"Chicago's second Cabrini" remembered for her prayer life and her funny bone.
Born in Ramygala, Lithuania, in 1880, Casimira Kaupas did not hear the call to religious life until arriving in the United States. She came with her brother, who was a Catholic priest, and she was going to be his housekeeper. After living four years in Scranton, Pennsylvania, meeting numerous religious sisters, Kaupas felt called to devote her life to Christ in this new country.
Kaupas expressed the desire to her brother, who informed her of the need of a Lithuanian religious order in the United States that would help preserve the language and culture of Lithuanian immigrants. She felt God was calling her to this new initiative and spent three years with a teaching order in Switzerland to prepare her for the foundation of a new religious order in the United States.
She returned to Pennsylvania and, with the help of a Lithuanian priest, Kaupas founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Casimir in 1907. Kaupas then took on the religious name Sister Maria, and began her work with two other companions.
Within a year Sister Maria established her first school for Lithuanian immigrants, Holy Cross School, which enrolled more than 70 students.
Bishops and priests across the country soon saw the potential of Sister Maria’s new congregation, and requests for similar schools started pouring in. In order to better facilitate the new demands, Sister Maria built the Motherhouse in Chicago, which at the time boasted a large Lithuanian population.
By 1911, St. Casimir Academy was established and many more schools followed soon after, in Chicago and throughout the United States.
While initially focused on education, Mother Maria soon discovered a local need in the health care industry. Along with her fellow sisters, she began staffing Holy Cross Hospital and then took ownership of Loretto Hospital.
Mother Maria went on to serve as General Superior of her congregation for 27 years until her death in 1940. By that time her sisters were serving the general Catholic population in Chicago and elsewhere, no longer exclusively serving Lithuanian immigrants.
She was known for her piety and devotion and hailed immediately after her death as a saint. There was even a headline from a Chicago newspaper that read, “Chicago mourns its second Cabrini.”
Those who knew her were always inspired by her holiness. According to Sister Delphine Grigas in an interview with Catholic New World, “There was always a serenity about her that made you sense that she was walking with God. She met with us and guided us and inspired us.”
The newspaper article also notes, “Sisters reported seeing her praying in the chapel late at night, and that prayer life sustained her. It sustained her through an eight-year battle with cancer that started in her breast and metastasized to her bones … when her body was exhumed for her sainthood cause, one of the pathologists pointed out a hole about the size of a quarter in her skull. The bone had been eaten away by cancer.”
She carried a hidden suffering and kept close to the Holy Cross throughout her life.
At the same time, Mother Maria also had a sense of humor. Those gathering documents related to her discovered a number of “funny greeting cards.” Sister Margaret told Catholic New World, “She was human, and she had a funny bone.”
It did not take long after her death for a cause for canonization to begin and over the next several decades a committee was formed and gathered all the materials they needed.
According to the website of her congregation, in “October 2009, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome completed the reading of the ‘Positio,’ the book on the heroic, virtuous life of Mother Maria Kaupas [and] gave a unanimous positive vote regarding the ‘Positio’ in May 2010. Their results were presented to His Holiness, Benedict XVI … On July 1, 2010, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints announced that Mother Maria be named ‘Venerable.’”
Currently the Congregation is reviewing a proposed miracle through the intercession of Mother Maria and if verified, she will soon gain the title “Blessed.”