‘We loved our church’: Streator faithful bid emotional goodbye to St. Stephen
By Tom Dermody
STREATOR — The emotional final Mass at St. Stephen the King Church on Oct. 1 blended tears, memories, love, gratitude, and most especially, faith.
“We loved our church,” said Carole Hall as she sat in a side pew reminiscing with her cousin Mary Ann Melvin long after the 10:30 a.m. Mass had ended. Both have been lifelong members of the parishes that called the 116-year-old church at 711 E. Lundy St. home — first St. Stephen Parish and, for the past 13 years, St. Michael the Archangel Parish.
St. Stephen Church has been permanently closed for safety reasons because of a badly deteriorating and unrepairable foundation. All liturgical activities of St. Michael the Archangel Parish will now take place at St. Anthony of Padua Church, located just a few blocks to the west.
Hall, who worked for 25 years in the school cafeteria and would frequently help clean St. Stephen Church, pointed to the areas where she sat for First Communion, confirmation, and graduation Masses.
“There’s lots of history here,” agreed Melvin, tracing the family’s involvement back to the church’s construction in 1907 — an event witnessed by their grandfather, Michael Fialko, a former parish trustee.
“We got married here, baptized the kids, the whole deal,” said Melvin. “It’s really a sad day for me.”
THE GOOD REMAINS
Hall, Melvin, and the many others who dabbed tears during and after the final Mass took comfort in the homily message of Msgr. Philip Halfacre, pastor, who called the day “an historic occasion.” He said tears were an appropriate response when bidding farewell to the beloved “home of the parish family.”
“Some of you grew up here, as did your parents, and their parents before them,” noted Msgr. Halfacre. The pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish since 2011 recalled his own memories of St. Stephen Church — from attending 40 Hours devotions as a seminarian, to celebrating his silver jubilee as a priest, to offering Masses for his father and mother hours after each of them died.
Msgr. Halfacre said he knew both Msgr. George Dzuryo and Msgr. Peter Bolerasky, long-serving priests who guided St. Stephen Parish for much of the 20th century.
“Since 1907, God has been busily at work right here in this church of St. Stephen,” said Msgr. Halfacre of the brick edifice built by Slovak immigrants. He cited sacramental records showing that within its walls 12,000 people have been baptized, 8,100 received their First Communion, 5,242 were confirmed, and more than 1,400 couples were married.
“These are more than simply historical events,” the pastor continued. “They were moments of grace when God . . . drew human souls closer to himself.”
Msgr. Halfacre compared a church building to a family home. And he emphasized that the good accomplished in a home — be it a family or a church home — “remains a part of us” even after we must leave it for one reason or another.
GRATITUDE AND MEMORIES
Gratitude for the many blessings experienced at St. Stephen Church bracketed the Mass through hymns led by the parish choir, directed by Greg Tullis and accompanied by Don Cassady, organist. “We Give You Thanks” by David Haas was the prelude selection, while the final procession leaving the church was to a full-throated rendition of “Now Thank We All Our God.” When the last note was sounded, the assembly broke out in sustained applause both for the choir’s efforts and the rich history of the church.
Concelebrating the final Mass was Father Ignacio Cardenas, parochial vicar.
Dozens lingered after Mass, taking photos and sharing stories. Among them was Marcy Munks, who has belonged to three Streator parishes, including the former St. Anthony and Immaculate Conception faith communities.
“It really is a beautiful church,” she said of St. Stephen after photographing the sanctuary. “This is very sad. We didn’t expect (having to move).”
Regarding the art and furnishings within St. Stephen Church, Msgr. Halfacre told The Catholic Post that as much as possible will be kept or donated. Among the pieces sure to be relocated to St. Anthony Church will be a life-sized rendition of St. Michael the Archangel, the parish patron, that occupied a wall near the ambo.
He recalled words from the First Letter of St. Peter: “All flesh is grass.”
“We have here no lasting home,” said Msgr. Halfacre, “but we seek that which is above.”
What happens next?
“We will gather together, as we do every day, though we will not be here,” he concluded in his homily. “We will be down the street.
“We will gather at the altar of the Lord, to be fed with his word and with his Body and Blood. We will go on trying to live a holy life – you in your life, me in mine – until the day when Our Lord, please God, calls us to live in the home that lasts forever: our home in heaven.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the Oct. 1 Mass have been posted to The Catholic Post’s Facebook page.