Four Years of War in Vilnius. The Path of Father Alfonsas Lipniūnas

11 Sites

5 Kilometers

2 Hours

Can the story of one man reflect the fate of a nation? Can four years of life in Vilnius speak about several different political regimes? Can the story of one prisoner bring closer the memory of people imprisoned, exiled, tortured and persecuted by other political regimes such as the Nazis or Communists?

Fr. Alfonsas Lipniūnas (1905–1945) spent only a handful of years in Vilnius (1939–1943), but suffered under both Soviet and Nazi regimes. Despite difficult circumstances, the priest devoted his time to Lithuanian intelligence groups, fostered young people, organized relief for war victims and poor city residents. He also became famous as a great teacher and homilist. Crowds would gather to hear his homilies, including: university instructors, people of strong faith, non-believers, and people of other faiths. He did not close his eyes to the distorted reality of political ideologies, instead he delved into them, and called upon the people to fight.

In 2006, the case of the beatification process of God’s servant Alfonsas Lipniūnas was opened in the Diocese of Panevežys, and in 2021, the case documents were handed over to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican. This route is an opportunity to get acquainted with the life of Fr. Alfonsas Lipniūnas in Vilnius, to learn about what his everyday life looked like here – where he lived, where he visited, who was in his circle of friends, and also to look at the extremely difficult historical time through the activities of one person, who continued to live in truth.


Descriptions, photos and details

Vilnius A. Vienuolis Progymnasium

The House Where Alfonsas Lipniūnas Lived

Fr. Alfonsas Lipniūnas lived in this house from 1939–1943. His arrival in Vilnius was determined by historical circumstances. In 1939, Vilnius was returned to the Republic of Lithuania, and slowly so were Lithuanian institutions which had been temporarily relocated in other parts of Lithuania. Among them was the Pedagogical Institute, where he began teaching right after returning from his studies in France.

When he moved to Vilnius, the priest settled in a two-room apartment near the Gate of Dawn (then address – Gate of Dawn 27-15). According to the numbering of pre-war buildings, the house in which he lived survived during the war, but the Barkenberg house which bordered it, was destroyed. Fr. Lipniūnas lived in this building the entire four years that he spent in Vilnius. On the night of March 17th, 1943 he was arrested and taken to Stutthof Concentration Camp.

The apartment where Fr. Alfonsas lived became a shelter, a safe haven and a peaceful  space for the residents of Vilnius. The community that gathered were: believers, groups of ateitininkai (futurists), students, public figures, and others in need gathered in this space. In 1941, with the initiative of Fr. Lipniūnas, Laisvės Fondas (the Freedom Fund) was established with the goal of helping people who were disadvantaged during the war: widows, large families, the unemployed, elderly or poor citizens of Vilnius. It was in the apartment of Lipniūnas that people brought or sent donations and support, which the priest distributed to the poor with the help of student ateitininkai.

Seeing the circle of student ateitininkai growing, Fr. Lipniūnas contributed to the establishment of the Vilnius ateitininkai chapter, although conditions were not favorable for this organization at that time. He was the spiritual advisor of the ateitininkai in Vilnius, and often gave lectures to them. Fr. Lipniūnas applied his knowledge, initiatives and ideas brought from his years of study in France and Belgium. He was able to educate not only with his words, but also with his fortitude, courage and strength.

There is no access to this apartment.

The Chapel of the Mother of Mercy at the Gate of Dawn

This Church is included as part of the following itineraries: The Way of Mercy, Places of Marian Devotion, The Route of Saint John Paul II. 

The Shrine of the Gate of Dawn was halfway between Fr. Lipniūnas’ apartment and the Pedagogical Institute where he taught, which made it easy for him to carry out his ministry.

Soon, Fr. Alfonsas became famous in Vilnius as a great homilist. From 1941 to 1942, the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn became a unique attraction in Vilnius . People from Vilnius and surrounding towns came to listen to his homilies which were simple yet bold, interesting, lively, and touched on everyday topics. As soon as he appeared on the balcony, there was no room outside on the street at the Gate of Dawn. Even those who rarely went to church came to listen.

