GOSHEN — With trumpets resounding to accompany the choir and the Knights of Columbus in full regalia, St. John the Evangelist Church in Goshen began its official celebration with great fanfare. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated the anniversary Mass and as he began he said, “What a great day to celebrate the 175th anniversary — on the feast of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi!”
The church was full for the bi-lingual Mass with overflow seating in the parish center. Bishop Rhoades delivered his homily in both languages saying, “Today we celebrate with joy the great gift Jesus left us on the night before He died, the Most Holy Eucharist. And we celebrate with joy that the Holy Eucharist has been celebrated here in Goshen for the past 175 years.”
“Today we give thanks to God for all the faithful Catholics, priests, sisters and laity who built this parish and served here through the past 175 years. They have left you a beautiful legacy of faith, a legacy the Lord calls you to continue through your own lives of dedication to Christ and His Church,” he told the congregation. “And the greatest legacy is the one the Catholics of Goshen have always treasured from the beginning: their devotion and love for the gift of the Holy Eucharist.”
Bishop Rhoades said, “It is an amazing mystery of our faith that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross becomes present on the altar when we celebrate the Eucharist. Every time we come to Mass, Jesus shows us His love, a love to the end, a love which knows no measure. He gives us His Body broken for us and His Blood poured out for us.”
“In celebrating this 175th anniversary, I encourage your devotion to the Holy Eucharist at Mass and outside of Mass through your Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It is the Eucharist that makes us the Church — that makes us one Body in Christ. It’s the Eucharist that gives us the grace and strength to live our faith, to persevere in hope and to be a community of love,” he shared. “A parish that is devoted to Jesus in the Eucharist is strengthened to live as a community of the Eucharist, a community that goes out and brings Christ to others, shares with others the truth, beauty and joy of the Gospel.”
Bishop Rhoades continued, “A truly vibrant parish is a parish that evangelizes. And the Eucharist gives us the grace to evangelize. This parish of St. John’s grew because the faithful from the very beginning were devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. They made great sacrifices to build the churches. I pray that all of you, the present parishioners of St. John’s, will continue this beautiful history and build upon it. We need this strong Catholic presence in Goshen. The Church needs your courageous witness to the Gospel in our culture today. We need your commitment to evangelization and especially to passing on the faith to the young. And we need your witness of Christ’s love in service of the poor, the needy, the sick and the suffering of this community.”
“I pray that this anniversary year will be a time of grace for St. John Parish and an incentive for your ongoing renewal in Christ. May our Lord, present in the Holy Eucharist, always be your strength! May the Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament, continue to be praised, adored and loved here at St. John the Evangelist!” he concluded.
Bishop Rhoades then recommissioned all the Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist.
After Mass, approximately 250 parishioners and guests shared a meal and memories at the RV Hall of Fame Conference Center in Elkhart. Violinists played as guests viewed the displays of photos and historic artifacts. A slideshow of photos played during dinner.
Sister Coleen Bauer, a School Sister of Notre Dame, gave an interactive talk to “look at the past with gratitude, present with passion and embrace the future with hope” as she highlighted some of the events in the parish history book and asked the group to give the response when cued, “We give You thanks, Oh God.” At the end of the event Father Tony Steinacker, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, thanked everyone along with the bishop for appointing him to be St. John’s pastor nearly three years ago. He then called Vince Traxler, one of the oldest parishioners and the one who crafted over 150 “right to life” crosses, to present a gift to the bishop — a hand carved wooden key/cross to St. John’s Church. They also gave the bishop a history book.
Bishop Rhoades thanked them for the gifts and reminded the group of his words in the homily to pass on the faith and evangelize. “Even with the growth, you are still a minority in Goshen. Your challenge is don’t be afraid to go out and invite others to St. John’s,” he said.
Adan and Herlinda Zepeda came from Texas for the celebration and as Herlinda viewed the timeline and caught up with old friends, like Tena Jakubowicz, Herlinda said, “I miss St. John’s — I love Goshen.”
Jakubowicz shared why she wanted to attend. “I wanted to come and celebrate with this dynamic parish. We look back at those who’ve gone before us and appreciate their vision, sacrifice and hard work. Our congregation is made up of all ethnicities and ages coming together to love God and each other. I am honored to be a small part of the history of St. John’s and today was a day to celebrate and be thankful for all of God’s blessings in the past 175 years and ask for continued blessings for the future.”
Jamie Martin, who along with her husband Daniel joined the parish about two years ago said, “We came to show support for St. John’s and to honor many of the spiritual deeds the parish has accomplished throughout its existence. We enjoyed learning about the history of St. John’s and all the people who dedicated their time to build our parish into the beautiful place it is today.”
Leo Pineda, who was among the first Spanish speaking members of the parish back in the 1970’s, shared that the growth of the Spanish speaking community was exciting.
Darlene Leitz summed it up by saying, “There was a great representation of where our parish was 175 years ago by all of the photos and memorabilia present at the celebration as well as the remarks made about our parish’s prayer life and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us to a future full of hope.”
Celebrating the rich 175-year history of St. John the Evangelist
GOSHEN — St. John the Evangelist was made a mission of St. Augustine Church in Fort Wayne (now the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) in 1840. In the years between 1840-1860 Holy Cross Father Alex Granger and Holy Cross Father Edward Sorin, who both came from Notre Dame, and Father Henry Schaefer, who came from Avilla, served the new Goshen parish. They all celebrated Mass for all the area Catholics in the old courthouse as well as in private homes.
