Bishop J. Gritenas and the Early Days of the Lithuanian National Catholic Church

As we know or at least have heard, the main reason for splits within the Roman Catholic Church were caused by the actions of the unloving clergy and hierarchy.

In most cases we find that the people of the Roman Catholic Church, mainly the Slavonic people, were not given enough spiritual consideration by the clergy. It seems, through history, that the emphasis was placed on the German and Irish people within the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps it was on account of the language barrier. For what ever reason——we don’t know!

Now a days, it is true that the Roman Catholic Church has become aware of it’s faults. However, let me correct myself; the clergy has become aware of it’s faults in the passed. In either case this is one reason why certain groups of people broke a way from the Roman Church to build a Church which would be Catholic and Apostolic and considerate of their needs as God’s children.

There were other reasons of course for schism within the Roman Catholic Church. I hardly think, however, that anyone would leave their Church, which they had been raised in and believe in and worshipped in—unless they had lost something.

With the case of the Lithuanian National Catholic Church it is not a protestant sect. The Lithuanian people did not break from the authority of the Pope to seek a non-Catholic denomination. They wanted a Catholic Church and that is what they have today.

On the north-west side of the city of Scranton settled a concentration of Lithuanian people. They were emmigrants from a land far a way, their home, seeking to establish a new home in a country very strange to them. Very few of these people spoke the English language, but, in this new land there was one security they had, or at least thought they did; the Church.

Their first parish was Saint Joseph’s, a Roman Catholic parish, coming into existence in 1894; only three years prior to the organization of the Polish National Catholic Church in Scranton. Their first pastor was the Reverend J. Verza. Under his influence and demand, the parish property owned by the congregation, was secretly signed over to the pastor’s superior, Bishop O’Hare, the Roman Catholic bishop.

No one was able to obtain the deed then, yet, this event opened the eyes of the Lithuanian people to the treacherous proceedings of the Roman clergy-men. This incident brought about a misunderstanding between the people and those who ran the rectory, namely: Reverend versa and and Reverend Kanapasa. Angry feelings lingered between them. The congregation notified Bishop Hoban. The Bishop had a meeting with these down-trodden people. They, the Lithuanian people, asked the Bishop to give back the parish property to the rightful owners. They also asked the Bishop to remove the hated pastor, Father Kanapasa.

Bishop Hoban met with the disliked pastor and decided to transfer him out of the parish. But he did not even consider the request of the congregation, concerning the returning of the parish property to the real owners, the Lithuanians who gave their tithes to have it.

This event brought about further friction between the Roman authority and the Lithuanian people; the congregation drew-up a lasting lawsuit for the property. The people won four times according to court proceedings and judgments. At this time the Roman Catholic authority began to persecute the Lithuanian people. Lastly, the Roman authority decided to draw-up a lawsuit for the deed to the property which ended in a law-suit for the deed to the property which ended in a profit for the Roman Catholic Bishops. This caused the foundation of a Free National Catholic Church for the Lithuanian people of the north-west side of the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The dissatisfied Lithuanian people purchased land to build their own parish not more than 10 blocks from their original parish. The new parish was organized by the Reverend Stanley Michkevich and chartered on the third Sunday of October, 1913. Father Michkevich was under the guidance of the Reverend John Gritenas, who would later become one of the first four bishops consecrated for the National Catholic Church.

The congregation erected a chapel in the basement of the structure and worshiped there until the completion of the church in 1930 under the pastorate of the Reverend Michael Valadka.

Prime Bishop Francis Hodur, the organizing bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church, dedicated the parish in 1931. Sixteen years later the mortgage was burned with appropriate ceremonies. The parish holds the name: Providence of God Parish of the Lithuanian National Catholic Church. It is the first parish of the Lithuanian National Catholic Church.

During the episcopate of the Right Reverend John Gritenas, the bishop organized a home for the Aged and orphaned, however, this work was not completed when the beloved Bishop died. Bishop Gritenas wanted also to call a Synod of the Lithuanian National Catholic parishes, of which he was in charge, in 1929. He wished to present a program of work for the future generations and began a hierarchy of the Lithuanian National Catholic Church. Bishop Gritenas wanted to assure the future of free Church of Christ with Catholic ideology: he wanted the same for his homeland—Lithuanian.

Although Bishop Gritenas never obtained all of these goals, the majority of them are in existence today.

They, the congregation, went through hard times. They were not accepted as a Catholic Church and were thought to be great sinners against God and the Roman Catholic Church; they were persecuted.

The Lithuanian people fought for what was right and won! They gave their blood for the prospering of God’s Kingdom on earth—not man’s kingdom. Today we have the monument to prove it, the Providence of God Parish on the north-west side of the city of Scranton.

Today, not only is the parish church a monument to God, but the people who worship and work at the parish, also.

—Undated pamphlet, no author

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