In his homilies, he discussed everyday life experiences – disagreements, laziness, lack of idealism, family troubles, and he often referred to the rule and wrongdoing of the occupants. Father Stasys Yla, imprisoned in Stutthof together with Fr. Lipniūnas, wrote a book about Fr Lipniūnas. He wrote that despite the transgressions during that time, Fr. Alfonsas did not seek to pick on, belittle, scare the listeners with thoughts of suffering, the flames of hell or the devil, but instead always appealed to their conscience, always ending with a hope-filled thought that one can overcome sinfulness. It was as if he wanted to pat you on the shoulder saying: “Man, you are great and valuable, so be worthy of this name.”

Chapel is opened
Monday-Sunday – 8 a.m.–7 p.m.
Holy Mass in the Chapel

Monday–Saturday – 9.30 a.m. (in Lithuanian)
Monday–Saturday – 10.00 a.m. (in Polish)
Sunday – 9.30 a.m. (in Lithuanian)

Church of St. Theresa
Holy Mass (in Lithuanian)
Monday–Saturday – 6 p.m.
Sunday – 11 a.m., 6 p.m.
On the first Friday and Saturday of every month – 9 a.m.
Holy Mass (in Polish)
Monday–Saturday – 5 p.m.
Sunday – 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m.
On the first Friday and Saturday of every month – 10 a.m.
Feast days – Indulgences

Minor indulgence feasts of the Mother of Mercy are celebrated on the 16th day of each month with Holy Mass in St. Teresa’s Church at 10 a.m. (in Polish) and 12 p.m. (noon) (in Lithuanian).
The great indulgence feast of the Mother of Mercy of the Gate of Dawn is celebrated for eight days, starting from the week on which falls the day of November 16.

The State Pedagogical Institute

After the transfer of The State Pedagogical Institute from Panevežys in November 1939, Fr. Lipniūnas had to move to Vilnius. This institute kept getting relocated from one city to another. It was founded in Klaipėda in 1935, then in 1939, with an ultimatum declared by Nazi Germany to Lithuania, and with the occupation of the Klaipėda Region, the institute was moved to Panevežys. Soon after, Lithuania regained Vilnius, and the institute was established in the capital. It functioned only for several years, and in 1943, it was closed by the German occupational government. The institute was re-established in 1944.

Fr. Lipniūnas taught sociology and religion at the Pedagogical Institute, and also became the chaplain of the institute. In Vilnius, the student body grew to several hundred students, including teachers from the Vilnius district. Fr. Lipniūnas not only taught, but also created a close relationship with the student community. He appealed to the students because of his simplicity and ability to socialize sincerely. They even visited his apartment.

However, in June 1940, when the Soviet army occupied Vilnius, Fr. Lipniūnas lost his duties at the Pedagogical Institute. According to the rector, he was even forbidden entrance to the institute, and religion was no longer taught.

In the summer of the same year, Fr. Lipniūnas met with Mečislovas Reinys who had been recently appointed Archbishop of Vilnius. The Archbishop understood well what the Soviet government’s policy toward religion would be, so he decided that the best way to communicate with the faithful would only be in church. The priest was offered new duties – he became homilist at the Church of Saint Johns.

The Lithuanian National Philharmonic

Acquaintaces recall Fr. Lipniūnas attending poetry evenings, and how he was also interested in art, literature, and was in contact with the Lithuanian intellectual elite of Vilnius, and the educated. It is remembered that during the evenings of Lithuanian poetry, Fr. Lipniūnas could be spotted in the hall of the National Philharmonic. By participating, he expressed support for young students’ literature. He would lend them books, organized gatherings at his apartment, and checked to see if they had proper lodgings, food, and money. Among them were: Kazys Bradūnas, Vytautas Mačernis, and Bronius Krivickas.

The priest realized that at that time, a small group of Lithuanian intelligentsia needed to be created, organized, and maintained. He was particularly concerned about the student ateitininkai groups, where public issues were addressed. Fr. Lipniūnas noted that groups that had a permanent guardian functioned best, and they included university professors and researchers. The priest worked hard to ensure that the student ateitininkai were accompanied by the academic elite, because he himself was a man with an extensive education, read a great deal, and had a large library.

The House of Kazys Bradūnas

Lithuanian poet, prose writer, ateitininkas Kazys Bradūnas lived in this house from 1992 to the time of his death. Both Bradūnas and his wife Kazimiera Bradūnienė, were friends of Fr. Alfonsas. She shared in her memoir that during the German occupation, he helped prepare food packages and distributed them to the poor.

