The following is text for A Time to Remember, written and presented by Sandy Baksys at the May 19 historical marker dedication.
It’s not every day we get a chance to stop, remember and celebrate events in history, and bring them close again in our hearts. Today we take time to remember a time worth remembering.
For, to forget Springfield’s Lithuanian immigrants would be the same as forgetting our own families. To forget their stories is to forget our own.
I always chose to be Lithuanian-American, even though I was born in the U.S. and could easily have been American alone. I held on to my Lithuanian roots to honor immigrant family who endured a peculiar kind of suffering and limitation, which even at a young age, I recognized as historical because it was mainly a result of where and when they were born.
And so, the history of my relatives and their Lithuanian homeland was always a part of my own growing up here in Springfield. And their moral imperative to save Lithuanian identity from extinction during a long and brutal Soviet dictatorship at times became my mission as well.
For 51 years, from 1940-1991, when Lithuania was wiped from the map, I often feared there wouldn’t be much left of the Lithuanian spirit, language and culture. But thankfully, that identity was protected and preserved in the hearts of the many who are here today, and at special places like Springfield’s St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church.
On the cover of your program is a picture of St. Vincent de Paul’s, which stood a few blocks from here at 8th and Enos. It was built in 1908 by immigrant coal miners and factory workers who arrived in the first years of the 20th Century, fleeing violence and persecution at the hands of an earlier Russian regime, that of the czars.
If these earliest immigrants, and all our dear Lithuanian Club members we have lost over the years, are looking down on us now, I hope they can feel the honor we mean to bring them by our remembrances today. We especially want to remember Father Stanley Yunker, the Lithuanian-born priest who was pastor of St. Vincent’s for 47 years. Let us also remember the several thousand parishioners of St. Vincent’s who, over more than 60 years, built their church into a rich center of family, spiritual and community life.
Because St. Vincent de Paul’s was a ‘national’ church where Lithuanian was spoken instead of English, it was literally the only place where Lithuanians, who had lost everything when they were displaced to Springfield, could be Lithuanian. Where they could speak a language that was outlawed in their old country, alien in the new.
For us here today, this demolished church is a missing historical monument. Let us honor it with a monument of our own, our new ‘Lithuanians in Springfield’ historical marker.