Closing Mass Brings Past and Present Parishioners Together in Faith

MERRILLVILLE – Calling it a “very, very worthy final Mass,” Bishop Robert J. McClory led the people of St. Joan of Arc parish out of the doors of their church for the last time on July 16, bringing an end to the 54-year history of a parish, but not the faith community that worshiped inside of it.

“In love, God destined us for adoption to himself and for the Lord Jesus; in him we were also chosen,” said the bishop in his homily. “Jesus loves us (and that is) the means by which we were adopted. It is an image we should live out, wherever we may be.

“With the closing of this church, it is okay to feel any emotions you feel – sad, grateful, appreciative for what was,” the bishop acknowledged. But while the building will no longer serve God’s people, “What will never fade is God’s work that was done through the faithful (people) of this parish. My prayer is that you savor the goodness, be grateful for all that took place here, and then look forward to wherever God is calling you to serve now.”

The bishop praised the “spectacular” hymns sung by the parish choir, led by music director Melinda Reinhart, as well as “the hospitality I’ve been shown every time I’ve been here,” as well as acknowledging his concelebrants, Father Patrick Gaza and Father Mick Kopil, both with family ties to the parish. The bishop was also assisted by Deacons Steve Zubel, Tom Grzybek and Michael Halas, and seminarian Zach Glick.

After reorganizing the Merrillville parishes into three, the families of St. Joan of Arc now join those of the former Ss. Peter and Paul and St. Andrew the Apostle to become Holy Martyrs Parish at the St. Andrew campus. The new pastor, Father Ted Mauch, recognized the closing Mass at St. Joan of Arc as “a sad occasion” but also “a day to remember all the blessings God has given us – surprises and expected ones. We are one community of faith rooted in Christ and in hope.

“We have hope, because Jesus died and as he looked down from the cross he said, ‘This is now your mother, this is now your son’” to his beloved apostle James and his mother Mary. “We are one family in Christ,” added Father Mauch. “Our family of faith continues as we move out of these doors to our homes and to our (new) parishes,” he said. “It is my honor to serve you as your shepherd as we walk through these transitions.”

Father Mauch assured the parishioners that all blessed items, from the stained glass windows depicting all nine women saints who serve as patronesses of Diocese of Gary parishes to the candlesticks and statuary, will be stored in anticipation of being repurposed in another local parish or given a respectful retirement.

There’s one icon special to Fran Van Meter of Lawton, Mich., that she is hoping will find a new home in the diocese. “My daughter, Dawn Van Meter, was killed 40 years ago just before her senior year of college, and she had been working that summer to earn money for school,” explained the original member of St. Joan of Arc who returned from her Michigan home for the closing Mass. “My husband and I used that money to purchase the Holy Family statue that has been in the parish since 1982.

“I remember the day they were clearing the land here, I sent my husband to help pick up rocks,” she recalled of the early years of the parish, established in 1968 with Father Alfred Dettmer as its first pastor. Meeting in a storefront and a school auditorium, the fledgling parish later shared space with St. Andrew the Apostle before finally building and dedicating its own church in 1979. A hall was later added and expanded.

“Father (Gerald) Sroka called me before the first Mass and asked me to lector. I had never done it before, and I was so nervous, but then later I became director of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) team for 15 years. “Deacon Steve (Zubel) was on my team – I asked him to serve – and then after we left Indiana he went into the diaconate program, so I take a little credit for getting him involved.”

Van Meter also remembers the fire that caused serious damage to the sanctuary in 2005. Parishioners pitched in, like they did with volunteer labor when the church was first completed, to finish repairs within six months.

Another founding parishioner, Jim Vermillion, remembers the liturgies held “in a drug store on Broadway and at Merrillville High School” before St. Joan of Arc got its own home. “The best thing about this parish has been the nice people, and that’s important. We always had good priests, and that’s important, too.” he said.

There were a few tears shed by Lea Jimenez and her daughters, Serenity and Alyssah, former parishioners who extended a visit from their current home in Florida to attend the closing Mass with relatives Tessa Redden and Rose Marie Harmon. “We just wanted to be here,” said Lea Jimenez.

Mike Kapitan called St. Joan of Arc his home parish for almost 30 years, and now attends Holy Martyrs Parish at St. Andrew church. “I’m hoping the Holy Spirit continues to guide us,” he said of the change.

“What we all hope to hear (from God) at the end of our life is, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’” noted Bishop McClory at the closing of the Mass, “and so I can say to you now, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants (of St. Joan of Arc parish).’”