In 2006, catholic education society “Žiburys” celebrated its 100th anniversary. Its Statute was registered on 15 May, 1906. On 7 December, 2006, scientific conference took place at Marijampolė College. During the conference the work of the society in the fields of education, charity, Christian development and theatre was summarised and evaluated.
The purpose of the article is to overview the work of catholic education society “Žiburys” in 1906-1940 in
the various links of educational system and to reveal the role of its schools in the formation of national education system and Christian development of the younger generation.
“Žiburys” was the first Lithuanian education society established by the confessional intelligentsia with
the purpose to promote education among Lithuanian Catholics. In the rustic country that was suffering from forced Russification policy for decades, primary national education was particularly relevant. The daily ‘Vilniaus žinios’ published since 1904 wrote that, first of all, care of the education of peasant children must be taken, since primary schools were the beginning and the end of studies for many of them. Moreover, in the catholic region of Uznemune, parents were concerned about continuity of religious traditions.
Before the WWI, the society was establishing primary and literacy schools for the children of the peasants
of Užnemunė, usually at the locations where no state schools were available. Before the World War I, the society maintained 20 primary schools and adult courses. They were teaching Lithuanian, employing Lithuanian teachers, and familiarizing pupils with history and geography of their land, also paying much attention to moral education. Priest M. Gustaitis, the Chairman of the society, in his appeal to the society noted that honour, development of which shall be provided by belief, must keep in step with education.
In 1907 it opened the first Lithuanian school for girls – Marijampolė girls’ progymnasium. Founders of the
school emphasised that education of girls is a good patriotic and catholic work. Classes of the priest M. Gustaitis, the head of the school, were interesting and nationality-oriented. When giving religion classes, he used to bring in Lithuanian books and newspapers, and used to often tell something about the history of Lithuania.
The World War I disturbed the work of schools, yet it was not discontinued. Marijampolė progymnasium was forced to retreat into the depth of Russia. In 1915, it was established in Tombov, where approx. 180 girls were attending lessons. In Jeroslavl, the society opened a joint girl and boy gymnasium, where all subjects were taught in Lithuanian. Members of the society who stayed in Lithuania had established primary schools in Užnemunė, yet the occupational German authorities soon took them over.