Carmelite Home demolition provides fresh start and unveils time capsule

EAST CHICAGO – The physical location of the St. Joseph’s Carmelite Home in Northwest Indiana may look a little different these days, but its dedication to children, the city of East Chicago and the Diocese of Gary remains the same. The Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus who have operated an orphanage and emergency shelter for youth in distress since 1913, made the difficult decision this year to demolish the remaining portion of three of the buildings along Grasselli Street after a fire caused significant damage on May 16, 2021.

After discussions with engineers, architects, constituents, consultants and the Carmelite Board, the sisters determined it would be more cost effective to rebuild a new facility than to remodel and replace what remained after the fire. Moreover, building a new, modern facility will better meet the needs of the children the sisters serve in their ministry.

The sisters continue to reside in a small home called Casa Maria at the end of the block on the northern point of the property. The Maria Tauscher Center remains and houses the administration, staff and children in their care. As three other buildings on the property were being demolished on Feb. 18, the crew of Green Demolition LLC., working with Tonn and Blank Construction, uncovered a time capsule in one of the cornerstones.

Having no previous knowledge of the time capsule’s existence, the sisters and others quickly gathered to open the 18-by-12 inch lead container dated Nov. 12, 1956. Located inside were several publications providing a glimpse into everyday life, among them a copy of The Hammond Times newspaper dated Nov. 9, 1956 and Our Sunday Visitor-Fort Wayne Edition dated Nov. 11, 1956.

There was a variety of spiritual items found in the box including prayer cards, prayer books, scapulars, rosaries, and religious statues. Some of the items traveled great distances, having been brought to the United States after the sisters went on pilgrimages to other countries such as several stones from the Holy Land, earth from the Catacombs in Rome and a crucifix from Jerusalem.

A few items struck even deeper chords of personal emotion for the sisters, explained Sister Maria Guiesppe, executive director/CEO of the Carmelite Sisters. They discovered, wrapped tightly in paper, a square piece of wood that was saved from the first altar in the first little chapel in 1913.

“Our Mother Foundress had worked so hard when she arrived from Europe in this year to create a suitable dwelling place for ‘the Divine Savior,’ and this small wooden token is for us a treasure and a reminder of her famous saying to Jesus: ‘If You come, I will come!’” she said.

Pictures of the old convent and girls graduating were also uncovered along with letters from many of the young female residents of the Carmelite Home at the time.

“One little girl requested that if her letter was one day opened from the capsule that we must be sure to save it and put it in ‘another capsule’ for another building,” said Sister Guiesppe. “We intend to do this - God permitting.”

The items from the time capsule are now on display in the Casa Maria house.

Having been reminded of how far the ministry has come, and with the demolition project now completed, the sisters and Carmelite Home Board of Directors are directing their attention to the future and what the rebuild of their facilities will look like.

Dee Young, fundraising and administration coordinator, admits it was a traumatic and emotional experience for some of the sisters seeing the buildings come down, but at the same time there is a sense of anticipation.

“Its given to a new life of excitement right now,” she said. “We can see the possibilities for the future, what’s going to be.”

Thomas Lemke, director of services at the Carmelite Home, said the structures now being replaced have been home to a nurturing and loving environment for thousands of children and families in East Chicago.

“We are grateful to God for what has been accomplished to date, and we are humbled and excited for what we will be able to do in a more modern facility,” Lemke said. “We also are grateful to all of our neighbors and organizations that have provided encouragement and support all of these years. With all of our loving friends, we move forward in faith.”

The sisters continue to sing the praises of many benefactors who have given donations of all kinds over the years. The very first donation was from an Italian lady who gave them a loaf of homemade bread in case they were hungry. That community support grew to a multitude of groups and individuals who have supported the ministry and helped to sustain the home for 44 years.

“Over the years we’ve received a tremendous amount of support, not just from the local community, but from all over – Lake County and all over the country. We’ve received some support from churches, organizations and individuals that have heard our plight and they’ve just been so generous,” said Young.

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