Kazimiera Bradūnienė also shared another living memory about the always hurrying Fr. Lipniūnas in Vilnius “I once met Fr. Lipniūnas rushing on Didžioji gatve.We greeted each other and he said: ‘My head is pounding, I’m heading to the hills to relax. I can’t cover all of these problems. Recently, there was this poor woman with a bad toothache, and I had to cure her.’ Of course he didn‘t treat her, but he probably took whatever money he had in his pocket, and sent her to the doctor. His door was always open for everyone – from people with toothache, to people with very serious problems. I fondly remember that during my engagement to Kazimieras on March 4th, 1943, during the feast of St. Casimir, he held Holy Mass at The Gate of Dawn. He said that he wanted to officiate at our wedding, but on March 17th, disturbing news reached Vilnius. Fr. Lipniūnas had been arrested by the Gestapo.

Church Heritage Museum

Bernardine Monastery Near the Church of St. Michael the Archangel

This Church is included as part of the following itineraries: The Way of Mercy ir Cathedral. Bell Tower. Treasury.

During the German occupation, between 1942 and 1944, the Lithuanian Priest’s Seminary was located in the premises of the former Bernardine Monastery in Vilnius, where Fr. Lipniūnas taught. The seminary was established by the initiative of Archbishop Mečislovas Reinys.

In 1942, German authorities responded to the Polish resistance movement, and arrested and expelled Romualdas Jalbatkovsky Archbishop of Vilnius, whose office was taken over by Archbishop Reinys. The Polish Seminary was also prohibited from operating, and was taken over by Lithuanians in the autumn of 1942. There was a dining room, a studio, a kitchen, a room for the rector and the steward in the building, and the seminarians lived in the Carmelite Monastery near St. Teresa’s Church. The Soviets returned replacing the Nazi regime, Archbishop Jalbatkovsky returned to the seminary, and returned it to St. George’s Church, its previous location. In 1945, the Soviets closed the seminary permanently. Today, the Church Heritage Museum is located in St. Michael the Archangel Church and Bernardine Monastery.

Archbishop Reinys had planned to appoint Fr. Lipniūnas as Rector of the Lithuanian Priest’s Seminary, but at that time, there was a circle of priests who were critical of him. So, Father Ladas Tulaba from Kaunas was appointed to the position instead.

Fr. Lipniūnas taught four subjects at the seminary: sociology, pastoral theology, ethics and catechism. He was a strong sociologist who was well-versed in the subject, and pastoral theology was still a new, little-known area for him. Unlike other instructors, during lectures he did not refer to a textbook, but rather talked more about current issues, discussed what was in the press with students, and drew conclusions from that, based on his experience. Clerics were affected not only by Fr. Lipniūnas’ teaching, but also by his courage, and the simplicity of his personality.

Museum is opened
Tuesday–Saturday – 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
Closed on Sundays, Mondays and national holidays.
Closing time is one hour earlier on the eve of national holidays.
+370 5 269 7803
The Church of St. Johns

A Chapel is Dedicated to the Memory of Father Alfonsas


This Church is included as part of the following itineraries: The Way of Mercy, Jesuits in Vilnius ir Places of Marian Devotion

Fr. Lipniūnas served at the Church of St. Johns in Vilnius from 1940–1943. This church was distinguished between the interwar period as a gathering place for intelligentsia, elite representatives, and people from the university. Understanding the dangers of atheistic ideology promoted by the Soviets, there was a need for strategic points where a strong and courageous voice of the truth of faith could be heard even in difficult political conditions.

Crowds of people – university lecturers, professors, students, Catholics, Protestants, and even those from the left-wing gathered to listen to Fr. Lipniūnas. His homilies sounded like bold resolute words, encouraging hope, and enthusiasm to work and sacrifice. “His words drew the listener with such a great internal force that he could not miss a beat. The listener went along with the homilist and admired the heights together,” wrote Julius Kakarieka about his immediate impressions.