In 1860, Father Schaefer organized the congregation of 30 families scattered around Elkhart County. The first church was completed in 1861.
St. John School history
The first St. John the Evangelist School started in 1868, first under the tutelage of Father Dominic Duehmig, who opened the school in the church building by setting boards over the pews to use as desks. Father Henry Meissner came to St. John in 1868 and built the first school at a cost of $500. It was located on the corner of Third and Madison streets.
In 1881, Father Anthony Kroeger built the second school building — a one-story 30×40 brick building with two classrooms at a cost of $1,100 and the Sisters of Holy Cross came to teach the students. In 1907 there were 78 students in the school in grades 1-8.
The third school building was built on the site of the former school in 1922. Because of financial difficulties during and after the Great Depression, the school was closed in 1934 and remained closed until 1949.
In 1949 Father Herman Miller reopened the school and invited sisters from the School Sisters of Notre Dame order in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to teach. School Sister of Notre Dame Sister Coleen Bauer remains a religious presence at St. John’s and teaches second grade.
Construction of a new school addition took place in February 1964. A house on the property next to the school was razed and the one-story addition and basement were added along with a paved, fenced-in play area for the children.
According to the church history book parishioners were asked to contribute $2 over their regular weekly contribution and the new addition was built at the low cost of $10 a square foot. The new school opened in September of 1964.
At the parish’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1990, there were 100 students at St. John. The school year 1998-1999 was the last year for grades 6-8. Sixth grade was briefly re-instated from 2008-2010, but since that time, the school has pre-school through fifth grade.
Planning for school additions and a new parish center began in 1993 and was implemented in 1999 under the title “Project Faith 2000.”
Construction included adding three classrooms, a multi-purpose room, a small kitchenette and storage in the basement. The original two-story school was demolished, as renovations would be difficult and costly. The new addition, which included school and parish offices, a school library and computer lab, a pre-school room, teacher’s lounge and workroom, a commercial quality kitchen and parish center/school gymnasium, was connected to the 1964 wing. The school addition and parish center were dedicated Sept. 10, 2000, and the parish center was later re-dedicated as the Deacon Art Bleau Parish Center, which honored the parish’s beloved first deacon. There are currently 150 students in pre-school through fifth grade.
St. John helped to start many of the area Catholic Churches as mission churches, including St. Vincent de Paul, Elkhart in 1868.
From mid-1870s to 1897 St. John priests also served churches in Ligonier and Millersburg until permanent pastors were installed.
In 1941 Father Herman Miller started a mission church in Bristol, now St. Mary of the Annunciation.
In the late 1940s assistant pastor Father Ralph Hoffman organized St. Dominic in Bremen and became its first pastor.
Father Miller celebrated Mass in Nappanee in a trailer and then a community building in the 1940s.
In the 1990s St. John also became a “twin sister parish” to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Milford, until their new church was built in Warsaw and a permanent pastor installed in 2005.
After a difficult period in the early 1930s, a local business helped to bring life back to the church by the end of that decade when it transferred several families from Iowa — most of whom were Catholic. In the 1950s through the 1960s church leadership bought properties all around the church as they became available for sale.
A woman’s choir under the leadership of Rose “Rody” Weaver gained national attention in the late 1950s. By 1961 the St. John Singers recorded at least two albums. The “Little Singers” was a group of the choir’s daughters and the Big and Little Singers performed around the state and the region.
On Pentecost Sunday, May 17, 1970, the first Mass was celebrated in the new colonial style church. On June 23, 1970, demolition of the 110-year-old church began. A house across the street was razed for the construction of the new matching colonial design rectory. Two more lots were purchased in the mid 1970s behind and adjacent to the new rectory allowing for backyard space, a garage, and later, space for the grotto. The most recent property purchase was in 2008 on South Main Street. Two houses south of the church and the Hispanic Ministry Office and food pantry are located there.
In 1996 Father Edward Krason appointed a Hispanic Ministry Formation Committee to address the needs of the growing Hispanic population. With the assistance of Father Paul Bueter, Deacon Ricardo Medina and his wife Angie came to St. John’s in 1997 to initiate a Hispanic Ministry. When Father Constantino Rocha arrived from Mexico in 2000 Spanish Mass was celebrated daily, a catechesis program began and the Hispanic population of St. John was growing.
The Hispanic population has grown from 33 members in the early 1970s to half of the church’s membership today. In the fall of 2014 there were 1,200 registered families. The biggest challenge of church membership is uniting the two communities with the space limitations. Bi-lingual services, fellowship events and retreats are held to encourage unity.
“I pray that the 175th anniversary is a springboard to unite our parish and to grow in faith and understanding with our brothers and sisters in Christ,” Father Anthony Steinacker, pastor, said.
St. John the Evangelist today
There are many current members of St. John whose families attended in the very early days of the church. St. John Church is still a growing, thriving parish with 66 ministries for all ages.
Numerous small groups meet for Bible study, to share how Christ is working in their lives. Several service ministries assist parishioners and the parish. St. John has a vibrant youth group for middle and high school aged youth that meets weekly. The choir is also a strong entity in parish life.
Father Anthony Steinacker, expressing his feelings about this 175th anniversary occasion, said, “I am ever humbled to be able to lead this parish as we honor and recognize all those who’ve gone before us, who have shown us and shared with us our beautiful faith.”
“Like our Holy Father Pope Francis has shown us on countless occasions, we are to know, to love and to serve God and His people,” Father Steinacker added. “To me, that is what St. John’s is all about — to help one another to know and experience the love of God by what we say and do.”
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