For most Catholics it came as a surprise. Perhaps it was because of the flurry of activity taking place in 1956. The Diocese of Fort Wayne was preparing to celebrate its centenary the following year. A vast diocese in area, it encompassed 42 counties in northern Indiana (almost half the state) until 1944 when 24 counties were taken to form the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana. Still, at 18 counties, it was a considerable area in which to minister to God’s people. The venerable fifth bishop of Fort Wayne, Archbishop John Francis Noll, nationally renowned educator and journalist, had led the diocese since 1925. Debilitated by age, he died on July 31, 1956, in the 59th year of his priesthood.
In the northwest corner of the diocese, the city of Gary was in the midst of celebrating its golden jubilee. Built in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation on the shores of Lake Michigan, it was a flourishing city, enjoying the prosperity of the post-war years. On December 17, 1956, came the announcement many did not expect; the Vatican announced that the four counties in the northwest corner of the state – Lake, Porter, Starke and LaPorte – would now become the new Diocese of Gary. On December 29, its first bishop was chosen.
Andrew Gregory Grutka, a native of Joliet, Illinois, was ordained in Rome for the Diocese of Fort Wayne on December 5, 1933. At the time of his appointment as bishop, he was the pastor of Holy Trinity parish in Gary. The new diocese, at its establishment, found itself with 129 active diocesan priests, 77 parishes, 60 parish schools and 135,485 Catholics, which was roughly 25 percent of the population. During his 27-year ministry as the first bishop of the diocese, Bishop Grutka ordained 81 priests for diocesan service and established two parish schools.
The first 10 years of diocesan growth paralleled the changes of society as well as renewal within the universal Church. Some communities flourished while others began to wither. During this time, Bishop Grutka was known for his passionate opposition to racial injustice, going so far as to denounce such practices during one of the sessions of the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1964.
With a special affinity for the education of youth, Andrean High School in Merrillville was one of the first enterprises Bishop Grutka undertook for the new diocese. After a fire destroyed the gymnasium building of Bishop Noll High School, a bigger, more modern edifice was built that would become Bishop Noll Institute. Under Bishop Grutka, Saint Mary Parish High School in Michigan City, the oldest secondary school in the diocese, would now become the newest with the establishment of Marquette Catholic High School in LaPorte County.
Known for his love for nature, he actively supported Camp Lawrence in Valparaiso, which included the summer camp for youth sponsored by the Catholic Youth Organization of the diocese.
In 1983, the Albertine Home in Hammond was established as a retirement home for priests, staffed by the Albertine Sisters, who arrived in the area in 1974 from the Diocese of Krakow in Poland.
Bishop Grutka retired in 1984 but continued to be active and to minister to the people at the pleasure of the new bishop. He died on November 11, 1993, and is entombed in the east transept of Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary.
Norbert Felix Gaughan, a native of Pennsylvania, was ordained for the Diocese of Pittsburgh on November 4, 1945. At the time of his appointment as bishop of Gary, he was an auxiliary bishop serving as the Vicar General for the Diocese of Greenburg. At the beginning of Bishop Gaughan’s ministry to the Gary diocese, there were 114 active diocesan priests; 83 parishes; 40 parish schools; and a Catholic population of 195,032. Although no new parishes were established during Bishop Gaughan’s tenure, he ordained 13 priests for service to the diocese, moved the diocesan offices to a new building (the Pastoral Center) in Merrillville, and established the Northwest Indiana Catholic, the weekly diocesan newspaper. In 1986, he established the Catholic Services Appeal to bring financial resources to the work of the Church. His program “We Can Change the Future” set norms for the establishment of pastoral councils and better communication between parishes and diocesan offices.
