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Jonas Steponavičius (10 March 1880 – 8 December 1947) was a Lithuanian Roman Catholic priest active in Lithuanian cultural and political life. He was ordained a priest in 1906 and earned Ph.D. in psychology in 1912. He returned to Lithuania and became a priest in the Church of St. Johns, Vilnius. He joined Lithuanian cultural life, becoming the first chairman of the Lithuanian Education Society Rytas which established and maintained Lithuanian-language one-room schools. His attempt at holding Lithuanian-language service at the Church of St. Johns caused Polish protests and he was reassigned to the Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit and later to Semeliškės. During World War I, he served as a military chaplain in the Caucasus Campaign. After returning to Lithuania, he joined the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party and was elected four times to the Seimas (parliament) from 1920 to the December 1926 coup d'état that brought the regime of Antanas Smetona. He retired from politics and became a school director in Zarasai and a teacher in Utena. In mid-1944, Steponavičius was one of the organizers of the Fatherland Defense Force, a short-lived military unit formed to combat approaching Soviet forces. He retreated to Germany where he died in 1947.



Steponavičius was born in Template:Interlanguage link, near Antalieptė, Kovno Governorate, Russian Empire, to a family of petty landed nobles.[1] He received his first education at home and in 1890 was admitted to the Russian-language Template:Interlanguage link. In 1896, he transferred to the Riga State Gymnasium but left it without completing the sixth grade in 1899.[1] He continued his education at the Vilnius Priest Seminary and the Saint Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy. He was ordained a priest in 1906 and in 1907 defended his dissertation on Immanuel Kant to receive master's degree.[1] He studied further in Germany at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, University of Berlin, and University of Leipzig. In Leipzig, he studied under professor Wilhelm Wundt and defended his Ph.D. thesis on subjective equality in 1912.[1]

In Vilnius 1913–1914[]

After studies, Steponavičius returned to Lithuania and was appointed as priest to the Church of St. Johns, Vilnius.[1] He supported and promoted Lithuanian language and culture in contrast with widespread Polonization. In January 1913, he was elected as the first chairman of the Lithuanian Education Society Rytas. The society sought to establish Lithuanian-language schools, courses, reading rooms, and other educational institutions in the Vilnius Region.[1] It was successful in establishing numerous local chapters and one-room schools. In May 1913, he was assigned as religion teacher to the private gymnasium of Mikhail Pavlovsky.[1] In June, he was elected to the board of the Lithuanian Scientific Society and presented a paper on experimental psychology. He also joined the Lithuanian Art Society and contributed articles to Lithuanian press (Draugija, Viltis).[1]

At his church, in May 1913, Steponavičius wanted to launch a series of Lithuanian-language church services for the May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary.[1] They were to be held at 6 a.m. so that Lithuanian servants could pray before work. Due to loud protests and interruptions by Polish residents, the service was held only twice. The episode reached Template:Interlanguage link, administrator of Vilnius Diocese, and Piotr Veryovkin (Пётр Владимирович Верёвкин), governor of Vilnius.[1] The issue was widely discussed in the Lithuanian and Polish press and was raised by Template:Interlanguage link in the State Duma. It was referenced by Viltis as one of key moments when dual Polish-Lithuanian identity split into just Polish or just Lithuanian identity. Steponavičius was given a two-month vacation and then reassigned to the Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit.[1]

Political work[]

In June 1914, he was appointed as dean to Semeliškės, a town about 45 kilometres (28 mi) west of Vilnius. The reasons for the assignment are not clear – there is some evidence that Steponavičius requested the transfer due to poor health, but it also could have been a retribution for his Lithuanian activities.[1] In May 1915, during World War I, he was drafted to the Imperial Russian Army as a military chaplain and was sent to the Caucasus Campaign. Stationed in Tbilisi, he joined Lithuanian activities and managed to establish regular Lithuanian-language services in one of the Armenian churches.[2] Sometime between 1916 and 1918, he returned to Semeliškės.[1]

In 1920, during the Polish–Lithuanian War, he organized a 50-men partisan group to fight the Polish forces. He was arrested by the Poles and transported to Hrodna.[1] Upon his release, Steponavičius became interested in politics. A member of the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party since 1919, he actively campaigned in the April 1920 elections to the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania. Due to his imprisonment in Hrodna, he became a member of the assembly only on 4 February 1921.[1] He was elected to the succeeding First, Second, and Third Seimas of Lithuania.[3] In the Seimas, Steponavičius was a member of various parliamentary committees, including Finance and Budget (November 1922 – December 1926), National Defense (November 1922 – December 1926 with a break in June–July 1923), and Foreign Affairs (October 1924 – December 1926). In the Third Seimas, he was also the second deputy speaker.[3]

