GARY – One year after the death of Bishop Dale J. Melczek, friends, parishioners and diocesan staff members gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels to remember a man who aspired “to know Christ,” and to join in prayer for the late shepherd’s soul during a Mass of Remembrance on Aug. 25.
Some proceeded to their seats, in some cases, eyes welled up with tears, while others approached one another with smiles, greeting each other with the familiar uplifting tone of the late bishop, who served in the diocese from 1992-2022.
In his homily, presider Bishop Robert J. McClory, whose association with Bishop Melczek dated to the present leader’s upbringing in the Detroit area where Bishop Melczek began his ministry, addressed the bittersweet feelings many have upon the passing of a loved one.
“Much of the world might think once you die the clock has stopped and that’s it,” Bishop McClory said. “The Lord still has a plan for us after this life; it’s not just a plan of … relaxing. Those who have obtained their heavenly reward continue to intercede and pray for us.”
Using an assuaging tone, Bishop McClory, told those gathered that the dearly departed bishop lived without much apprehension of the future.
“Bishop Melczek had the sense that he had done what the Lord had asked of him and whenever the Lord wanted to call him, was okay with him,” explained Bishop McClory. “He had a beautiful docility … and would keep doing what (God) called him to do.”
At the conclusion of the liturgy, Bishop McClory and concelebrating priests as well as assisting deacons processed to the crypt in the east transept of the cathedral, where the third bishop of Gary’s engraved tomb is set, to incense the area. The faithful queued up behind them, as many stopped to touch the granite memorial and offer a prayer.
Cathedral rector Very Rev. Michael Surufka, OFM, recalled Bishop Melczek’s energetic approach to ministry and credited him for helping “keep the cathedral of the Diocese of Gary in Gary,” citing the additions and renovations to the cathedral and promotion of ministries during his shepherding of the diocese.
Others spoke of Bishop Melczek’s commitment to his respect for all life, especially the vulnerable, his support of Catholic education and his guidance through pastoral letters to the faithful. A contingent of parishioners from St. Mary of the Lake, where Bishop Melczek led as an administrator from 2016 until his passing, recalled his time there.
When then-Bishop Donald J. Hying offered his predecessor the chance to have an active retirement and return to a pastoral role close to the people, Bishop Melczek quickly set to work revitalizing the Miller parish. St. Mary of the Lake’s Mass attendance doubled, in large part through his door-to-door evangelism campaigning, in which he walked the nearby neighborhoods with church volunteers.
“Since I got to know him seven years ago, Bishop Melczek still guides me to this day,” said Jim Wiseman, St. Mary of the Lake pastoral council member. “I’ve got his picture next to my bed, and when I wake up, I look at it and I know he’s guiding me.”
Henry and Carol Lazarek said they have frequented two parishes, one being the Miller church that Bishop Melczek led. The couple said the seasoned church leader was always willing to hear the concerns of people.
“We miss him,” Henry Lazarek said of Bishop Melczek. “He did a lot to help us personally in the Church, which made a big difference for us. He went out of his way … it was something we needed.”
He said the Bishop mentored their daughter, providing personal correspondence since she approached him at a Kairos retreat. “Losing a friend was not easy. We’ve done a lot of praying and like Bishop McClory talked about tonight, we’ve got a job to do while we’re on this Earth."
“We know that (Bishop Melczek) is praying for us, and that keeps us going,” added Carol Lazarek.
Dr. Pearlette Springer, who worked for 12 years with African-American ministries leadership at the diocesan Pastoral Center in Merrillville, said she was happy to attend the evening service in Gary.
“Bishop Melczek is the one that set the foundation of my expectation of bishops,” said Springer. “He fought for those who are marginalized; he wanted us as Church for the Diocese of Gary to break out of our box and serve the people.”
Father Alphonse Skerl recalled the “best years of my priesthood,” serving with the late Monsignor Ferd Melvage in Miller. He believes that Bishop Melczek helped ensure the viability of St. Mary of the Lake.
“What comes to mind first is that beautiful church, St. Mary of the Lake … I’m happy Bishop Melczek took over there,” said the senior priest at the cathedral gathering.
Many noted how the late bishop continued to move ahead though he suffered medical setbacks in his later years. Deacon Stephen Grandfield said Bishop Melczek was a man of great discipline, who prayed one-hour to start each day, kept in strong physical shape, traveled efficiently and tried to live simply.
Deacon Grandfield has served at St. Mary of the Lake for more than five years. Upon first visiting the church, he noticed that the bishop emeritus did not have a deacon to assist him. So, he said he happily makes the drive from Ogden Dunes and continues to carry on the duties he did when Bishop Melczek was alive.
He said Bishop Melczek was an inspired spiritual leader, a caring friend and a strong, “fearless” man.
“He was very disciplined with his diet and workouts and he got up early to pray. That’s very hard to do because we can have a lot of distractions in life. Yet, he didn’t care if he would die that very day; he was ready,” Deacon Grandfield said.
Caption: Senior priest Father Alphonse Skerl (left) pays tribute to the late Bishop Dale J. Melczek as Judy Holicky (center) Jacob Werhowatz-Nieman, 5, (right) look on at the third bishop of Gary's crypt during the Mass of Remembrance at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary on Aug. 25. Family, friends and clergymen gathered to pay tribute to and offer prayers for Bishop Melczek, who died on Aug. 25, 2022 after serving in the Diocese of Gary for 30 years. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)