WILLIAMSBURG — The secret to a long, happy marriage can be found in the smiles on the faces of Kazys and Sofia Butkus.
The couple, who are Lithuanian American parishioners of the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Williamsburg, celebrated their 77th wedding anniversary last month in the best way they know how — by attending the Lithuanian-language Mass at their church.
Kazys, a retired tool and die maker, is 105 years old. His wife, a retired seamstress, is 98.
Every Sunday, they attend the 10 a.m. Mass at the Church of the Annunciation, which celebrates the only weekly Lithuanian Mass in New York City. It is something they have been doing for 70 years.
And they were there as usual on Sunday, Nov. 12, sitting in their favorite pew — third row on the right side as you face the altar.
Their daughter, Astra Butkus, said their secret to their long, happy marriage is simple. “It’s friendship.They are each other’s best friends,” Astra explained.
The couple was married on Oct. 27, 1946, in Germany, where they lived after being forced to flee Lithuania in the early 1940s. The Soviet Union had invaded the country and deported many of its citizens.
Following their marriage, they moved to England for a few years before setting sail to the U.S. aboard the Queen Mary in the early 1950s. They live in Jamaica Hills, Queens, with their daughter Astra, who is their caregiver.
It makes perfect sense that Kazys and Sofia love coming to church. After all, it was faith that brought them together.
They didn’t know each other growing up in Lithuania but met when they were both living in a displaced persons camp in Greven, Germany, after fleeing their homeland.
An estimated 250,000 people fled Lithuania after the Soviet takeover; Germany established 113 displaced persons camps to house them all over the country, including Greven, a town approximately 100 miles from Bonn.
But the Germans were less than hospitable hosts — forcing many of the refugees to work in labor camps, drafting some into the military, and keeping others as prisoners of the state. However, some were permitted to emigrate to other nations.
In the camp, Sofia, who was an orphan, was being looked after by her brother. The sight of this young woman with no parents stirred Kazys’ sympathy as well as his evangelical instincts. “Her brother was not a believer. I talked to her because I thought I could bring faith to her,” he said in Lithuanian, as a fellow Annunciation parishioner translated.
Talking about matters of faith soon led to talking about matters of the heart.
Kazys and Sofia were eventually married and began planning their future together. Their daughter Astra was born while they were living in England. But they knew England wouldn’t be their final destination; they wanted to move to America.
When they made the trans-Atlantic Ocean voyage and settled in Queens, they heard about a church in Brooklyn that had a Lithuanian community — the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary — and started attending Mass there.
“They found a home at Annunciation,” said Astra, who sings in the church choir.
As the Butkus’ look back on three-quarters of a century as a married couple, they are amazed at the passage of time. “The years, they go by so quickly,” Sofia said wistfully.
“They are people of few words,” Astra explained. “You can see their love and devotion to each other in their actions. They care for each other and take care of each other.”
They also share a love of poetry. Kazys writes poetry that has been published in Lithuanian newspapers.
On the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary in 1996, the Butkus’ received a citation from St. Pope John Paul II. Following Kazys’ retirement, the couple traveled to Rome, where they had the opportunity to see St. Pope John Paul II in person. Kazys was thrilled when he got to shake the pontiff’s hand.
Father Valdemaras Lisovski, parochial vicar for Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation Parish (Annunciation and the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel were merged into one parish), said the Butkus’ serve as an example to their fellow parishioners.
“People should come and stand in line to ask them what is the recipe to be together for 77 years,” Father Lisovski said. “I think it’s respect and love. It is something we need to understand. And they live it every day.”
Faith brought them together and faith is still central to their lives. “We pray together all the time,” Sofia explained. “We pray the rosary every night,” Kazys added.
And every Sunday for as long as they can, they plan to be at the Lithuanian Mass at the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.