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Final Mass celebrates the legacy of the parish and its people

 011422Ss Peter Paul final Mass

At Ss. Peter and Paul, longtime parishioners Ramon Barajas (left) and his wife Maria Del Carmen (center) greet Schools Sister of Notre Dame Karin Walther, who served as pastoral associate from 1986 to 2009, at the conclusion of the final Mass in the Merrillville church on Jan. 9. Bishop Robert J. McClory delivered his homily and remarks during the closing Mass with the themes of celebrating the graces experiences by thousands of parishioners and that a cycle of death and resurrection always ends with resurrection for believers. The faithful were invited to continue their sacramental life at the former St. Andrew the Apostle, now Holy Martyrs combined parish in the city. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)



Northwest Indiana Catholic


      MERRILLVILLE – As the last parishioners departed after Mass on Jan.  9 at Ss. Peter and Paul, the church bells tolled for the final time for a congregation that began meeting in 1841 in a log cabin in the Diocese of Gary.

      Many longtime worshippers gathered at the oldest parish in Merrillville as Bishop Robert J. McClory, joined by co-celebrants Father Ted Mauch, pastor, and Father Patrick Gaza, a senior priest who claims Ss. Peter and Paul as his home parish, celebrated the church’s final liturgy on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Also participating were Deacons Tom Gryzbek, Malcolm Lunsford and Michael Halas.

      With a consolidation of Merrillville churches, Holy Martyrs has become the new home parish for the former St. Andrew the Apostle at 801 W. 73rd Ave., as well as the Ss. Peter and Paul and St. Joan of Arc faith communities.

      Acknowledging the loss, Bishop McClory struck a hopeful note by comparing the closing of the Ss. Peter and Paul’s church with the feast day and the symbolism of a baptism as a death – represented by the immersion in water as dying to Christ – and a resurrection – a new life in Christ.

      “This is not a failure,” said the bishop. “The thousands of souls who experienced the mercy of God here (represents) a complete success, as do the thousands of baptisms, and thousands of children educated in the school.

      “That legacy of faith needs to be passed to the future. Holy Martyrs Parish will now be the latest incarnation of the (Catholic community in Merrillville).

      “The end is always a resurrection, a celebration of our baptism and a celebration of our life,” he said. “Let’s be grateful and look to the future with hope.”

      Father Mauch noted that Catholics are “a people of faith being able to touch things, to connect to (tangible) objects,” adding that the diocese hopes to take icons and objects from Ss. Peter and Paul to Holy Martyrs to continue that connection.”

      Quoting the day’s Gospel reading, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” (Lk. 3:22) and welcoming all from the Merrillville faith community to Holy Martyrs, Father Mauch added, “Let’s cling to those words and know that we are children of God.”

      Surrounded by well-wishers after Mass was Sister Karen Walther, SSND, who served as pastoral associate at Ss. Peter and Paul from 1986 to 2009, handling “everything but Mass and confessions,” as she recalled.

      Traveling from the School Sisters of Notre Dame motherhouse in Milwaukee, Wisc., with Sister Susan Ann Adrians, SSND, a fellow retiree who lived at the parish for a dozen years while working in the diocese as a counselor, Sister Karen was known as “the evangelizer supreme” for her ability to recruit all variety of parish ministers – from sacristans to choir members.

      She recalled attending a meeting of the parish women’s group after being absent for several weeks and introducing herself to a new parishioner. ‘I’m not going to tell you my name, because you’ll give me a job,’ the woman responded.

      Relentless in her pursuit of another parishioner, said Sister Karen, “I kept asking her month after month to become an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Comm, but she kept telling me she didn’t feel worthy. Finally, this shy Hispanic woman said she’d give it a try, and then she became the first one to volunteer every chance she got and couldn’t get enough of the ministry. One day I heard her trying to convince another woman to serve, but that friend was reluctant. Then I heard the first woman giving her the exact same speech I used on her! I never forgot that.”

      Sister Susan has fond memories of “the wonderful music ministry of (retired) music director Laura Monteen and the liturgies with Father Dennis Teles, pastor from 1984 to 2009, as well as the efforts of her fellow religious, Sister Karen, “to go fishing for souls, like St. Paul.”

      Cantor Marisa Valdez, of Crown Point, became a parishioner at Ss. Peter and Paul in 1999, after “helping out here every couple of weeks. I actually belonged to St. Andrew, but the people here were so welcoming and friendly that I found myself attending Mass here even when I wasn’t singing, so I moved here.”

      Her mother, Maria Valdez, also made the switch. “The people were so gracious to me when I came to hear Marisa sing that I joined the parish, too.”

      Jay Ramirez, of Valparaiso, sang in the choir for the final Mass. “I was a close friend of Father (James) Meade, and I started attending Ss. Peter and Paul when he became pastor about four years ago,” Ramirez said. “Then I sang as cantor at Father Meade’s funeral last year, and I’ve kept coming back. The music director (Mike Cienski) is very kind and supportive, and I hope he continues serving in the music ministry.”

      Pete Giannini, who went from altar boy to usher at Ss.. Peter and Paul, has fond memories of his student days in the “old school building, three stories high, replaced in 1957. We had all nuns as teachers, and I guess my favorite was Sister Isabella, my first-grade teacher. She was kind and understanding.”

      Tom Pruzin, a member of the parish for 58 years, was married at Ss. Peter and Paul, had all three of his children baptized there, and buried his parents and his wife from the parish. As a student, he recalls having as many as 54 pupils in his class. “Despite 54 students, Sister Justin could leave the room for two hours and no one left their seat. She commanded respect, and we all learned. We had good nuns and good priests.”

      Serving as lector for the final Mass was Linda Lorandos, who attended Ss. Peter and Paul School in the 1950s, lived in the Bahamas for 38 years and returned as a parishioner in 2009. “It felt like home,” she said. “I remember we were taught in seventh grade to sing the Latin Mass, and during the summer I walked to church to sing at the 7 a.m. daily Mass. There were few houses, and across the street was a dairy farm, and it was a very peaceful and prayerful time.”

      Sacristan Janet Petrites was one of the parishioners Sister Karen first recruited as a lector, and remembers when the parish supported three daily Masses. “In more than 40 years, I’ve filled in wherever necessary,” she said. “It may seem odd, but I’ve loved being here for funerals, to welcome families and comfort them. It’s been a joy to serve the Lord.”

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