Although a minor stroke in 1989 did not deter him from his duties, a far more debilitating attack in February of 1992 left him seriously impaired. In August of that year, the Vatican appointed Bishop Dale J. Melczek, an auxiliary bishop from Detroit, as Apostolic Administrator to oversee the management of the diocese. Though valiant in his attempts to continue to minister to the people of the diocese, Bishop Gaughan spent the last years of his life at St. Anthony Home in Crown Point. He died on October 1, 1999, and is buried in the Saint Emma cemetery in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
Dale Joseph Melczek, a native of Michigan, was ordained for the Archdiocese of Detroit on June 6, 1964. At the time of his appointment as Apostolic Administrator for the Gary diocese in August of 1992, he was the auxiliary bishop, assisting the archbishop of Detroit. As Apostolic Administrator for the Gary diocese, he ministered with great sensitivity toward Bishop Gaughan. In the fall of 1995, Bishop Melczek was named as co-adjutor bishop, giving him the right to automatically succeed Bishop Gaughan upon his retirement on June 1, 1996.
At the beginning of Bishop Melczek’s ministry in the Gary diocese, there were 95 active diocesan priests; 79 parishes; 30 parish schools; and a Catholic population of 182,115. He has established one new parish – Holy Spirit in Winfield – and ordained 20 priests for service to the diocese. He resumed the permanent diaconate within the diocese, ordaining the first class of permanent deacons since 1984. One of his more significant projects was the establishment of the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Formation program in conjunction with the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago, which prepares the laity for active ministry within the diocese. Since its inception, hundreds of lay men and women have received certification.
Bishop Melczek also organized a committee to prepare for a three-year, parish-based, faith-sharing program in preparation for the Year 2000 Jubilee. Begun in the fall of 1996, the program was designed to “lead us into a fuller sharing in the loving community of the Trinity.” Under his leadership, Holy Angels Cathedral was renovated in 1998. He also established the policy for the Sexual Misconduct Toward Minors and Others at Risk in the diocese.
In 2002, Bishop Melczek issued his first Pastoral Letter, “The Many Faces of Our Church,” which examined the gifts brought to the diocese through ethnic and racial diversity. His second Pastoral Letter was published in 2003, “Created in God’s Image,” focusing on the sin of racism with a call to conversion. In collaboration with the other bishops of Indiana, “I was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me,” addressing issues of immigration was published.
In 2007, the Diocese of Gary celebrated its 50th anniversary with a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Genesis Center in Gary, followed by a Eucharistic procession to Holy Angels Cathedral on June 10.
Upon reaching the mandatory age for the retirement of bishops, Bishop Melczek submitted his resignation to Pope Francis at the Vatican in November of 2013.
Donald Joseph Hying was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on May 20, 1989. Pope Benedict XVI named him auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee in 2011. On November 24, 2014, Bishop Hying was appointed as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Gary. His Mass of installation took place on January 6, 2015 at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary. At the wishes of Bishop Hying, the diocese’s first synod was called, beginning in February, 2017, with Bishop Hying’s first pastoral letter, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” After months of discussion with the parishes to determine areas of opportunity and challenge, the synod was held on Pentecost weekend, June 2-3 of the same year.
In September of 2017, Bishop Hying issued a pastoral response to the synod to the faithful of the diocese, outlining the significance and importance of the top pastoral priorities in each of the eight ecclesial areas (Evangelization, Discipleship/Formation, Social Teaching, Marriage and Family, Young Catholics, Sacraments, Prayer and Worship, Stewardship, Vocations and Leadership Formation), with his hopes of how the priorities would be implemented on the level of the diocese, the parish, other Catholic institutions and organizations, and with each Catholic disciple. Parishes developed plans to implement at least one of the synod priorities, along with a plan for greater evangelization.
In support of those plans, in 2019, Bishop Hying is doing a comprehensive visit to each diocesan parish to meet with staff and parish councils, and to interact with the parish at-large to listen to successes, help with challenges and encourage parishes in their efforts.
Pope Francis reassigned Bishop Hying to the Diocese of Madison. He was installed as their fifth bishop on June 25, 2019. The Diocese of Gary is sede vacante, which means without a bishop.