The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 2, Page 11.


Large Catholic Congregations And Splendid Edifices Attest To Pioneering of Missionaries

Ernest Roman Catholic missionary priests challenged religious attention in Porter county as early as 1845, locating among the pioneers. There were a few Catholics living in the vicinity of Valparaiso in the decade from 1840 to 1850, and there is a story to the effect that the First Holy Sacrifice of Mass was offered in the vicinity of Valparaiso about two miles northwest of Valparaiso, on the old P. T. Clifford farm, by Father Strenka, though history does not record his name.

For several years Catholics living in Valparaiso were occasionally attended by the priests of the society of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Ind. Among some of these early missionaries were Father Kilroy, Father Curley, Father Cointet, Father Paul Gillen, familiarly known as Father Paul. It was through his efforts that St. Paul's church was commenced, though he left before it was completed, and for a time no efforts were made to finish the building or to hold regular services.

The "groves were God's first temples," and they, too, served for the first Catholic church near Valparaiso. The first class of children prepared for Holy Communion was instructed by Father Paul under the large oak trees then standing in what is now Emmettsburg. It was Father Gillen who gave the local church its name, St. Paul's, after Paul the Apostle.

When the State of Indiana was divided by cutting off the diocese of Fort Wayne from that of Vincennes, Valparaiso naturally fell into the dioceses of Fort Wayne.

Immediately the newly appointed bishop of Fort Wayne, Right Rev. J. H. Luers, D. D., attempted to locate a resident pastor in Valparaiso. The Rev. Father Clarke, who remained here but a few days. After he came Rev. George Hamilton, who was one of the ablest priests in the diocese. He remained but a short time.

After that time, the church, speaking of the material edifice, did not exist. There were, however, a number of Catholic families from different parts of the United States and Canada, who formed the nucleus from which the congregation grew. They were deeply interested in the spiritual development of the tiny settlement and endeared intense hardships in the pursuit of their religious beliefs. Among some of these residents of Valparaiso in the late fifties were the families of LeClaire, Foster, Dumas, O'Donahue, Howe, McAuliffe, Stokes, Daly, Clifford and Bennett.

About that time the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago railroad was under construction, and many of the Catholics about Valparaiso belonged to that class that follows the work of such character, roving from place to place as public works or railroads were to be built. Such persons while true to their religious beliefs in a way, were not deeply interested in the establishment of churches.

A small number of Catholics, however, settled down in the county and purchased lands. In time they became able to support a resident pastor and Rev. John Force came to establish a parish. He was a man of rare literary ability, and an able preacher, and would have succeeded in his mission, but his death occurred soon after coming to Valparaiso. Next came Father Botti, a splendid scholar, but lacking in all those traits that made his predecessor popular. In a short time he became involved in controversies and law suits, until he was finally recalled by the bishop.

After Father Botti came Father Michael O'Reilly, fresh from college, after his ordination to the priesthood. The advent of Father O'Reilly in Valparaiso marked the beginning of the organized congregation of St. Paul's. When he arrived here he found the affairs of the Catholic church in the worst possible state -- the church, poor as it was, closed under an injunction; law suits pending on every hand; debts unlimited to be paid; a bitter division of sentiment amongst the members of the congregation; no pastoral residence; no school for the youth. In a word, nothing that could give the least encouragement toward the important work of organizing a congregation.

However, in the face of all these difficulties, he went to work. He walked through the deep snows of January, 1863, from house to house, and told the people as fast as he could find them, that he was here to be their resident priest, and that he was determined to stay. He rented "Hughart's Hall," now the upper story of Wilson's hardware store, for $2 per Sunday. Here he celebrated mass on an extemporized altar, preached and taught the few children he could gather together. For mass on week days he went from house to house as people who knew his wants might invite him. After a very unpleasant series of law suits, on Easter Sunday, 1863, he first secured the use of the old church.

Before this building was ever finished, it was allowed to run into partial decay. The first was to repair it, so that it could be used. As soon as the church was rendered habitable, the pastor at once opened a day of school in it. This was the beginning of St. Paul's school, which from that time to the present, were never closed one single day of the scholastic year.

As soon as Father O'Reilly saw the possibility of establishing a congregation, he quietly purchased an acre of ground, where he determined to erect all future buildings for the use of the congregation. In due time he erected St. Paul's school without any encouragement, as he received direct donations for that purpose only the sum of $35. The building cost at the time about $8,000, as it was built during the time of the War of the Rebellion, when gold carried it highest premium. The school was immediately opened with three teachers.

