Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Msgr. John Kucingis, Founded Los Feliz's St. Casimir's Church

We wrote several years ago about the quirky Catholic church in Los Feliz, St. Casimir's, which we attend and where Blogger Preschooler was baptized.

The secret about St. Casimir's no frills mass: It's done in 30 minutes. That may be one reason the Lithuanian church's English masses are so packed with non-Lithuanians. (And that's part of the charm: A mostly Filipino congregation being led by a Lithuanian priest. God Bless America!)

St. Casimir's founder Msgr. John Kucingis passed away on Jan. 6, having just celebrated his 100th birthday two weeks prior.

Kucingis, who was ordained as a priest in 1937, took over St. Casimir's Lithuanian Church Parish in Los Angeles in 1947 (it had been founded in 1941) after fleeing his homeland. Kucingis lived through the German and Russian occupations of his country, but was arrested four times by Soviet police in the 1940s before escaping first to Germany and then to the United States in 1946. The L.A. Times obit notes:

Kucingis (led) efforts to build the parish church, school, rectory and convent. He encouraged church members to sponsor Lithuanian refugees and speak out about Communist repression in their homeland.

"We were thrown out of our country," Kucingis told The Times in 1969. "We were happy there. Like all people who are exiled, we brought a mission with us, to help those at home who are suffering, to be a loudspeaker for the whole world."

Kucingis retired in 1984, but continued to live at the church. He was laid to rest last Saturday.

St. Casimir's continues to serve as the centerpiece for Lithuanian life in Southern California; the church holds a popular annual Lithuanian carnival, among other events. Its school, however, was closed last year due to declining enrollment; Holy Trinity School took over the buildings to expand to a second campus.

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