During the totalitarian occupation, Fr. Lipniūnas risked saying his homilies publicly, speaking the words of real truth. He spoke from the pulpit at St. John’s for three years, and intrigued the crowds because he found a style which security bodies could not attack. Nevertheless, the Soviet Government was very interested in the Church of St. Johns. The secret police interrogated Fr. Lipniūnas twice, but since he was well-known and respected, his arrest would have caused a significant protest by the people of Vilnius. In the summer of 1941, when deportations were taking place, Fr. Lipniūnas had been placed on a secondary list, and was not deported, as the Soviet regime was soon replaced by the Nazis. Hence, he was able to continue preaching from the pulpit for almost two years, telling people how important it was to remain in the truth.

Toward the end of the German occupation, the significance of St. Johns Church became less important. From 1943, the activity of the Lithuanian underground became more active, illegal publications were widely distributed – proclamations, edicts, newspapers, etc. So, there were other possibilities to develop the resistance of the nation, and the spirit of the fight.

In 2016, the Chapel of Father Alfonsas Lipniūnas was consecrated in the Church of St. Johns. It was dedicated to the needs of the academic soul at Vilnius University.

Holy Mass (in Lithuanian)

Tuesday–Thursday – 6 p.m. (in a chapel)
Friday – 6 p.m. (for students)
Sunday – 11 a.m., 1 p.m.

Sunday – 11 a.m.

More information about Vilnius University architectural ensemble:

Former Little Jewish Ghetto

In 1939, Fr. Lipniūnas came to Vilnius. Undoubtedly, he met Jews on the streets of Vilnius, in cafes and theaters, and heard the Yiddish language. At that time, about 60,000 Jews lived in Vilnius. The Nazi occupation of Lithuania started in 1941, and thus began the extermination of the majority of the Jewish population. Fr. Lipniūnas regularly walked past the small Jewish ghetto territory, bordered by Žydų g., Gaono g., Stiklių g. and Antakolskio g. About 11,000 people lived there. The majority of these were representatives of intelligentsia, and those who were not suitable for work, for example: the sick, elderly, and children. For Fr. Lipniūnas, the Jewish ghetto was not an imaginary, but a living reality. He knew what the people living in the ghetto experienced. In his homilies, he criticized those who took over Jewish apartments, committed robberies, and confiscated belongings.

A. Mickevičiaus Library

Stefanija Ladigienė’s Apartment

As Stefanija Vanagaitė remembers, she often passed Fr. Alfonsas on Dominikonų g. on her way to lectures at Vilnius University. After morning Mass, he would often be rushing to meet somebody or to attend a meeting, and often visited the home of Stefanija Ladigienė and her family, on Trakų g. 11.

Stefanija Ladigienė was a famous publicist, public figure, educator, and a member of ateitininkai. After the Soviet Government arrested her husband Kazys, who was a military officer, she moved to Vilnius together with her older children, and settled on Trakų g. Her apartment was on the third floor, in the current reading room of A. Mickevicius Library. During WWII, many people gathered in her home including: Lithuanian intelligentsia, clergy, and educators. Groups would gather in which various aid was organized, Laisvės Fondas (the Freedom Fund) met there, and campaigns for Jewish children were organized. Among the frequent guests of Ladigienė were: the Archbishop of Vilnius Mečislovas Reinys, Fr. Alfonsas Lipniūnas, Fr. Ladas Tulaba, poet Faustas Kirša, and Juozas Keliuotis. After the war – writer Balys Sruoga, and the servant of God, Adelė Dirsytė, who lived in the apartment for some time. Stefanija Ladigienė’s home became a refuge for the young Jewish girl Irena Veisaitė.

Vilnius Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaus and St. Vladislaus and Rectory

This Church is included as part of the following itineraries: The Route of Divine Mercy, The Route of John Paul II, Vilnius Saints

Fr. Lipniūnas was invited to say homilies during retreats at Vilnius Cathedral, and in the rectory (currently the parish house) where Fr. Lipniūnas would meet with high school aged youth. Those who remember the encounters say that they forgot they were interacting with a priest. They could speak simply and openly, on everyday terms.

At the Archcathedral, we are reminded of a very important friendship that existed between Fr. Lipniūnas and the Archbishop of Vilnius Mečislovas Reinys. With the assistance of the Archbishop, Fr. Lipniūnas was able to organize aid, maintain the activity of Laisvės Fondas, and to teach at the temporary location of Vilnius’ Priest’s Seminary, which was established by the Archbishop.

