A HISTORY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST CATHOLIC PARISH
Changing of the Guard
On July 19th, 1953, Sunday masses announced that Father Lefko was to be transferred. Father Gabriel Brenkus, the first ‘one of ours’, was appointed pastor. An informal farewell gathering for Fr. Lefko occurred in the Panel Room.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1953, Fr. Homco celebrated his ten year anniversary. Fathers Semancik and Lefko were ordained and celebrated their first masses in 1953/54. This time frame was noteworthy overall for the church because of Vatican II and for the cannonization of Gaspar del Bufalo, founder of the Precious Blood.
January of 1955 saw the death of John Francis Noll, the beloved archbishop that had celebrated at so many of St. John’s milestone events. Seriously ill because of a stroke he had suffered in August of 1954, he was thought to be on the road to recovery. He was 80.
Born in Whiting on February 10th, 1902, Gabriel Brenkus attended St. John the Baptist School until his home was tragically broken in 1911 with the deaths of his parents. He then moved to a new home at St. Joseph’s orphanage in Lafayette, Indiana where he conceived of the idea to become a priest. In 1916, he entered the Seminary of Precious Blood Fathers in Burkettsville, Ohio. The next year, 1917, he went to college at St. Joseph’s in Collegeville, In.
Sickness burdened Gabriel on and off during his college years, keeping him out of school for several years of time. But with unconquerable determination, Gabriel battled his illnesses and graduated in 1926. In September of that year, he entered St. Charles Seminary where he remained until his ordination as a priest of the Precious Blood on May 8th, 1932.
After years of noteworthy missionary work, Fr. Brenkus succeeded Fr. Lefko as pastor of St. John the Baptist in 1953. Under Fr. Brenkus’ leadership, the second phase of expansion at St. John School was completed, including the new school wing, the gymnasium and the Marian Memorial Auditorium.
Fr. Brenkus was struck again by illness in 1957, suffering seriously enough to put his life in question and forcing him to miss the installment of
Bishop Grutka as the first Bishop of the Gary Diocese. Fr. Brenkus happily recovered, celebrating his Silver Jubilee as a priest in June of 1957. His illness however forced him to turn over pastoral stewardship of St. John the Baptist to Fr. Edward Homco, C.PP.S. in July.
Feeling fit again in 1962, Fr. Brenkus was preparing for new pastoral duties at St. Patrick Church in Glynwood, Ohio. After saying an evening mass on April 17th, Fr. Brenkus collapsed at Phil Smidt’s during dinner, dying minutes later. Fr. Gabriel Brenkus was only 60 years old.