During this time, Father O'Reilly lived in different rented houses, with great inconveniences, often quite far from the church and schools. He now determined to erect a pastoral residence. This was done with much labor on his part, but with far more assistance from the congregation. To continue the schools with secular teachers, as a large number were required, was found to be very expensive, so he took steps to secure the services of a religious order of teachers who could not only serve the congregation at less expense, but also teach music, drawing, painting and all styles of needlework. To this end he secured the Sisters of Providence. But first he was obliged to provide a dwelling home for them. This was done with liberal assistance on the part of the congregation.

The sisters opened the school on the first Monday in September, 1872. As the school increased, further improvements were required. A music hall was soon erected. No school in Porter county has sent out a larger number of good teachers, for its number of pupils enrolled, than St. Paul's.

In 1880, Father O'Reilly started a movement for a new church building. Dividing his congregation into a number of divisions, Father O'Reilly appointed a certain number of young men to each of whom he gave a list of names. These young men were to call upon those whose names were given them and collect from each one twenty-five cents a month.

The cornerstone of the present church building was laid on Sunday, October 7, 1883, by Bishop Dwenger, of Fort Wayne, assisted by priests from Fort Wayne, Notre Dame, Warsaw, Plymouth and other places, some 8,000 or 10,000 people witnessing the ceremonies. On October 17, 1886, the church was dedicated by Bishop Dwenger. The building, a cathedral in size, is 153 feet long, with as transept of 95 feet, a 65 foot nave and spire nearly 200 feet in height. It is one of the largest churches in Indiana and cost $40,000.

Father O'Reilly lived less than a year after the church was finished. He died in 1887 at the age of fifty-four. He was sincerely mourned not only by his own people but by the entire community. His funeral was one of the largest ever held in this city. Today, after a lapse of forty years, his name is still a household work in St. Paul's parish.

Father O'Reilly was succeeded by Father John Dempsey, who was pastor until 1898. His successor was Rev. Louis A. Moench, who served until 1902, when he was succeeded by Rev. William S. Hogan. Father Hogan's health failed and in 1914, Father Edward J. Mungovan was appointed to take charge of St. Paul's.

During Father Mungovan's pastorate the parish made rapid progress, both spiritually and materially. An able business man, he cleared off the debt on the church and left the parish in a prosperous condition. He was transferred to All Saint's church in Hammond in January, 1929, and his place was filled by Rev. John A. Sullivan, former pastor at Gas City, and chaplain of the "Old Soldiers' Home" at Marion. Last year, Rev. Sullivan made repairs to the interior of the church building at a cost of $8,000.

The first Catholic church at Chesterton was erected in 1857. Rev. Father Kilroy organized the church. Much assistance was received from the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern railroad.

Father Kilroy was succeeded by Father Flynn, of the order of Holy Cross. He came to minister to the small congregation but a few times before the well known Father Paul Gillen took charge of the church. Then for some years Calumet church had no priest from Notre Dame. It was next supplied by Father Lawler, who then was resident Catholic clergyman of LaPorte, and came once a month to the church.

The church struggled along without a resident pastor until 1867, when a request was made to Right Rev. Bishop Leurs to send a priest into their midst. The request was granted. A house and lot was purchased where the present property stands. In 1868, Rev. John Flynn became resident priest and labored zealously at Chesterton and at Westville until August 1, 1870, when he was claimed by death. Father W. F. M. O'Rourke, who had come during Father Flynn's illness, now took charge of the work. He was noted for his eloquence and learning and many came to St. Patrick's church from a distance to hear his sermons. Father Timothy O'Sullivan, pastor of Maywood, Ill., and brother of P. O'Sullivan, of Valparaiso, then attended St. Patrick's congregation as a mission, and Calumet church was again without a resident pastor.

Father P. Konez was the next priest, and now the town became known as Chesterton. By this time the little frame church was too small, and as Father Konez was unable to speak English or German fluently, Rev. M. O'Reilly, of Valparaiso, came to Chesterton on several occasions to assist in raising money to build a brick church. This was begun by the congregation, but finished by Rev. John F. Lang. His health failing him, he was succeeded by Father Wardy, a Frenchman by birth, and then at the advanced age of sixty-eight. He was not long able to discharge the arduous duties that devolved upon him, and on July 21, 1870, Rev. H. F. J. Kroll took charge. Under his pastorate a new church was built and six years later a parish house was added at a total cost of $16,000. The church has a parochial school in charge of four Franciscan Sisters of St. Kunegunda and has an attendance of 170 pupils. Rev. E. H. Eisenhardt is the present pastor.

St. Mary's Catholic church at Kouts is composed largely of Catholic farmers in this prosperous agricultural section of Porter county. The present pastor is Rev. Augustyn Kondziela, who also has a mission at Wheatfield..

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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