Iconic church turns 100
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent November 23, 2012 7:54PM
Parishioners listen as the Rev. Theodore Poteres says Mass during the Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral 100th anniversary service on Nov. 4, 2012, In Merrillville, Ind. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 24, 2013 4:46PM
Parishioner John Petalas estimates tens of thousands of people have gone through the doors of Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral since it was founded 100 years ago, including the 650 families who are members of the Merrillville church.
“A lot of families were baptized, married and buried in the church; it has a lot of history,” he said.
Petalas wants to include as many of them as possible in the yearlong events honoring the church’s 100th anniversary that will continue through May 21, the church’s feast day. A gala is planned in the Cultural Center at 8000 Madison St. on May 18.
Besides parishioners, Petalas, who is chairman of the 100-year anniversary committee, said some bishops, the governor, local leaders and those who helped build the parish’s current building will be invited to the May ceremonies. The gala will be open to the public; more details will be available later.
“Many have been touched by various efforts of the church; they are all welcome to the gala,” said the Rev. Theodore Poteres, pastor of the church for almost 16 years.
Petalas said the committee plans to honor couples who were married in the church and as many priests who once served the parish as possible. He knows of one former pastor, now a bishop in San Francisco, who plans to attend.
Most anniversary-related events involve groups within the church, including programs by students in the Greek school and Sunday school, a bake-off by the choir and after-service socials.
But one recent successful event extended beyond the church community. As part of its anniversary, Saints Constantine & Helen, which is well-known for its annual Greek Fest each summer, decided to have its first Fall Greek Fest.
“It worked out nice; we’ll make it an annual event,” Petalas said.
Poteres said although most people in Northwest Indiana know the church through its Greek Fest, it has been a big part of the community in other ways.
“We house the Ross Township Food Pantry, which serves more than 1,000 families a year,” Petalas said.
The church and cultural center have been in Merrillville since the early 1970s, but it traces its roots to Gary in 1913.
The original building, called Hellenic Orthodox Church, was at 14th Avenue and Madison Street. A short time later, it moved to 13th and Jackson, by the old Froebel High School. Petalas, who was an altar boy at the 13th and Jackson church, said both buildings still are used as churches.
He said the hall was built first in Merrillville, then the church.
“I remember the first time I walked in the new hall; it was so huge. Petalas said. “It can seat 800 people.”