Centennial celebration in Lansing, Illinois
On Sunday, September 24, 2006 the New St. George Romanian Orthodox Parish in Lansing, Illinois celebrated 100 years since it was founded in Indiana Harbor, Indiana, being one of the oldest parishes in our Archdiocese.
The date of the founding of the parish is March 11, 1906 when the first liturgical service was officiated by Fr. Moise Balea of Cleveland, Ohio. After the service and the moving sermon of Fr. Balea, those present decided unanimously that a church should be built for the growing Romanian community of Northwest Indiana. The people present pledged the sum of $1,000.00 for the Building Fund and four members were delegated to collect the money.
Forming the first Church Council were: Fr. Moise Balea, President; Ioan Petri, Vice-President; George Gherman, I. Epitrop; Nicolae Rociu, II Epitrop; Mihaila Blidariu, I Secretary; George Capata, II Secretary; Members of the Committee: Ilie Varga, Zaharie Branduse, Istachie Suncu, Zosim Bertertea, Nicolae Ivan, Ioan Moldovan, Isidor Moga, Zaharie Flesher, Sr., Martin Bechesiu. These were the men who helped set the foundation for the St. George Romanian Orthodox Church in Indiana Harbor, Indiana.
Records show that to raise additional money, Council members went from house to house to collect from the Romanians.
The first Easter services were held on April 13, 1906 in Schrieber's Hall at 135th and Deodar Street. Pasti were brought from Cleveland and each family was taxed $.25 for the Pasti.
The Council voted to buy four lots on Beech (Pulaski) Street in Indiana Harbor for $1,000.00. Many dances and social gatherings were held to raise money. Records show that the first one had a total income of $65.10 and after expenses, a net profit of $27.75! The dance was held on May 5, 1906, starting at 8:00 P.M. and ended the next morning at 5:00 A.M.!
Money being the prime requisite, collections were made from many areas: Illinois-Chicago, Aurora, Hegwisch, Madison; Missouri-St. Louis and Ilasco; Ohio-Canton, Willard, Massillon; Indiana-Hammond, Gary, Fort Wayne, Garrett, Terre Haute, Muncie, and Vincennes.
Rev. Fr. Ioan Tatu was the first parish priest and he worked many hours with the Council to see the finalizing of the building. The cornerstone was laid on November 4, 1906. The church was completed at a cost of about $2,200.00 and dedicated on November 23, 1908.
On June 20, 1908, Rev. Fr. Simion Mihaltian was installed as parish priest with the magnificent salary of $60.00 per month and paid rental for a home of $15.00 per month!
In 1911, the church was damaged by fire. It was repaired and the thought was given to construct a hall on the remaining lots, and, also, a residence for the priest. But, on July 25, 1914, the church was struck by lightning and burned beyond repair. After many meetings and many opinions, it was voted to purchase two lots on Elm Street for $1,000.00. After bids were let, Frank Callahan was contracted to build the new church at a cost of $7,800.00. It was designed by Fr. Simion Mihaltian after the Cathedral in Sibiu, Romania. The church was completed on November 15, 1914 and dedicated November 22, 1914 by the following clergymen: V. Rev. Fr. Simion Mihaltian, the parish priest, Fr. Romul Doctor from Gary, Indiana, Fr. Cornel Foltutiu from Chicago, Illinois, Fr. Ilie Pop from Youngstown, Ohio, and Fr. Octavian Muresan from Indianapolis, Indiana. The church was also consecreted by Bishop Policarp Morusca in 1936.
In the intervening years, a small hall was made in the basement under the altar area. A school was started so the children of the parish could be taught religion and the Romanian language. Many, many donations were made for the necessary things needed in a church. The large bell was donated by the people from Sighisoara who had come from Romania to make their homes here in Indiana harbor.
Father Mihaltian was the continuing priest for 55 years, the longest any priest had ever stayed in any parish. He passed away on December 31, 1963 at the Gary train station on his way to hold services in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was, indeed, a pillar of the church in this country and a pioneer in all of the great undertakings of the last half century. During World War I, he was head of a group to help Romania when it was passing through its hour of trial, collecting monies to send fifty-two cases of medical supplies and over $5,500.00 for the relief of the people of Romania. He was the Vicar of our Diocese during the turbulent years after Bishop Policarp went to Romania when the Romanian Orthodox in the United States and Canada were divided in two separate dioceses, a split that continues to this day despite all the attempts to reconcile and reunite.
