Art tour initiative celebrates “embrace” of church beauty

art tour 4 

St. Joseph parishioner John Latko, Jr. takes a closer look at the St. Cecilia rose window during a volunteer-led art tour at the historic downtown Hammond church on Feb. 17. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


by Anthony D. Alonzo

Northwest Indiana Catholic


        HAMMOND – Catholic culture is alive in Hammond, specifically in the city’s downtown. A new initiative to tell the history and share the beauty of the 1912 Romanesque Revival-style St. Joseph church is drawing interest from longtime neighbors and first-time visitors.

        What parishioners and volunteers hope to be a regular Sunday feature, a guided art tour has been sandwiched between the 10 a.m. Mass in the Ordinary Form (English) and the sacred liturgy in the Extraordinary Form (Latin) at noon for several weeks. Called “Labor in Faith,” the program has highlighted the tangible reminders of what generations of faithful have gifted to today’s parishioners.

        “This church is big enough to feel awe-inspiring when you walk in – that’s how I feel – but it’s not so large that it feels cavernous,” said art tour coordinator and Calumet College of St. Joseph theology professor Joan Crist. A dozen people gathered in the right transept of St. Joseph on Feb. 17. Unlike most Mass attendees who had exited the building after the liturgy, residents of East Chicago, Hammond and Munster stayed for the history tour.

        Crist quickly began to build the story of the church structure from its antecedents, to the features that make it one of the area’s most distinctive and well-preserved worship spaces.

        “According to parish history, this was the first church in Hammond, and it was the largest dome in the Chicagoland area unsupported by pillars when it was built,” Crist explained. “We kept the original bells from the 1879 (wooden church).”

        The tour guide directed the visitors’ attention to the “intentionally modern” 1940s fresco above the apse of the sanctuary, which depicts the labors of constructing the church to the backdrop of the region’s gritty industrial landscape. Bishop John Francis Noll (1875-1956) is depicted in the scene viewing a rendering of the church plans.

        Tour-goers learned the altar was created from four kinds of Italian marble and completed in 1914. But some guests continued to crane their necks to view St. Joseph’s 52 stained glass windows.

        From Marian themes, to the Holy Trinity, to scenes of Jesus’ life and ministry, Crist said she could only point out a few details of the large rectangular windows on the walls of the nave and in a rose stained glass on the east side.

        The parish is celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the commissioning of their “priceless” collection of stained glass, which was created in Munich, Germany.

        Crist said she wishes to share the beauty of St. Joseph’s church building, while giving a nod to various ministries in the church that have contributed to the downtown Hammond neighborhood. She explained that the parish has been a warm and inviting place where she and her husband have raised two boys and a girl to adulthood. 

        The tour wrapped up in the choir loft that features a rose window of St. Cecilia, patron of musicians. Parishioner Lindy Hernandez provided a reflection on the glass, describing the instruments and flowers that speak to the saint’s lore. She credited the beneficence of the Young Ladies Sodality, the then-sponsors of the window’s commission.

        St. Joseph church has been a bedrock in the downtown Hammond business corridor, which once boasted ornate theaters such as the Paramount, men’s clothiers such as Jack Fox and Sons, and discount retailers like S.S. Kresge. Most businesses that drew large crowds are gone, though nearby Franciscan Health has expanded and medical and legal offices, a federal courthouse, a grocery store, and a few restaurants dot the corridor.  

        Parishioners who believe the strong economy could translate into a revitalization of downtown Hammond said the words painted in gold leaf on the apse of the sanctuary, “God with us,” give them optimism and a sense of place in the church.

        Others have expressed their affinity for the worship environment of St. Joseph: the traditional design and countless Scriptural lessons told in frescos and stained glass create a sacred “embrace” and “homey” environment.

        “Religiosity may be changing, but there is something in the human heart always seeking, and St. Joseph is different from more modern church structures – with the stained glass windows and other things,” parishioner and lector Joseph Dou said. “St. Joseph (has) a deeper structure that touches the human heart and the existential needs of the spirit.”

        The parish will begin a novena to St. Joseph, Protector of the Church, in the church on March 10 after 9 a.m. Mass, then weekdays at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday after 4:30 p.m. Mass.          

        For more information about the St. Joseph art tours, email Joan Crist at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


St. Joseph art tour 2

Leading an art tour of St. Joseph, Dr. Joan Crist (second from left), theology instructor at Calumet College of St. Joseph, speaks with visitors at the Hammond church on Feb. 17. Crist coordinates the "Labor in Faith" weekly guided tour initiative at the circa 1912 church to highlight the features of the National Register of Historic Places building. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


St. Joe art tour 3

Leading a reflection, parishioner Lindy Hernandez (top, center), tells visitors about the St. Cecilia rose window during an art tour at St. Joseph in downtown Hammond on Feb. 17. Calumet College of St. Joseph theology professor Joan Crist coordinates the "Labor in Faith" weekly guided tour initiative at the circa 1912 church to highlight the features of the National Register of Historic Places building. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


St. Joseph sanctuary

Pictured is the sanctuary of the circa 1912-1919 historic St. Joseph Church in downtwon Hammond. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


St. Joe art tour final

The first station is represented in statuary at St. Joseph in Hammond. "After hearing the riotous crowd, Pontius Pilate condemns Jesus to die by crucifixion and washes his hands of the matter. . .What is truth?" Pilate asked Jesus." from the Gospel of St. John (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)