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About St. John the Baptist Catholic School

 

 

The original church became a gymnasium once the new church was built, much to the dismay of the founders. It was still a place to congregate and bond with one another as a parish community.

 

During our early history, other buildings became too small. In 1915 the convent was moved to a larger building to accommodate the Sisters of Providence who were teaching and ministering to the children.   In 1921, Masses were said in both Slovak and English bringing the Slovak people full circle in their new homeland. To further the point,  Fr. Benedict Racjany continued to promote the development of the parish school -- established in 1903 -- eight classrooms and an auditorium.

 

St. John's Sisters of Providence pictured in the 1950's

 

St. John the Baptist Graduating Class-1926

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St. John the Baptist Graduating Class- 1927

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The story of the year in 1945 was the change of St. John leadership. Fr. John Kostik was appointed Superior of St. Charles Seminary, leaving the pastorship in the capable hands of Fr. John Lefko.  With Fr. Lefko’s appointment as pastor, plans began to take shape for the new parochial center and school. A different fundraising approach would need to be taken to finance the construction project, although collections hit $95,570.58 at the end of 1946.

 

 

St. John the Baptist's 1947

First Communion Class

 

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The first years of expansion found Fr. Lefko suited for the task of “construction manager.”  The plans were prepared so that the children would not miss a day of school during the construction of the “School of Tomorrow.” Construction of the center was under way in February of 1948 with the demolition of the old gym.

 

Construction continued throughout 1949. The newest event at St. John was the Kiddie Karnival - a circus party with everything but the elephants. Miss Lillian Jefchak guided the effort of fun and merriment for the children of the parish.

 

 

Finally the time had come. On March 5, 1950, at 1:30 p.m., the new parochial center and school were dedicated by Bishop Noll. Tours of the facility were offered to parishioners wanting to see the fruits of their labor. General contractor Roy Clark executed the plans of architect A.M. Strauss. The parish center was the school building alone; the complex would not be complete until the gymnasium and Marian Memorial Auditorium were added.

 

 

Father Lefko pictured here in a class photo from the very early '50s.  And kids don't like wearing uniforms today.  What if they had to pose for this photo! Click for a better view.

The structure included class rooms, the Sisters Convent in penthouse style above the school, the Sisters Chapel in the portion of the tower, the Panel Room/Cafeteria, Founder’s Room, Mural Room, nurse’s office, and principal’s office. It had a striking beauty--clean lines leading directly to the Cross of Christ. The design is symbolic, for there is no progress in education if it is detoured from God.

 

1951 was no different from years previous, except this time construction was being done by the men of the parish. The quaint and practical Quonset Gym was designed to “train the youth of the parish.” At the time a number of parish mechanics, carpenters, fitters, masons, and painters volunteered their services. Construction proceeded rapidly, due to the spirit of cooperation on the part of the volunteers.

 

On January 17, 1952, the structure which sat on the current church parking lot was complete. St. John’s parish needed to ensure the gym was “blessed,” especially for sports. The invitation said, “This afternoon, the ceremonies for the blessing of your gym will begin. No dignitaries or notables invited. It is intended to make this a homey affair.  The work was done by our own and now at its completion it will be our own.” Two big basketball games followed the event. This quonset gym was used until the permanent gymnasium was complete. The quonset gym was dismantled and sold.

 

In the basement of the church one could find young boys learning the proper use of tools and lathes in the Carpenter Shop. Woodworking projects, both useful and decorative, were completed under the watchful eyes of the men who had mastered the craft. Skills learned here from parish role models served them the rest of their lives.

 

Changing of the guard took place in 1953. Fr. Brenkus became pastor when Fr. Lefko was transferred after 15 years of dedicated and innovative years of service. Change in the rectory was not the only one to come: Vatican II, cannonization of Gaspar del Bufalo, the dedication of the grotto in the Marian Year 1954 and the construction of the new parochial center wing (with classrooms) in 1955--all occurred in the early 1950’s.

 

Ground was broken on March 28, 1955, for the new Marian Memorial Auditorium and gymnasium. Sculptures of Mary and St. John by Mr. & Mrs. Pedro Teran were added to enhance the stone appearance of the parochial center. The Marian Memorial Auditorium is named as evidence of love of St. John parish for the Virgin Mary.

