Built in 1933, a brick chapel of the Gothic Revival style still stands stands in the Old Cemetery of Kretinga. In 1993, this chapel was enrolled in the Register of Cultural Heritage. The chapel is surrounded by many brightly lit candles on All Soul’s Day, while on other days, people come here to pray and ask for divine intercession. The graces of God granted here during the interwar period were recorded in the monastery ledgers and some of them were printed in the Franciscan World magazine.
What is so special about this particular chapel? Why does it attract so many devotees? This place is extraordinary because it is the final resting place of a special man, a Samogitian whom the Franciscans attempted to canonize during the interwar period. The friars had collected the required proof, however, the government interrupted all the works when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviets, and many of the beatification documents were lost or destroyed.
The name of that Samogitian man was Jurgis Pabrėža (1771–1849), also known as Father Ambrozijus, and he truly deserves to be called a saint. He was a man of multiple talents, a Franciscan friar, a scientist, a botanist and a naturopathic doctor and was sometimes compared to Leonardo da Vinci.
Jurgis Pabrėža was born in Večiai Village, Lenkimai Parish on January 15, 1771. He became a priest in 1796. At the age of 45, Jurgis Pabrėža joined the Third Order of St. Francis (the Third Order) and took the name of Father Ambrozijus. In his works, Motiejus Valančius wrote, “People listen to his sermons as if he was an apostle on Earth. Many of the devout members of the congregation look up to him as their leader on the road to salvation. Father Pabrėža spends hours after hours hearing confessions every day and has written a great number of books seeking to guide the people even after his death. O holy Lord, may you grant him many years of healthy life, and a prosperous sponsor who would spread his words of wisdom to the world through the books that he has written!”
Jurgis Pabrėža wrote around 50 books on the topic of botany, a Latin and Lithuanian dictionary of botanical terms, a Lithuanian dictionary of plant morphology, the first geography textbook in Lithuanian, a dictionary of geography terms, a dictionary of medical terms and a Latin textbook, among many others.
The Samogitians remember Jurgis Pabrėža both as a highly devout friar and a doctor. When remembering him, Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas wrote, “Even though he had an entire cupboard filled with medications, he preferred using herbal medicine in almost every case. The smell of his herbs was constantly present in his cell number 28 as well as the entire hallway… Every day he would be visited by a lot people. While men could walk straight to the monastic cell during the visitation hours, women had to wait downstairs as they were prohibited from entering the premises where the friars resided. At a certain hour, however, he would leave his visitors and go to the other room to kneel down in front of the Crucifix and meditate for three hours straight. Only then, having finished his obligations to God, he would return to his patients and visitors.”
Jurgis Pabrėža quietly died in his own cell during the time of prayer after attending his patients in 1849, having lived for almost 78 years. A bronze monument was built in the square in front of Kretinga Franciscan Church and Friary in 1993 as a symbol of the gratitude from the residents of Kretinga to Jurgis Pabrėža.