In Hammond’s downtown, traditional Catholic culture and art is alive. An initiative to tell the history and share the beauty of the 1912 Romanesque Revival-style St. Joseph church is drawing interest from longtime Region residents and first-time visitors.
What parishioners and volunteers hope to be a regular Sunday feature, a guided art tour has been sandwiched between the 9 a.m. Mass in the Ordinary Form (English) and the sacred liturgy in the Extraordinary Form (Latin) at 11 a.m. 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. Recently a dozen people gathered in the right transept of St. Joseph church. Unlike most who came for Sunday worship and then exited the building after the Mass, residents of East Chicago, Hammond and Munster stayed for the history tour.
“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 that 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 Munich-made, 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.
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, patroness 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, clothiers and five-and-dime shops. Most businesses that drew large crowds are gone, though nearby Franciscan Health maintains portions of hospital facilities, and a federal courthouse, a grocery store, and a few restaurants dot the corridor.
Parishioners have concerns that public health issues and the ups and downs of the economy may curb the revitalization of downtown Hammond. But 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.
For more information about the St. Joseph church, call 219-932-0702.
Article written by Anthony D. Alonzo and appeared in NWI Catholic.