Life and activities
Matulaitis, Jurgis (1871 1927, Polish form of the name Jerzy Matulevicz), archbishop, reviver of the Marian Congregation was born in Lūginė, near Marijampolė, on April 13, 1871. His parents, peasants, raised eight children, the youngest of whom, Jurgis (George), at an early age contracted cancer of the bone, which was to torment him for life. Orphaned as a child, he was helped by his uncle, to enter the Theological Seminary of Kielce, Poland, then he studied in Warsaw and in the Theological Academy of St. Petersburg, Russia. Ordained in 1899, he became curate of a small parish in the diocese of Kielce. Forced by his illness to seek medical treatment in Germany, he went on to further studies at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, where he attained the Doctorate in Sacred Theology for his dissertation The Russian Doctrine of the State of Original Justice, 1902.
Returning from Switzerland, Matulaitis was appointed professor and vice-rector of the Theological Seminary of Kielce. After two years, as a born organizer, he went into organizational work in the field of social justice. With a Polish priest, he founded in Warsaw an organization for workers, Chrescijanska Demokracja (Christian Democracy) enrolling over 50,000 members, and edited its newspaper Pracownik Polski (The Polish Worker). He recruited students for Christian social action in the organization Odrodzenie (The Revival). He organized the first social action weeks to be held in Warsaw (1907) and in Kaunas (1909).
In 1907 Matulaitis was invited to the newly established chair of sociology at the Academy of St. Petersburg. His keen intellect, deep knowledge, and thorough teaching of practical social problems of the day attracted both students and professors. After two years he became professor of dogmatic theology and inspector of the Academy. Academic work, however, failed to satisfy his restless spirit, and he looked for ways to implement Christian teaching.
Reviver of the Marian Congregation
At this time the Marian Order, in Lithuania since 1750, seemed doomed to extinction. At the monastery in Marijampole, closed by Russians, only one member of the order remained. Matulaitis petitioned the Holy See to be admitted secretly into the order and to make his religious profession without the required novitiate. With the permission of Pope Pius X, Matulaitis in 1909 entered the Marian Order and established a novitiate at the Academy of St. Petersburg. In 1911 he was elected Superior General and left for Fribourg, where the novitiate was also moved, to avoid the risks associated with trying to work secretly in St. Petersburg. He headed the monastery in Fribourg from 1911-14.
World War I saw Matulaitis in Warsaw, active in charitable and educational organizations and planning new Marian foundations. In 1915 he reestablished the Polish Marian monastery in Bielany, near Warsaw; in 1918 he personally went to Marijampole to reactivate the old monastery there. He saw monasticism not exclusively as a means of personal sanctification, but rather as a dynamo for social action and cultural life. In this spirit he revised the rule of the Marian Congregation and drew up a rule for the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Bishop of Vilnius and apostolic visitator to Lithuania
In 1918, Pope Benedict XV named Matulaitis resident bishop of Vilnius. During two years Vilnius changed hands several times, with Lithuanians, Russian Bolsheviks, and Poles battling for the city. Bishop Matulaitis underwent repeated searches, interrogations, and general harassment, especially after the Polish occupation in 1920. The diocese of Vilnius was extensive and polyglot, mostly Lithuanian, Polish and Byelorussian. Matulaitis acted on the premise that people should receive spiritual ministration in the language they understood best. On the question of nationality he stood for justice and equality. Polish refused to accept his stand, and attacked Matulaitis as a Lithuanian; they had no other basis because of his exalted person and his religious activities. When a concordat was signed between the Holy See and the Polish Government in 1925, Matulaitis submitted his resignation as bishop of Vilnius to Pope Pius XI. Relieved of his duties as ordinary, he went to Rome to dedicate himself to the development of the Marian Congregation.
In 1925, Matulaitis was elevated to the dignity of titular archbishop of Aduli, and named apostolic visitator to Lithuania by Pius XI. The appointment was a mark of special personal honor and trust, since the Holy See rarely appoints a native son to such an office. The visitator's task was to assess the religious situation in Lithuania by visiting dioceses and parishes, by becoming acquainted with Catholic organizational activity and its leaders, and by conferring with the government on a number of problems. Matulaitis tackled his task with considerable zeal, mindful of his basic aim of planning for the creation of a Lithuanian ecclesiastical province. The political climate, however, was unfavorable for the creation of such a province. Nevertheless, Matulaitis was able to come up with a plan to establish five dioceses in Lithuanian territory, with Kaunas as a metropolitan see. The ecclesiastical province of Lithuania was judicially erected and proclaimed by Pius XI in his bull Lithuanorum Gente (The Lithuanian Nation), April 26, 1926.
Last years of life and death
In the summer of 1926, Matulaitis used the occasion of the 28th International Eucharistic Congress, in Chicago, to visit the monasteries he had established in the United States since 1913, as well as many Lithuanian parishes. After, he returned to Kaunas to prepare a concordat regulating relations between the Holy See and the Lithuanian Government. With leftwing liberals and socialists in power, negotiations were slow and difficult. After the change of government following the coup d'etat of 1926, negotiations were successfully concluded. After sending his report to Rome, but before he could go to Rome himself, he fell gravely ill with acute appendicitis, and died after surgery on Jan. 27 1927. His last words to the Marians: "Organize and dedicate yourselves!" After a solemn funeral in the Cathedral of Kaunas, his remains were entombed for a time in the cathedral crypt. In 1934 they were transferred to his old parish church in Marijampole. His body then was found preserved.
His last words to the Marians: "Organize and dedicate yourselves!"
Matulaitis exerted his influence by his spoken word. Of his writings, many articles onreligious and social questions were published in Lithuanian and Polish periodicals. The great majority of his writings consists of the texts of retreats and meditations, and his correspondence regarding the Marian Congregation and the diocese of Vilnius. Most widely known is his diary, called "Uzrasai". The publication consists of reflections, illuminations, inspirations and resolutions, two reports on the visits to Rome and two groups of remarks on the events and decisions made during his years as bishop of Vilnius. This is a very valuable document of spiritual, political, cultural and Church history. It shows a deep experience of openness to God, marvelous social and historical insight of the author, and his devotion to the Church. The book is translated into five languages and is an important source of spiritual self education to the Marian Order and many lay Catholics for already six decades.
Archbishop Matulaitis' exemplary life, his resoluteness, unusual gentleness and keen intellect impressed everyone who knew him. With word about his virtuous life spreading, in 1953, Pope Pius XII authorized initiation of the process for his beatification. The preliminary investigation was completed in 1972. Matulaitis was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 29, 1987, on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the baptism of Lithuania. The casket with his remains was transferred from the sarcophagus to the altar of a new side chapel of St Michael the Archangel pro-cathedral in Marijampole. In July of each year there is an indulgenced eight day celebration of his Feast which the Universal Church observes on July 12th.