The Rev. Sigitas Tamkevicius, S.J., archbishop of Kaunas, Lithuania, is in Cincinnati Dec. 5-7 to receive Xavier Universitys St. Francis Xavier Medal for his heroism in defending and preserving the Catholic Church through personal sacrifice during the Cold War.
Throughout his 40 years as a Catholic priest, Tamkevicius has taken heroic stands on behalf of the Catholic Church, especially during the Russian occupation of Lithuania. In the late 1960s, after refusing to collaborate with the KGB and continuing his priestly work, Tamkevicius was removed from ministry by the government and assigned to a metal factory. During this time he conducted clandestine retreats and conferences for religious, intellectuals and youth.
In 1972 Tamkevicius helped create an underground magazine, The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. From 1972 to 1983 Tamkevicius edited and published the magazine which detailed the suppression of religion and blatant violations of human rights taking place in Lithuania, often sanctioned by the government. He was able to disseminate the publication in Moscow and the west, succeeding in his mission to draw attention to the problems in Lithuania.
In 1983 he was arrested, and convicted of a number of offenses, among them passing documents to Russian dissidents and the Western media, teaching children and organizing processions. He was sentenced to six years of hard labor and four years of exile for his crimes. In 1988 he was released five years early from exile at a labor camp in the Tomsk district of Siberia.
Archbishop Tamkevicius currently serves as Grand Chancellor of Vyautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania, and as chairman of the Catholic Information Service. The St. Francis Xavier Medal is being presented to him at the Universitys board of trustees dinner Thursday.