Father Robert Rayson of St. Matthew Parish in Champaign, Ill., attends the 100th anniversary celebration for St. Joseph the Worker Croatian Church held at the Croatian Center in Merrillville, Ind. | Scott M. Bort~For Sun-Times Media
TIMELINE: ST. JOSEPH THE WORKER CROATIAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
1912: Croatian immigrants settle in Gary, developing their own colony. Some opened business establishments west of Broadway and south of 21st Avenue. Some labored in local steel mills. In February, a group of men gathered in a store owned by Petar Galovic. They formed an organization for the purpose of collecting funds to build a Croatian Catholic Church. They wanted a place to worship with services in their native tongue. The first church, on 23rd Avenue and Adams Street, was named Holy Trinity Croatian Parish. The Rev. Luke Terzic was the first pastor. A school was added when the next pastor, Rev. Charles Jesih, took over. He invited nuns to teach catechism classes there. He was also a chaplain of the Knights of Columbus on 5th Avenue.
1921: The Croatian Catholic Union’s home office is established at the parish.
1927: Father Joseph Judnic led construction of a new school.
1937: The Croatian Conventual Franciscans took over the Parish. Father Vjenceslav Ardas was the first Franciscan serving the Croatian parish.
1942: The parish moved to Delaware Street, between 44th and 45th avenues.
1943: A large school and the second church were built on 44th Avenue. The name was changed to St. Joseph Croatian Parish. The rectory was built in 1948.
1950: The parish decides to build a larger church on 45th Avenue. Father Victor Rogulj raised funds for the church for two years.
1954: Father Ardas becomes pastor. The Romanesque style church is completed in 1956. With the new church came a new name: St. Joseph the Worker Croatian Church.
1959: Father Mirko Godina is appointed pastor. He installed stained glass windows and paid off the debt by 1966.
1967: A new convent is built on the east side of 44th Avenue at Delaware Street.
1970: The school is repaired and remodeled.
1972: Father Benedict J. Benakovic, who came to the parish in 1962, became the resident pastor and remained pastor until 2000. He replaced the church roof, installed air-conditioning and guided the parish through the changes of the Second Vatican Council.
1987: The parish school is closed.
1990s: Fundraisers help Croatian refugees and numerous victims of the Balkan wars.
2000: Father Stephen Loncar becomes pastor of St. Joseph the Worker. He introduces new pastoral members and commissions. Another roof was put on the church and rectory, and buildings are maintained in a way that benefits long-time parishioners and welcomes new members, especially children.
2009: St. Joseph the Worker joins the Gary Cluster Parishes to work with pastors and commissions for the betterment of all parishes in Gary.
Updated: November 29, 2012 6:23AM
St. Joseph the Worker Croatian Church in Gary has been a big part of Ann Krpan’s life for 86 years. So it was a given that she would be in attendance at the recent celebration of the church’s 100th anniversary.
“I was baptized there when I was born, and I’m still at the same church,” the Merrillville resident said. “We all just stuck together, that’s why the church continued.”
In addition to a special morning celebration Mass, a luncheon banquet and special program greeted guests at Croatian Hall in Merrillville.
“The history of the parish clearly notes that the people were asking and praying to have a church built so that they could celebrate God, possibly in Croatian. God gave them the wisdom and resources to do that,” said Father Stephen Loncar, current pastor of the church. “They would build and maintain three churches, two schools , two rectories and two convents in 100 years.”
A special appearance by Jelena Grcic Polic, consul general of the Republic of Croatia, delighted the crowd.
“This is amazing, what you have put together,” she told the audience of almost 400 people. “It took a great deal of endurance and creativity to keep this church going for a century — this speaks to the spirit of the Croatian people.”
Musical selections by the Hoosier Strings Junior Tamburitzans also were on the afternoon program, complete with traditional dress. Keeping the young people involved in their culture is one of the reasons the Croatian population is still a strong force in Northwest Indiana, according to many of the party attendees.
Steven Mihal of Gary commented on this as he watched the youngsters of the tamburitzan group.
“It’s the families that get together and keep the traditions alive,” said Mihal, whose grandfather George Ramusack Sr. was one of the church’s founding members. “There is still a large Croatian footprint in Northwest Indiana.”
Larry’s uncle, George Ramusack Jr., agreed with the others that the devotion to culture and one another is the basis of the church’s longevity.
“Families sticking together — that’s it,” he said. “My father would be proud of how far the church has come — very proud.”
A photo display of popular Croatian celebrities and sports figures was exhibited at the hall, along with photographs detailing Croatian history in America.
St. Joseph the Worker Croatian parish has a rich history of perseverance.