The History of the Diocese

The history of Panevėžys Diocese can be divided into three periods: starting with the establishment and up to the occupation (1926-1940), the years of occupation (1940-1990) and from the regaining of Independence in 1990 up to nowadays.

The first period was famous for the establishment of new institutions in the Diocese and the beginning of pastoral activities. The Second World War and the Soviet occupation have terminated the started activities: the Diocese did not have the regular residing Bishop, many priests were arrested and murdered, a number of churches were closed, and the members of catholic organizations were dispersed. After the regaining of Independence the Diocese started the reestablishment of its institutions and the life of the Diocese.

The Years of Occupation(1940-1989)

The Diocese of Panevėžys as all Lithuania suffered during the period of the war and Soviet occupation. During the war 6 churches were destroyed, about 40 almost destroyed in Panevėžys Diocese. 7 churches of the Diocese and 82 chapels were closed by the occupants after the war. The number of priest in the Diocese as in all over Lithuania diminished and only one Seminary of Priests in Kaunas had the permission to function, the number of entering the Seminary was reduced.

Clergymen and priests were severely persecuted during the years of Soviet occupation. All monasteries and their spots were closed; the authorities were taken away from them, the property was expropriated. According to the data collected and published by the Chronicle of Lithuanian Catholic Church (LKB), the Bolsheviks murdered and tortured 14 priests of Panevėžys Diocese in Siberian Concentration Camps from 1941. 56 priests were arrested, exiled or persecuted by other ways.

When in 1944 the Soviets occupied Lithuania, over 50 priests and monks who used to work in this Diocese moved to the West.

K. Paltarokas used to be the Bishop of Panevėžys up to 1958. In 1949 Soviet authorities resettled him to Vilnius. The chapter of Vilnius added to this move, he was unanimously elected the Vicar of Vilnius chapter. In 1949–1958 he managed the Dioceses of Panevėžys and Vilnius. After the death of K. Paltarokas, the Bishop J.Steponavičius became the Apostolic Administrator of Panevėžys and Vilnius Dioceses in 1958-1961. The years of activities of this Bishop were short as he did not agree with the requirements of the Soviet authorities. On January 24, 1961 he was arrested and exiled out of the territory of the Diocese, to Žagarė.

In 1961 Panevėžys Diocese remained without the Bishop and the pastor. After the removal of the Bishop J. Steponavičius in 1961, the Holy See appointed the canon P.Šidlauskas the apostolic administrator but the Soviet authorities did not let him implementing his duties and exiled out of the territory of the Diocese to Varėna.

In 1962 -1969 the priest Povilas Bakšys was the leader of Panevėžys Diocese.

In 1969 -1983 the Bishop Romualdas Krikščiūnas managed the Diocese of Panevėžys by the right of apostolic administrator.

After the Bishop R.Krikščiūnas stopped its duties, in 1983 the capitulars of the Diocese elected the prelate K. Dulksnys the governor. He fulfilled his duties up to the year of 1989. The prelate died on December 9th, 2001.

The Bishops Julijonas Steponavičius and Vincentas Sladkevičius, the latter also has some links with the Diocese of Panevėžys, as he survived the exile in Nemunėlio Radviliškis (1959–1976) and Pabiržė (1976–1982). They stimulated religious rebirth and were the symbols of national consciousness.

The nation cannot be silent; it struggled against the Soviet ideology through culture and art. The people of Panevėžys brought a great input into the movement of resistance. Several monks and priests participated in the publishing of the Chronicle of Lithuanian Catholic Church and distributed different national religious books.

The people of Panevėžys were active in collecting the signatures. The active people belonging to churches have collected 45 000 signatures under the petition to the Government to return the Cathedral of Vilnius to the believers. The total number of signatures handed to the Government of Lithuania reached 100 000.

The years of Soviet occupation were the hardest to church. Let us hope that physical and spiritual genocide of nations will never and nowhere be repeated.

After the Regaining of Independence in 1990

Spiritual and pastoral life started rebirthing after the regaining of independence of Lithuania in Panevėžys Diocese as in all over Lithuanian Catholic Church. When the Bishop J. Preikšas was in power in 1989–2002, the state catholic Secondary School named after of the Bishop Kazimieras Paltarokas was established, the Youth Centre named after the priest Alfonsas Lipniūnas started its activities, the summer camp for the Ateitininkai movement was founded.

The monasteries which used to work during the years of Independence renewed their spiritual community life and pastoral activities by recapturing and building new houses. 58 chapels were reestablished in Panevėžys after the regaining of the Independence.

When the Bishop Juozas Preikšas became the emeritus at 75 in 2002, the Bishop Jonas Kauneckas was appointed in Panevėžys.