A Victim of Communist Persecution
Visited the United States in the 1930’s
Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree re- cognizing the martyrdom of the Servant of God Teofilius Matulionis. Archbishop Matulionis will be beatified in Kaišiadorys, Lithuania, in 2017.
Archbishop Matulionis (1873-1962) suffered repeated imprisonment by Soviet communists during his lifetime. While residing in St. Petersburg, he witnessed the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, but continued to live in the city then renamed Leningrad. In 1923 then Father Teofilius Matulionis was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment for refusing to cooperate with the communist authorities. In 1929, Bishop Anton Maleckis secretly consecrated Matulionis bishop. That year Bishop Matulionis was arrested again and sentenced to 10 years in a concentration camp in the Solovetsky Islands, Russia.
After four years of hard labor and subsisting on starvation rations, he was released as a part of a pris- oner exchange entered into between the Republic of Lithuania and the Soviet Union. Thereafter from 1933 until 1940, Bishop Matulionis was appointed as ordinary of the Diocese of Kaišiadorys, Lithuania. At that time he also traveled abroad, visiting Rome, the Holy Land, and the major Lithuanian parishes in the US. While in Chicago, he blessed the monument to the Lithuanian pilots, Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, which was erected in Chicago’s Marquette Park and remains there to this day.
With the occupation of Lithuania by the Red Army in 1940, he faced further persecution. In December of 1946, he was arrested and imprisoned in the notorious Vladimir Prison and later exiled in Mordovia. He was eventually released in 1956 but was not allowed to resume his duties or even to return to his own diocese. He took up residence in Birštonas.
In 1957, he secretly consecrated Vincentas Sladkevičius bishop. For this “transgression,” the Soviets further exiled him to the town of Šeduva.
Pope John XXIII bestowed the title of Archbishop to Teofilius Matulionis in 1962 and also extended to him an invitation to attend the Second Vatican Council. That same year, after a police raid of his apartment, Archbishop Matulionis died under suspicious circumstances. There is evidence to conclude that he was injected with poison.
The cause for Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis’ beatification was initiated under Pope John Paul II in April, 1990. On December 1, 2016, Pope Francis declared that Archbishop Matulionis had died “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith) and thus approved the process of his beatification, allowing it to proceed. The miracle required for beatification is waived in cases of martyrdom, since martyrdom itself is deemed to be a miracle of grace.
Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis is characterized by his especial loyalty to the Church. Although he constantly faced persecution, Arch- bishop Matulionis never compromised his faith. He trusted in God and persisted in following God’s will, regardless of the circumstances in which he was placed – prison, concentration camps, exile, his home diocese or abroad. He was a living example of the Christian faith for everyone.
Furthermore it ought to be noted that Arch- bishop Matulionis had a special connection to American Lithuanians, having spent 18 months in the United States. Unfortunately, there is little information available on him in English. In 2017 Drau- gas News will publish a series of articles on the life and work of this holy and noble man.