St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church and rectory were located at the corner of Eighth and Enos Streets. They were built by young Lithuanian immigrant men and women who were drawn to opportunities presented by Sangamon County’s turn-of-the-century coal boom, fleeing political and religious repression, conscription, poverty and a total ban on their language in the czarist Russian Empire. Lithuanian miners excavated the church basement at night after their long days mining coal. The cornerstone of the church was laid in 1908. For the next 63 years, until Dec. 31, 1971, St. Vincent de Paul’s was a focus of Lithuanian language and identity in Springfield.
At its height around 1915-1917, the parish had approximately 1,400 members. As a result of the czarist language ban and political and economic repression in their homeland, most of the original Lithuanian immigrants were illiterate or barely literate when they arrived in the U.S., though the majority subsequently went to classes to learn to read and write and became proud U.S. citizens. The total size of the local Lithuanian community, counting American-born children, was several thousand at its peak, before U.S. immigration restrictions, mine closures and the infamous “Mine Wars” of the 1920s and 1930s drove many immigrants to seek work in Chicago or Detroit.
A second, smaller wave of post-WW II Lithuanian immigrants arrived under the U.S. Displaced Persons Act of 1948, and they and their children fed the church ranks for several more decades.
St. Vincent de Paul’s had one of the most admired choirs in the city and a myriad of social and athletic clubs. The church was a rich center of life culturally, spiritually and socially for first, second, and in many cases, even third generation Lithuanian-Americans.
However, after St. Vincent’s pastor for 47 years, the Rev. Stanley O. Yunker, suffered a stroke and retired, the Catholic diocese closed St. Vincent de Paul’s. More than 500 parishioners and friends attended Fr. Yunker’s retirement dinner at The Elk’s Club on Nov. 14, 1971. Also present was Mrs. Charles Foster, church organist for 43 years.
Fr. Yunker established a college scholarship fund (held in trust by J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, Cleveland, formerly BankOne) for Springfield Lithuanian-American students with a family connection to the church. Although devoted parishioners battled to re-open their church, St. Vincent de Paul’s and its rectory were demolished by the diocese in 1976.
On May 19, 2012, an Illinois State Historical Society marker was dedicated in Enos Park, at the corner of 7th and Enterprise Streets, to commemorate the local Lithuanian-American community and their beloved church.
Read more about Lithuanian history in Springfield at lithpringfield.com
Read more about the church at http://lithspringfield.com/st-vincent-de-paul-lithuanian-catholic-church/
Read about the dedication of a historic plaque in Enos Park at Enos and 7th for the Church at epnia.com
Read more at IllinoisTimes.com
Read more about the historical marker at SJ-R.com