Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana Archives

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Munster (originally in Hammond)

The earliest efforts to establish an Episcopal Church in Lake County began in 1859, when Bishop George Upfold sent the English-born Rev. Robert Trewartha there to minister to English immigrants who had settled in the area and worked in factories. The effort failed, however, and Trewartha moved on to other missionary fields by the end of 1860.

Decades passed, when a group of eight Episcopalians gathered in downtown Hammond in 1888 for a worship service led by the Rev. Thomas B. Kemp. The English-born missionary, who had been sent to Hammond to plant a church by Bishop David Buel Knickerbacker, stayed in town for several weeks, going door to door with his visitations and baptizing several children. The Rev. Robert C. Wall of Lima, Ohio, a native of Ireland, came to Hammond later in the summer and asked the fledgling congregation to raise $600 for renting a house for worship. Wall led services in the Royal League Hall for two years, and Bishop Knickerbacker arrived to confirm several on his visitation. Most of the members worked in local plants or factories, and the early rectors of the church remained supportive of the organized labor movement.

In 1890, the traditional founding date for the congregation in Hammond, the vestry purchased four lots on Rimbach Street for $1,100. Calling their new church St. Paul's, the vestry and its missionary, the Rev. Stephen Prentiss, contracted with Ketchel Brothers, a local contractor, to construct a modest frame building at a cost of $1,500, which Bishop Knickerbacker dedicated on 22 December of that year. During the years that followed the church grew modestly under a succession of different clergy, including the Rev. George Moore of Momence, Illinois, who also served Delphi and Valparaiso from his home parish. In 1899, under the Rev. Thomas G. McGonigle, St. Paul's applied for and received parish status under the new Diocese of Michigan City. According to a local history, the church in the early 1900s had about 250 members, and the property was worth $20,000. The Rev. Charles Albert Smith was an important early rector who led the repairs and renovations of the building and helped eliminate a debt of $2,100. He served concurrently at the Church of the Good Shepherd in East Chicago.

In 1922, the original church building was moved down Hohman Avenue to 6043 Detroit Street to become what its leaders hoped would be the new parish hall. The vestry engaged architect J. E. O. Pridmore to design a new church of stone and brick at a cost of $75,000. The new rector at that time, the Rev. Peter Langendorff, began a pledge drive, but the necessary funds were never raised. The congregation had enough to construct a basement for the proposed building, but the old church, after its move, served as the nave and chancel of the new one after some remodeling.

Over the years the old church fell into disrepair, and in 1938, again under Langendorff's leadership, the parish hired architect William S. Hutton to draft plans for a major renovation. A light brown brick veneer was added over the building's original wood frame and the main entrance was enlarged, all at a cost of $16,000. The following year, the parish added six new stained glass windows dedicated to saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and James. Once St. Paul's had paid off its debt for these renovations, Bishop Reginald Mallett consecrated the building on 12 March 1950.

The congregation grew in the 1960s under the leadership of the Rev. Eugene Orton Douglass, a talented priest who was much-beloved by the congregation and who remained rector until 1975. By the 1980s, however, changes in Hammond prompted an increasing number of parishioners to move south of town. Space in the old church remained tight, and the vestry  made plans for building a new church. Because of this population shift, St. Paul's leaders began a search for new property south of Hammond. Two parishioners, Marianne Kincaid and Cindy St. Leger, approached Helen Bieker of Munster to see if she would sell some of her acreage along Columbia and Park Drive. After initially declining the request, she changed her mind some months later and called to discuss the sale of two acres to St. Paul's. A new brick building was designed to incorporate many of the architectural elements of the Hammond building, while a modern educational and office wing, Bishop Talbot Hall, was included in the design. Parish leaders felt correctly that the move would attract unaffiliated churchgoers in the Munster area.

In May 1988, construction began on the new building at a cost of $750,000. The architectural firm hired for the job promoted a more modern design, which parish leaders rejected in favor of a more traditional design. With its Romanesque style and tumble brick veneer, the church appeared rough during construction, and the Rev. John Blakslee joked that the parish's name should be changed to "St. Ugly Duckling," but he predicted at its completion it would be called "St. Swan." A year later in September 1989 under Blakslee's leadership, the congregation moved into the handsome edifice at 1101 Park Drive, which Bishop Frank Gray dedicated in November that year. The diocese held its annual convention there in 1991. An addition was built and dedicated in 1996, providing three new classrooms and an adult day care center. After Blakslee moved to St. Stephen's, Hobart, St. Paul's joined other parishes in the Calumet area that had a difficult time attracting clergy. Through the efforts of Bishop Little, St. Paul's became a charter member of the Calumet Episcopal Ministry Project (CEMP) in 2010, agreeing to share clergy with other churches in the partnership.

Margaret C. Dust, People of the Place of Fire: St. Paul Episcopal Church, a Century of Progress, Hammond, Indiana (Merrillville, Indiana: Cornelius House, 1988).


Thomas Byron Kemp, 1888
Robert Carter Wall, 1888-1890
Stephen Elliott Prentiss, 1890
Thomas Dowell Phillipps, 1891
Henry Borradaile Collier, 1891-1892
Austen Francis Morgan, 1893
Thomas George McGonigle, 1894
Edward Saunders, 1894-1895
George Moore, 1897-1898
Josiah Otis Ward, 1898
Thomas George McGonigle, 1899-1900
Charles Albert Smith, 1900-1913
William John Hawthorne, 1913-1920
Peter Langendorff, 1921-1945
J. Willard Yoder, 1945-1948
William Karl Rehfeld, 1948-1954
Eugene Orton Douglass, 1954-1975
John Blakslee, 1975-1996
Steven Schuneman, 1997-2000
Bennett Jones, 2000-2010
Michael Dwyer, 2010-2018 (CEMP)
Michelle I. Walker, 2014-2020 (CEMP)
Kristine Graunke, 2015-2020 (CEMP)
Pamela Thiede, 2020- (CEMP)
Cynthia Moore, 2020-2021 (CEMP)
Charles Strietelmeier, 2023- (CEMP)

Adapted from St. Paul's website: http://www.calumetepiscopal.org/st-paul/about.php

Margaret C. Dust, People of the Place of Fire: St. Paul Episcopal Church, Hammond, Indiana, 1988 (Dyer, Indiana: Margaret Dust, 1988).

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