KENNEBUNK---“We are grateful for the Franciscans who maintain this monastery,” said Bishop Robert P. Deeley to the assembly gathered in Kennebunk on Sunday, October 1. “Its presence is a reminder to us of our need to care for others, particularly the poor and the marginalized, the immigrant and those who are dispossessed.”
Surrounded by Franciscan Friars and facing hundreds of people in a completely full St. Anthony’s Chapel, Bishop Deeley celebrated a special morning Mass honoring the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Lithuanian Franciscan Friars in Kennebunk (additional pictures below).
“In 1947, the Franciscans from Lithuania purchased this property,” said the bishop referring to the friary located on Beach Avenue. “Fr. Justinas Vaskys had departed Lithuania at the beginning of the occupation of his homeland in 1940. He was sent to America to establish a future for the Franciscans of Lithuania. He first established himself in Pittsburgh, and then in Greene, Maine, when Bishop Joseph McCarthy welcomed him to the state.”
Bishop Deeley, who used Bishop McCarthy’s crosier (a tall staff shaped like a shepherd’s crook to symbolize the bishop’s role as the shepherd of his flock) during the Mass in honor of the long relationship between the Franciscans and the Diocese of Portland, explained that Fr. Justinas’ success led to the Franciscans outgrowing their Greene home and to the purchase of the Kennebunk estate in September of 1947.
“The monastery became a place where the faith and culture of Lithuania was preserved and encouraged. It was a pilgrimage place for Lithuanians all over America to come and remind themselves of their country and its culture with its faith at the center. Today, surrounded by the creativity of many Lithuanian artists, we gather to celebrate this anniversary.”
The grounds of St. Anthony’s Monastery are equal parts spectacular and reverential, featuring the Shrine of St. Anthony, the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Chapel of the Stations of the Cross, and many other monuments of Lithuanian architectural art.
“The monastery was begun to bring hope to a people who were deprived of their culture and their faith,” said Bishop Deeley. “What happened here allowed them to celebrate their identity. Today, it is a grace as well for the many people who come here. Like faith itself, it is light in darkness.”
Fr. Algirdas Malakauskas, OFM, the provincial superior, concelebrated the Mass with the bishop on Sunday.
"Today, the Lithuanian Friars are still here and continue their ministry of proclaiming the Gospel and following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi,” Fr. Malakauskas said during the Mass. “We are here to celebrate the people of God and our Church. We thank Bishop Deeley for continuing to support us and all of you good people who have supported us for 70 years here in Kennebunk.”
Many Franciscans, including current and past residents of the monastery, gathered for the anniversary celebration. The group included 92-year-old Bishop Paul Baltakis, who spent nearly his entire priesthood in the United States, many years spent in Kennebunk. The Franciscans also noted the special relationship between the friary and diocese that has existed since their arrival.
“Celebrating this jubilee of 70 years, it is very significant to have Bishop Deeley grace us with his presence and blessing, just as Bishop Feeney blessed and dedicated the monastery in 1948,” said Fr. John Bacevicius, OFM, the guardian of St. Anthony’s Friary. “This is a magnificent day and place.”
After the Mass, a banquet was held in the Franciscan Guest House located on the property.
The monastery is holding a 70th anniversary fundraiser to help pay for chapel renovations. To donate, click here or call (207) 967-2011.