A History of St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish
Firsts, Organizations and Departures
Among many firsts occurring in the parish at that time was the first mass of Father Gabriel Brenkus, C.PP.S., May 8th, 1932. It was the first of the ‘First Masses’ in the new church and was of special interest as it occurred on Mother’s Day. Fr. Brenkus is noteworthy as ‘one of ours’. He was born to St. John February 10, 1902 and joined the priesthood via the Precious Blood Seminary at Burkettsville, Ohio.
The Junior and Senior Daughters of Mary, the choir, the athletic club (particularly the basketball team), the dramatic club, the Young People’s Sodalities, the Junior and Senior Holy Name Societies, Catholic Order of Foresters and other organizations all flourished at this time. Particularly noteworthy was St. John’s drama community, churning out 42 productions in the twenty year period from 1928 to 1947.
April 17th, 1937 saw St. John’s reach it’s 40th anniversary. The auspicious occasion called for a celebration. Fr. Benedict returned from Florida for the special event. Festivities were well attended. Many clergy from the area and even Chicago attended. There were also more than 900 people at the jubilee ceremonies, including 30 members still living from the original parish. Whiting Mayor James T. McNamara and Hammond Mayor Frank R. Martin were there to extend their felicitations.
The photo at right gives an idea for how splendid St. John’s the Baptist’s early celebrations were.
Fr. Benedict’s appearance at the Jubilee celebration was his last in the parish which he loved. Scarcely a month after the celebration, he died of a sudden heart attack on a train en route to Florida. His body was interred in the shadow of a large cross erected in the middle of St. John’s cemetary by Fr. Kostik on May 29th, 1937.
St. John’s first true tragedy stuck about five years later on ‘picnic day’ traditionally one of the longest remembered non-spiritual or academic activities. One summer Sunday after mass, children were loaded on to two trucks to be taken to Washington Park in Michigan City for an outing and picnic. Forty boys were in one truck and thirty girls in the other. At a South Shore train crossing, one of the drivers noticed too late a train was fast approaching and tried to stop his truck. Finding that impossible, his effort to speed across the tracks failed and the train plowed into the truck just back of the cab. The truck was crushed, killing four and injuring eleven, some severely.
Better events occurred in 1943, when the first Solemn Masses of John and Edward Homco, native sons of Whiting, were celebrated. Happily, Fr. Ed Homco celebrated his first mass in the newly decorated church with all pomp and ceremony. Two years later, Fr. Homco felt privileged to be assigned to St. John’s after two years of priestly work elsewhere. He returned to St. John’s in September of 1945.
Father Ed in his early days at St. John is pictured at the left.
Fr. Ed’s appointment was the result of a change in Pastoral duties. Fr. Kostik, who had frequently been occupied in important duties for his community had been chosen for the Provincial Board. In that position, Fr. Kostik journeyed to Rome for discussions. He resided in Rome for a considerable part of the year. As a result of his loyal service, Fr. Kostik was appointed Superior of St. Charles Seminary and Motherhouse of the Fathers of the Precious Blood in the United States.
Fr. Kostik’s appointment created a need for pastor at St. John’s which was filled by Father John Lefko, C.PP.S., who had been the parish assistant since replacing Fr. Stadherr in 1938. Fr. Homco filled Fr. Lefko’s assistant position.
In 1946, a renewed effort on the part of the pastor and assistants to reach youths not in the parochial school with religious education ran afoul of the Hammond School Board. The refusal of the Hammond School Board to permit the Catholic children to receive religious training in the public high school (Hammond Clark) during school hours was looked upon as evidence of a disregard of the will of the Catholic people of the area. The controversy saw much press and public conversation.
The fifty year Golden Jubilee occurred in 1947. It was crowded with spiritual and social events including missions, days of recollection, the Old-Timers Gathering and the stage play Career Angel, a basketball tournament, the card party, the dedication of the sacred mural, the Calendar Banquet, the Jubilee Jamboree Dance, the Spiritual Month of May and finally, ‘The Day’. This was Sunday June 29th on the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul. Bishop Noll celebrated the Pontifical Mass, Fr. Kostik preaching the sermon. In the afternoon, parishioners gathered at Eggers Field in Illinois for a jubilee picnic.