The educative activity of priest Jonas Katelė
Tsarist Russia in the second half of the 19th century
has planned to
deprive Lithuanian's identity and to Russificate Lithuanians. It
established only Russian schools, forbade to speak in Lithuanian even
among one's own, taught to read and write only in Russian. During these
prohibition and persecution times of the Russian government, priest
Jonas Katelė in Panemunėlis parish has taught parishioners to read and
write in Lithuanian. During pastorate times, J. Katelė did in his
parish that nobody did throughout Lithuania.
The priest was
unstoppable by any difficulties such as falling down buildings of
parsonage, illiterate and heavily drinking parishioners as well as the
constant control of the Tsarist authorities in Lithuania. Personal
features of priest such as voluntary self-sacrifice, willingness to
work with poor people and desire to serve them, willpower, innate
abilities of organiser, strategist and tactician determined the
achievements of his educational activity and the wakeup of a parish
Having clear objectives and consistent
implementation of activities, he realised that he would fail alone to
pull out his parishioners from obscurantism. For this purpose, the
priest organised the folds. First of all, he taught and prepared a team
of youths secret teachers who later worked in secret rural schools.
The next step was to find brave and reliable farmers who can provide
shelter for children to educate. Such benefactors were: Jasiūnai in
Meškėnai, Strumskai in Šetekšnos, Pranckūnai in Tindžiai and Buckai in
Viliai villages. Later, secret schools may be already calculated in
tens throughout the parish.
Whereas textbooks were not available,
priest, organist and other volunteers copied them. Later, book
smugglers bought printed textbooks, which were sheltered by J. Katelė. The
priest used to purchase books from book smugglers and distributed them
at no cost. Catechisms, hymnals, prayer-books and calendars were also
used for education. Whereas the ink was not available, it was produced
in buckets in the parsonage. There was also a need for pens, paper,
maps. And again, a devoted patron of secret schools used to look at
Such amazing results would not be achieved without
far-reaching goals and permanent work. Hence, priest Jonas Katelė
created a system without having any secret example; compiled a program
himself, indicating what and in which class to teach. Adults and
children were taught. Some attended school for three years, but the
majority seven, and some even more than a dozen years. Some used to
learn reading, writing and counting; others studied history, geography,
languages (depended on the ability and willingness to further studying
in a gymnasium). The teaching in villages took from late autumn to
early spring but did not cease in summer as well. It moved to the
parsonage, its yard, garden, churchyard and sheltered
Then former pupils, students, nieces, nephews, vicars- sacristans and
organists helped him to teach. In winter, the priest himself every week
used to visit each secret school, used to check what children have
taught and used to ask what to learn next week. Generally, all parish
became into one permanent school; literate taught illiterate, teachers
pupils, parents children, children parents, grandparents
grandchildren, brothers and sisters learned together.
learning have acquired a wide extent in comparison to other Lithuanian
parishes. J. Katelė became a supervisor of all secret schools in the
parish and used to teach himself using every opportunity: Christmas
time visitation of parishioners, called to a patient, even while sick
in bed he used to check sheets written by children attending him. He
was regardless of when and where to teach. The most important for him
was to learn.
For a better understanding of achieved spectacular
results, we have to remember under what conditions the work was carried
out. The Russian authority was the biggest and most dangerous enemy,
which persecuted teachers, threatened with prison and deportation to
Siberia. Farmers, which housed schools, were punished with three
hundred roubles amount. Pupils were also persecuted. Even brother of E.
Ranonytė, a teacher in Moškėnai and elder of the village, tore
textbooks and expelled pupils used to fear of government penalties.
a teacher at a Russian school in Panemunėlis, later Majevskis, kept a
close watch on J. Katelė. There were even more spies. An
assiduous teacher was once got in a village during children teaching,
and Lithuanian books were found in the parsonage for the second time.
Governor-general in Kaunas was informed about his activities, and his
correspondence was personally checked by Veresovas, head of Panemunėlis
post office. However, J. Katelė used to evade cleverly: cheat, bribe
and, if necessary, to treat. Every month, he gave a bride of 10 roubles
for the head of the post office, and later even became a friend with
him. Veresovas used to defend J. Katelė and was welcomed as a guest in
Vicars A. Štombergas, P. Dogelis and K.
Perekšlis were good assistants in the education work of parson. While
others demonstrably tried to get away. They enjoyed their own pleasures:
regales till the morning, gambling, fishing or skating on the ice.
However, swipes from priests of other parishes were the most hurtful.
They used to do to avoid hard educational work. Once swiped by Rokiškis
parson at the feast day for secret teaching, J. Katelė departed badly
resented and without saying goodbye.
There were a lot of obstacles,
but they were not able to stop a strong will and persevering
personality that transformed an illiterate village into a real cultural
capital in East Aukštaitija. Panemunėlis as a magnet attracted the most
enlightened persons of that-time Lithuania; even writers, professors
and the most famous characters. A book brought by book smugglers in
Panemunėlis parish at the end of the 19th century was ordinary, and
reading villager the most significant value. Ordinary people here became actors
and played for ordinary people. Chamber concerts took place in the
parsonage. Secret school became a smithy of the future Lithuanian'
Priest drove a furrow in the unopened ground before.
He did not stop himself and was the first who went and showed the way.
The parish went to science and progress after him. His head and
shoulders were above others, which makes him saw from a distance. He
attracted others by internal strength, pulsating energy and personal