 

Fr. Brenkus with a nearly 50's graduating class

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 School Alter Servers from 1961

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The dream project was completed and dedicated on the 25th anniversary of the new church building dedication, November 11, 1956. With a seating capacity of 640, the auditorium was designed to give the best modern audio-visual educational advantages to the children. The planning of the auditorium also included the activities of the Marian Theatre Guild (MTG). The group at the time was more than 30 years old, producing high quality entertainment. A stage with modern lighting facilities aided in the development of not only the MTG, but the school and parish community as a whole.

 

Ever anxious for permanent athletic facilities, the wing addition included the gymnasium. This addition provided children with means for a well-rounded physical education program including locker rooms, showers, concession stands, and a standard-size playing floor. The swish of the net and the roar of the crowd echoed from the rafters of the new gymnasium--healthy minds and healthy bodies!


On July 7, 1967, the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Bishop Andrew Grutka blessed and dedicated the new rectory in a simple ceremony. The entire St. John complex as we know it today was finally complete, seventy years after the birth of St. John parish. To further involve lay people in the education of the children, Fr. Edward Homco established the School Board.

 

 

 

 

Bishop Grutka performing the rite of confirmation to one of St. John's eighth graders back in the '70s.  Fr. Homco is just to his left.

 

 

 

The 1970’s proved to be a decade of change in the parish. Women of the parish were invited to be lectors and the Eucharist could be accepted by hand or mouth. Sr. Dorothy Deal left St. John School and Thomas Puplava was named principal--all in 1973!

 

Quick fact: Tuition in 1979 was $200 for the first child, $250 for two or more children and $400 for each non-parishioner child. In 1997-1998, the tuition has risen to $1,200.

 

Pictured at left, the 75th anniversary celebration of 1972 in the Marian Memorial Auditorium.

 

Lent 1985 was special. Individual parishioners and families submitted patches with a cross design; each was sewn onto a background cloth to create a Lenten Banner. The banner was hung behind the high altar throughout Lent.

 

After 87 years of service to St. John parish and school, the Sisters of Providence no longer provided teaching sisters for our school. A farewell open house was held in their honor on May 18, 1986. Daughter of the parish, Sr. Ann Jerome (Strbjak) celebrated her golden jubilee that year. In 1989 The Home and School Association (HSA) introduced Market Day with good food for a good cause--all funds intended to support school and school activities.

 

The first year of the next decade arrived with the Catholic Services Appeal. Funds would be combined with the parish projects to replace the boiler, remove asbestos from school, repair the steeple, and tuckpoint the church.


 

In 1991 the major focus was on the prayers and services for Peace offered during Desert Storm/Gulf War. A Peace Tree in front of school bore doves with the names of the 60 men and women of the parish in service to their country.

 

Funding for the new doors to the front of the school building was donated by the Ladies Jednota. Five commissions were created by the Parish Council: Spirituality, Social Justice, Stewardship and Administration, Education, and Parish Life. The finance committee prepared and presented the first five-year plan to anticipate repair and replacement needs. The five year plan was put to use in 1994 as two sections of the school roof and garage were replaced.

 

The governor of Indiana honored Thomas Puplava with the Distinguished Hoosier Award for 20 years as principal of St.John.  Mr. Puplava went on to serve as principal for many more years, retiring in 2006 with over 30 years on the job.  He was honored by the St. John School when the library was renamed the Thomas Puplava Memorial Library.

 

 

Mr. Puplava in his first year, 1973.


Mr. Puplava still is actively involved in ensuring the students of St. John the Baptist have a bright future.  He is the driving force in securing BP's A+ for Energy grants which fund the Solarbration event.  In addition, Mr. Puplava serves as the chair of Forever Blue and Gold, St. John the Baptist's alumni organization.

 

Mr. Tom Feltz and Mr. Mark Topp have served as principals in the years following Mr. Puplava's retirement.  In 2010, St. John the Baptist Catholic School welcomed a new principal, Ms. Colleen Kennedy, joining St. John after a very successful tenure as principal at St. Edward in Lowell. 

 



 
 
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St. John the Baptist Catholic School, 1844 Lincoln Avenue, Whiting, IN 46394 | Phone: 219-659.3042