Among dozens of St. Catherine of Siena members, former parishioners and school alumni gathered for the parish's final Mass, Franciscan Sister Dominic Dybel (left) speaks with her sister Jil Dybel in Hammond on May 2. The Dybel family attended the dedication of the church building in 1958. Established in 1956, St. Catherine served Hessville neighborhoods until its school closed in 2009, and declining participation resulted in the church's closure. Members were invited to attend other local parishes. Presider Bishop Robert J. McClory quoted St. Catherine of Siena in his homily, "I am consumed with the desire to suffer for the glory of God and the salvation of souls and for the welfare of the Holy Church." (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)
HAMMOND | For one last time, parishioners, school alumni and former area residents gathered at St. Catherine of Siena to celebrate Mass. On May 2, the faithful worshipped under the tall crucifix and painted statue of the church's patron that were blessed during the building’s dedication in 1958.
Longtime parishioners greeted relatives with hugs as some reminisced about their years at the parish school. Some wiped away tears recalling the sacred space where they received their sacraments of initiation.
Presider Bishop Robert J. McClory began his homily by quoting St. Catherine, a mystic and a Doctor of the Church whose feast fell just days earlier, on April 29.
“There is a cornerstone here affixed to the school building with a quotation from St. Catherine of Siena: I am consumed with the desire to suffer for the glory of God and the salvation of souls and for the welfare of the Holy Church,” Bishop McClory said.
Bishop McClory acknowledged the sadness some had concerning the closing of the church building. He and Father Charles Mosley, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, encouraged the faithful to worship and fellowship as the two parishes merge together at OLPH.
“The Lord tells us that he wants us all to bear good fruit," the bishop said. “Sometimes the bearing of that fruit can be painful – he uses the word pruning, ouch.”
Bishop McClory continued, “And yet today, as we bring, in one sense, a conclusion to the life of the parish community as (within) this very building, I would prefer to reflect on the life of this parish as indeed being the bearing of good fruit.”
Father Mosley has been an administrator for St. Catherine for 6 years. He said the consolidation of liturgies from the church at 169th Street and Kentucky Avenue, to OLPH, located farther south in the Hessville section of Hammond, had been ongoing for months.
“It is in our strength and our surrendering over to the will of the Holy Spirit that we can let the light of Christ shine brightly,” Father Mosley told the faithful.
According to Father Mosely, former Bishop of Gary Donald J. Hying had given the parish a reprieve, noting that the neighborhood featured many new Illinois transplants, some of whom were Catholic.
Reaching a low of 40 active families, numbers steadily increased and, by 2019, 100 families had registered at St. Catherine. Since then, the total of active parishioners trailed off to the point that the church could not afford to keep the utilities running.
Bishop McClory implored the faithful to let go of some things while grafting themselves to sources of strength, thereby enhancing the Body of Christ in that part of the diocese.
“Ultimately our future, the growth that (the Lord) wants to give us is dependent on our identity in him. He tells us today, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches,’” Bishop McClory said.
Deacon Michael Halas, who assisted at the Mass, was a parishioner at St. Catherine from 1984 to 2006, welcoming his wife into the Catholic Church at the Hammond parish in 1989 and sending his eldest daughter to the adjacent school.
For others, paring down and letting go is an experience revisited. Jeff Srncik is a 1970s alumnus of St. Catherine School. The educational center was built adjacent to the church building and closed in 2009 in the pre-School Choice era due to declining enrollment.
“It brought a tear to my eye when I walked up to the St. Catherine statue,” Srncik said. “Before I leave, I’m going to kneel in front of that cross. That cross has hung for 50 years and was there everyday we went to church here … St. Catherine shaped our values.”
Stella Artunin and Anna Jaksich, 91 and 90, continue to be prayer warriors. On May 2, they entered the church more sorrowful than on other occasions. Yet they said the fellowship of other seniors and the sharing of memories brought back happy memories of volunteering at the parish school.
The liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated, and Mass continued with songs alternating in English and Spanish. Before the faithful departed, a round of applause was given for all who contributed to the liturgical, educational and recreational functions of the parish.
Sister Dominic Dybel of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart works in the Diocese of Joliet and was at the
final St. Catherine Mass with her sister, Jill Dybel, just as they were for the building’s dedication.
“My morning prayer all the time is: Jesus, I surrender myself totally to you, I ask you to please take care of everything,” said the 55-year jubilarian religious, as first St. Catherine graduating class members Margie Konetski Bissonnette and Linda Evans looked on.
Father Mosely said a Mass was added to his parish’s weekend schedule and he has even become a quick study of Spanish, hoping to better minister to the Latinos of Hessville.
The pastor said as the faith family of St. Catherine is merged with Our Lady of Perpetual Help, sacred objects from the church will be stored or given to local parishes once the church building is decommissioned.
Fifty-one-year parishioner Shirley Johns and her cousin Terrie Davey greeted those who entered and departed from St Catherine. They reflected on the parish food pantry they managed for several years.
“We felt that we were really helping (the less fortunate) out," Johns said.
After Mass, Johns and Davey said farewell to Paula Kraus, who attended Mass with her daughter Noel Aguirre, who brought her five-year-old son Anthony Aguirre.
Perhaps representing a Church that forever refreshes itself, Kraus reflected on her time as a young parishioner and then secretary at St. Catherine. Though she said she was sad to see the building closed, she was proud that her daughter, who taught for two years at the former school, continues to teach at St. Mary School in Griffith, where Anthony is a student.