After Father Mihaltian's death, the Council was fortunate in having Father John Bugariu to take up the reins of the church in January 1964. He was instrumental in getting the property next to the church to build a parish house and to enlarge the hall of the church to accommodate more people so that the church would not have to go out and hire a hall for its dinners and other events.
In the years 1973-1975, urban renewal decided that a recreation center was needed in the area of our church, and we were forced to look elsewhere for our church. After many months and appeals to many communities to see about building a church (Munster, Griffith, Dyer, Merrillville, St. John, Schererville, Hessville, Hammond, and Lansing) the present property at 17601 Wentworth Ave., in Lansing, Illinois, was purchased.
The members, again, were confronted with the fact that there had to be some remodeling of the church to conform to the statutes of the Orthodox religion. But, again, with the help of the parishioners, the work was done and, in 1976, the services began to be held in the new church after it was consecrated the same year on Sunday, October 31, by Archbishop Victorin Ursache, assisted by Bishop Mark Lipa of the Albanian Diocese, Bishop Andrei of the Ukranian Diocese and a good number of visiting priests.
Father John Bugariu, who was also the Vicar of our Archdiocese, retired to Florida in the fall of 1979.
Again, the church was to look for a new parish priest. At the general meeting of the church held on Sunday, October 28, 1979, Father Ioan Ionita was elected as the new parish priest. Father Ioan Ionita served as Cantor between 1977-1978 while he was studying for his Master's Degree in Theology in Chicago. On May 21, 1978 he was ordained in our church as a deacon and then, on September 24 of the same year as a priest. In December of 1978, he was appointed Parish Priest for St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he served until November 4, 1979, when he came back to our church. Thus, during 100 years of St. George Parish's existence, Fr. Ionita is the 4th and present parish priest, faithfully serving the parish and the Archdiocese for the past 27 years, being appointed in 2003 by Archbishop Nicolae Condrea as the Archdiocesan Vicar.
The Parish Council with William Jackson as its president works very closely with Fr. Ionita for the good administration and welfare of the parish. The "Carmen Sylva" Ladies Auxiliary with Irene Opinker as its president continues to function in helping with all of the church activities as does the Sunday School.
Throughout the years, our parish has supported the Archdiocese, being present at all the congresses and major events. We hosted the Archdiocesan Congress in 1981 and 2003. Our parish was also a major contributor towards the purchase and support of the new Archdiocesan Center in Chicago.
One cannot comprise 100 years of existence of the Church in a few pages because the history of a parish is also the history of its members. Everyone contributed in one way or another to the growth of our Church and it would be impossible to mention them all by name. May God remember all of them in His Kingdom! Their work is continued by their descendents thus keeping their faith and passing it on to future generations. When we look back in the past we learn from it, are aware of the present with all its challenges and confidently look to the future. With faith, hope and love together with the dedication of God's servants, clergy and laity, the parish – as part of the Archdiocese and, thus, of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – will continue to be alive and flourishing, providing religious and spiritual assistance as well as the necessary means for the salvation of those who seek it. In keeping and following the teaching of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ as it is preserved and expressed in the Holy Scripture and the Holy Tradition, we are and shall remain in communion with all Orthodox faithful from the past, present and future generations, the 100th anniversary being but a brief pause and a suitable occasion for celebration, remembrance and reflection on our path towards the eternal Kingdom of the Holy Trinity.
The centennial celebration began Saturday, September 23 with the Vespers service officiated by his Grace Ioan Casian of Vicina, Vicar Bishop of our Archdiocese, assisted by the visiting clergy in the presence of His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae. His Grace offered an inspiring sermon. A reception followed in the social hall for everyone present.
