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St. Pete Beach priest dies two days after 100th birthday

Rev. Matas Cyvas, a Catholic priest who has assisted services at St. Casimir Lithuanian Mission in St. Pete Beach for nearly 30 years, turned 100 April 30, 2016. (Courtesy of the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference)
Rev. Matas Cyvas, a Catholic priest who has assisted services at St. Casimir Lithuanian Mission in St. Pete Beach for nearly 30 years, turned 100 April 30, 2016. (Courtesy of the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference)
Published May 3, 2016

Rev. Matas Cyvas, a Catholic priest who assisted services at St. Casimir Lithuanian Mission in St. Pete Beach for nearly 30 years, died Monday, two days after he turned 100.

Rev. Cyas received a letter from Pope Francis to celebrate his birthday and was honored at a luncheon Sunday at the Lithuanian American Club in St. Petersburg. Sadly, Cyvas was too weak to celebrate.

About 80 Lithuanian-Americans hoped they could shake the hand of their beloved priest, but Rev. Cyvas was too ill to attend.

Lithuanian club members toasted to Rev. Cyvas and shared their memories about his work for Lithuanian community. They listened to the greetings of Pope Francis and tasted birthday cake.

"He is very nice person. Every Sunday after the mass he was going to our traditional lunch and usually we sit together and talked," Lithuanian American Club president Aldona Cesnaite said. "I have never seen him angry or disappointed. We is very friendly and kindhearted man."

Rev. Cyvas was the one who united community, Cesnaite said. He baptised hundreds of newborns and married hundreds of families.

Rev. Cyvas was born in Lithuania on April, 30 1916. In 1934, he started studying at a seminary in Kaunas, a city 65 miles northwest of the capital Vilnius. Rev. Cyvas became a priest in 1941.

He was forced to leave Lithuania in 1944, when the Soviet Union occupied the country toward the end of World War II.

Rev. Cyvas first moved to Austria. Later, he continued his studies in Rome.

In 1949, Cyvas left Rome and came to the United States. He worked for two years in San Diego before leading a parish in the Lithuanian community in Albany, N.Y.

Rev. Cyvas semi-retired and moved to St. Petersburg in 1988 where he served as assistant pastor at St. Casimir's. He helped with masses and community work as long as his health allowed.

Rev. Bernardas Talaisis said he first met Rev. Cyvas in 2003. "He was very disciplined and strong-willed person. The real priest," Balaisis said.

Liepa Zelniene is journalist from Lithuania visiting the Tampa Bay Times as part of a fellowship sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

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