Church is opened
Monday–Sunday – 7 a.m.–7 p.m.
Excursions are not available during the Holy Mas.
Holy Mass (in Lithuanian)
Monday–Saturday – 8 a.m., 5.30 p.m.
Sunday – 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11.15 a.m., 12.30 p.m., 5.30 p.m.

Holy Mass (in Latin)
Sunday – 6.30 p.m.

Information about visiting the crypts of Vilnius Cathedral:
Church Heritage Museum
+370 600 12080
Feast days – Indulgences
The Feast of St. Casimir –  March 4.

Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights

Fr. Lipniūnas was arrested by the Nazi Gestapo at his home on Aušros Vartų g. on March 17th, 1943. Vilnius Seminary Rector Fr. Tulaba had received a secret report regarding the detention of Lipniūnas and two other lay people the prior evening. When the rector came to Fr. Lipniūnas and urged him to flee, the answer was: “I’m not running!” After his arrest, Archbishop M. Reinys attempted to contact German officer Von Staten, who was responsible for religious affairs. However, at that time, it was not possible to reach him. Nobody knew where Fr. Lipniūnas was, and what awaited him.

On March 26th, 1943, together with 46 other Lithuanian intelligentsia, Fr. Lipniūnas reached the Stutthof Concentration Camp, where he received a political prisoner’s mark. He was imprisoned there for two years, and risked his life serving as a chaplain at the concentration camp. He offered Holy Mass, secretly administered the Holy Sacraments, and listened to Confession. On January 25, 1945, as the Soviet Army was approaching, the prisoners of Stutthof were evacuated, and were led toward the seaport. Today, this journey is called “the Road of Death”. Thanks to fate, several Lithuanian prisoners including Fr. Lipniūnas and Fr. Stasys Yla, managed to hide in Pucko near Gdansk. Unfortunately, Fr. Lipniūnas did not regain his freedom in this world. Completely weakened, and weighing barely 30 kg, Fr. Lipniūnas contracted typhus and pneumonia. His light was extinguished on March 28th, 1945.

Up until today, it is not known where Fr. Lipniūnas was being held after his arrest. Were the prisoners that were arrested on that night transferred to Kaunas, or did they spend several days at the former Gestapo headquarters in Vilnius before their departure to Stutthof? The Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights honors martyrs of the faith. The 11thcell on the lower level of the museum is also called the Bishops’ Chamber. Bishop Borisevičius, Archbishop Reinys, the Blessed Bishop Matulionis, and Archbishop Ramanauskas are remembered there. Pope Francis prayed in the cell during his visit to Lithuania.

The monument in the square in front of the museum commemorates the victims of the occupation, and is one of the first monuments to be created in Vilnius after the restoration of Lithuania’s independence on March 11th, 1990. During his visit to Lithuania in 2018, Pope Francis finished his official visit with a prayer at this monument.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:47)

Your call, Lord, does not stop sounding and echoing between these walls, which resemble the suffering endured by many sons of this nation. Lithuanians and people from many different nations experienced physical violence by those who sought to control everything.

Your call, Lord, hears the cry of the innocent, which merges with your voice and rises to heaven. This is the Good Friday of pain and bitterness, abandonment and helplessness, cruelty and futility that this Lithuanian nation survived against the unmanageable, hardened and blinding ambition of the heart.

In this commemorative place, we pray to you, Lord, that your call will keep us awake. That your call, O Lord, should free us from spiritual disease, which as a nation, we are constantly tempted with: To forget our parents and what many of them have lived through and suffered for.

In your call, and that of our parents who have suffered a great deal in life, we can discover the courage to commit decisively to the present and future: That this call would be an incentive not to adapt to the simplified current day fashionable slogans, and to any attempts to diminish and deprive any person of the dignity you have invested in him.

Lord, let your Lithuania be a beacon of hope. May it remain a land in active memory, renewing the commitment to fight against any injustice. Let it encourage creative endeavors to defend the rights of all people, especially those who are powerless and vulnerable. And also to be a teacher of the harmony of reconciliation and differences. Lord, do not let us be deaf to the call of those who are persistently calling out for heaven today. Amen.

Museum is opened
Wednesday-Saturday – 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sunday – 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
30 minutes before closing the museum tickets are not sold.
+370 555 24569