Pedagogical work[]

After the December 1926 coup d'état brought the regime of Antanas Smetona, Steponavičius retired from politics and devoted his time to teaching. He became the principal of the Template:Interlanguage link effective September 1927.[1] During his tenure, Steponavičius oversaw construction of the new modern school building and transformation of the school from a regular 4-year secondary school to an 8-year higher school of commerce. In December 1928, he established Zarasai chapter of the Motiejus Valančius folk high school (Lithuanian language: Motiejaus Valančiaus liaudies universitetas ) and funded it from his own savings.[1] He taught German language at the public high school and psychology at the folk high school. In 1928–1930, he was the priest serving Template:Interlanguage link village located about 4.5 kilometres (2.8 mi) east from Zarasai. He was also the chairman of the Zarasai chapter of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union and organized construction of the new chapter headquarters. In recognition for his services, he was awarded the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas in the Third Degree in 1931.[1]

In 1930, the Catholic youth organization Ateitis was banned by the Smetona's regime. A group of students secretly continued Ateitis activities and were questioned by the police. Steponavičius defended his students and was tried for insulting a deputy prosecutor. In June 1934, he was sentenced to four months in prison.[1] The sentence was removed on appeal, but Steponavičius was demoted to a teacher and transferred to the Template:Interlanguage link. Freed from administrative work and other various activities, Steponavičius returned to psychology and became interested in parapsychology. He published two volumes of his essays in 1937 and 1938. The publication of the third volume was interrupted by World War II.[1]

World War II[]

During the German occupation of Lithuania during World War II, Steponavičius sympathized with the German regime. He briefly served as the burgomaster of Utena before returning to Zarasai where he worked as a teacher from September 1942 to May 1943.[1] In early 1943, he was appointed as governor of the Zarasai district of the Reichskommissariat Ostland. In this capacity, he participated in the All Lithuanian Conference of 5 April 1943.[1] The conference, called by Petras Kubiliūnas, adopted a resolution encouraging Lithuanians to cooperate with the Germans and their efforts of raising a Lithuanian Waffen-SS legion.[4] Steponavičius supported the Lithuanian Freedom Army which was preparing for an armed fight against the Red Army.[5]

On 7 July 1944, Steponavičius with a group of armed men left Zarasai towards Samogitia. The group stopped near the Template:Interlanguage link village where Lithuanians decided to organize the Fatherland Defense Force. Steponavičius was a vocal supporter of organizing the unit and joining the Wehrmacht and opposed calls for guerrilla warfare.[1] He was elected political advisor to the unit and helped establishing contacts with Hellmuth Mäder, officer in the 9th Army who promised weapons and uniforms.[6] The unit suffered losses near Seda on 7 October 1944 and disintegrated soon after. Many of the men, including Steponavičius, retreated to Germany. He later compiled a list of men who fought and were killed near Seda.[7]

He worked in a textile factory in Krnov (Jägerndorf), and as a farm hand and metal-worker near Wangen im Allgäu. After a brief illness, he died in Wangen im Allgäu on 8 December 1947 and was buried in the Saint Wolfgang Cemetery.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 Vasiliauskienė, Aldona (27 November 2012). "Dr. kun. Jonas Steponavičius: kovotojas dėl lietuvybės Vilnijos krašte" (in lt). Voruta. Retrieved 16 April 2017. 
  2. Labutis, Gintaras (2012). "Lietuvių pėdsakais Užkaukazėje" (in lt). p. 16. ISSN 0235-6384. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Rupšytė, Angonita (2015-08-27). "Jonas Steponavičius (1880–1947)" (in lt). III Seimo nariai (1926–1927). Seimas. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  4. Zizas, Rimantas (2011). "1943 m. balandžio 5 d. "visos Lietuvos" konferencija: lietuvių politinis elitas kolaboravimo ir pasipriešinimo kryžkelėje". ISSN 1392-3463. 
  5. Žygelis, Dalius (2014). "Tėvynės apsaugos rinktinė ir Sedos kautynės" (in lt). p. 53. ISSN 2029-5669. 
  6. Kasparas, Kęstutis (1999) (in lt). Lietuvos karas. Kaunas: Lietuvos politinių kalinių ir tremtinių sąjunga. p. 144. ISBN 9986-577-28-4. 
  7. Abromavičius, Stanislovas (2012) (in lt). Du Aleksandro Zapkaus gyvenimai. Kaunas: Lietuvos politinių kalinių ir tremtinių sąjunga. p. 55. ISBN 978-609-408-215-3. 

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