Priest Adolfas Sabaliauskas (1873–1950): Examining the Folklorist’s Profile

  • Vilma Daugirdaitė
Keywords: Adolfas Sabaliauskas, priest, folklorist, Lithuanian folklore studies, biography, national revival


The article is dedicated to the Catholic priest Adolfas Sabaliauskas (1873–1950), whose contribution to Lithuanian culture hardly requires an introduction. However, when he is remembered as a poet, folklorist, compiler of religious literature, or an art collector, the emphasis typically falls on the expansive range of his cultural endeavours or the specific results achieved in each respective field. The priest’s broad range of activities related to Lithuanian nationalism has not been discussed due to historical circumstances. By employing the biographical research method, the investigation aims to consolidate the historical memory of Sabaliauskas as a folklorist and to present a more complete portrait of this person, who was a representative of the clergy on its way to modernisation at the turn of the twentieth century. The proposed interpretation of Sabaliauskas’s biography enables us to ascertain that the Samogitian Priest Seminary prepared the priest of peasant descent not only for pastoral activities: it was during his years of study at the seminary that Sabaliauskas’s relationship with national ideological values and peasant culture was formed.
Having chosen to nurture the Lithuanian cultural tradition, the graduate of the Samogitian Priest Seminary consciously combined his priesthood with a wide range of cultural endeavours, including active participation in folkloristic activities throughout his life. He became involved in collecting folklore during his years at the seminary, dedicating even more effort to this work after becoming a priest. The primary interpretation paradigm of the priest’s folkloric activities is based on his works during his time in the village of Nemunėlio Radviliškis: the publication presenting the musical tradition of the north-eastern border of Lithuania and published song collections: Lietuvių dainos ir giesmės šiaur-rytinėje Lietuvoje (1912; Lithuanian Songs and Chants in the Northeastern Lithuania) and Lietuvių dainų ir giesmių gaidos (1916; The Notes of Lithuanian Songs and Chants). The last two works (the first of which was compiled together with the Finnish folklorist Aukusti Robert Niemi) earned the young priest the name of a folklorist despite his lack of special professional training. Even today, he is primarily recognised as a collector of folklore known for compiling and publishing two song collections. Analysis of archival documents and printed sources of the time reveals that during this most intensive period of folkloristic work, Sabaliauskas also made more diverse contributions to the developing field of Lithuanian folklore studies. Unfortunately, neither this aspect nor his later folkloristic activities were firmly established in his biographical narrative. During Soviet times, the attitudes towards the chaplain of the independent Lithuanian army were exceptionally negative and tendentious, and his life and work could not be subjected to scholarly study. Consequently, the prevailing claim was that after the publication of song collections, the priest distanced himself from folklore.
The proposed interpretation of Sabaliauskas’s biography brings previously overlooked aspects of his life and evidence of his continued work in folklore to the attention of folklorists. However, it must be acknowledged that his new cultural and creative pursuits, as well as changes in his pastoral service (in 1920, he was appointed as the chaplain of Kaunas Military Hospital), led him to shift his focus away from folklore. Nevertheless, the priest continued his folkloristic activities: he found time for individual folklore collecting expeditions and assisted foreign folklorists who visited Lithuania for research purposes or sought Lithuanian folklore material from him. These activities of Sabaliauskas did not remain unnoticed by the academic circles of the time, who acknowledged his authority in the field of folklore studies.
It should be noted that the folklorist’s profile, as selected for biographical interpretation, reveals the intricate relationship between Sabaliauskas’s folkloric and broader Lithuanian cultural activities and the national ideological values of the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries, as well as the alignment of the priest’s cultural interests with his priesthood.