On Sunday morning the service of Matins began at 9:00 a.m. sung by a group of young theologians from Chicago. At 9:30 a.m. His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae and His Grace Vicar Bishop Ioan Casian of Vicina arrived at the church and after they vested, the Holy Liturgy began at 10:00 a.m. The following priests were present: Very Rev. Fr. Ioan Ioniţă, parish priest, Very Rev. Fr. Protopop Ion Gherman from Cleveland, Ohio, Very Rev. Fr. Protopop George Chişcă from Montreal, Canada, Very Rev. Fr. Laurence Lazar from Southfield, Michigan, Rev. Fr. Vasile Deac from Chicago, Rev. Fr. Vasile Susan from Chicago, Rev. Fr. Adrian Fetea from Merrillville, Indiana, Deacons Marius Necşi and Ioan Sturzu. The responses to the Liturgy were given by the choir from the Descent of the Holy Ghost Parish in Merrillville, Indiana, conducted by George Ross.
At the end of the liturgy His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae preached about the message of that Sunday's gospel reading with emphasis on the mission we have in the contemporary society. His Eminence then offered a beautiful icon of St. George as a gift to the parish on this centennial anniversary and a commem-orative plaque, both accepted by William Jackson, the President of the Parish Council. His Eminence also offered Fr. Ionita a commemorative plaque and a beautiful set of vestments, the day of the 100th anniversary coinciding with the day of his ordination into the holy priesthood. Fr. Ionita welcomed all the guests and thanked the hierarchs, the priests and all the faithful for their presence, inviting all of them to the anniversary banquet at Wicker Park Social Center in Highland, Indiana.
Over 360 people attended the banquet. Other special guests present were Mr. George Predescu, the General Consul of Romania in Chicago, and Mr. Octavian Cojan, the president of the Romanian-American Society of Illinois, with his wife Stela Cojan. William Jackson, the President of the Parish Council, was the first one to speak, comparing 1906 with 2006, thus showing the progress made during the last 100 years. He then introduced Laura Jovanovich, who was the chairperson of the Anniversary Committee, as the MC for this event. She started by welcoming everyone in Romanian and English and then she introduced the guests seated at the head table. After a brief and beautiful musical program offered by Roxana Iacob and Florian Boariu, Laura introduced the speakers in the following order: Dr. Mary Leuca, Irene Opinker, the President of Carmen Sylva Ladies Society, Mr. Octavian Cojan, Very Rev. Fr. Laurence Lazar, Very Rev. Fr. Protopop George Chişcă, Very Rev. Fr. Protopop Ion Gherman, Mr. George Predescu and Very Rev. Fr. Ioan Ioniţă.
In his moving speech, Fr. Ioniţă expressed his gratitude to the Anniversary Committee, the Parish Council, the Ladies Auxiliary and everyone involved in the planning and preparation of this event, as well as to the hierarchs, priests and everyone who came to participate in the joy of this centennial celebration. He then spoke of his service as parish priest of the New St. George Church in Lansing for the last 27 years by showing the link between the five generations of parishioners he was blessed to know and to serve. After thanking his family for their support and love, he concluded with the following words: "We know the past of our parish from its written and oral history; we know the present and strive to make good use of the time given to us. What the future holds, we do not know. I know, however, one thing: if we stay committed to the faith and to the Church, if we follow the commandments of the Lord and walk in His footsteps, at the end we will have been good and faithful servants and will have accomplished our mission, awaiting to receive and be accepted into the Master's joy."
His Grace Vicar Bishop Ioan Casian of Vicina and His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae concluded the speeches by offering words of congratulations and advice for the parishioners of the New St. George Parish as we enter the second century of mission and service.
All the guests attending the banquet received a copy of the anniversary Album, a copy of the Congressional Record recognizing this 100th anniversary and a magnet with the icon of St. George arranged by John Vintila in such a way as to show the years 1906 – 2006 and the three church buildings used for worship throughout the past century. John Vintila also designed and made the beautiful Orthodox cross in front of the church especially for this event.
After the closing prayer, the music provided by John and Bruce Arama continued until the evening when everyone, from near and far, returned home joyful and thankful to God for such a wonderful and successful celebration.
Mary Young and Fr. Ioan Ioniţă