do something that he did not really know about. Hope was at the heart of those two Americans who saw a fellow human being in need of help.
Hope is the legacy of not only those two Americans and Patrick, but also of the Sisters of St. Casimir, not only for our diocese but also for the entire American Church!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness