Parishioners Recall Gary Bishop Emeritus Dale Melczek’s Life of Church Service, Parish – Chicago Tribune
The Catholic faithful gathered Sunday to bid farewell to Bishop Emeritus Dale J. Melczek, third bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gary.
Melczek’s body, in a modest wooden coffin, was escorted by the Knights of Columbus Holy Sepulcher Honor Guard to the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary. Most Reverend Bishop Robert J. McClory received the body at the cathedral for the rite of reception and sprinkled the coffin with holy water, symbolizing baptism.
Melczek, 83, died in hospice early Thursday morning after suffering an irreparable stroke over the weekend. He dies just six days after celebrating his 30th anniversary in Diocese of Gary on Aug. 19, the diocese said. Melzcek was bishop from 1992 until his retirement in 2015. He was then called to be a pastor at St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Gary.
McClory said it was fitting that Melczek would be sent home in the cathedral, which was named in honor of the saints and angels he restored as bishop. He said Melczek is with the saints and holy angels who gather in a cloud around believers to encourage and strengthen them.
McClory said Melczek lived a life of service and is an example of how giving of yourself for the benefit of others makes your life more fruitful.
“He was a tireless servant, a compassionate pastor, and a hopeful leader,” McLory said.
Priests carefully tended Melczek’s body, placing the bishop’s miter – a tall double-tailed hat – on his head so that he could be seen before mourners streamed by to pay their respects.
Jane Callies, from Chesterton, dabbed tears in her eyes throughout the ceremony. She and her husband Tom Wisch and their sons Gus, 14, and Jake, 12, met Melczek when he became a pastor at St. Mary of the Lake Church.
They became members of the congregation during the “Year of Opportunity” that began on Easter Sunday 2015, when Melczek and parishioners worked to save the church from a diocesan planned closure. Callies was baptized Catholic and Wisch had received the sacraments but was not practicing when they returned to church.
“He was just so welcoming and accepted,” Callies said.
The couple originally married in 2006 and were then remarried just before their 10th anniversary by Melczek in the church.
“Bishop Dale conducted the ceremony at St. Mary of the Lake,” she said. Melczek also confirmed her and baptized her two boys.
“He was just a sweet man. He was always willing to do anything to be friendly,” said Wisch.
Callies said she will miss his acceptance and involvement and hopes the next priest to take on the role of leading the congregation will have similar feelings.
“I’ll miss that. I hope that the person who comes in as the next parish minister will be as open and welcoming as the bishop,” Callies said.
Carole Barnes and her husband Rich, who live in the Miller area of Gary, said they missed Melczek. Carole Barnes is a member of St. Mary of the Lake while Rich is not Catholic. The couple work together to run the congregation’s pantry, a venture started by Melczek after he took over the church.
She said she caught up with Melczek just last week to talk about the pantry and her successful efforts to find someone to take over when she retires. Barnes said she was glad she was able to let Melczek know that something he was so passionate about would continue.
“He was just a wonderful man,” she said.
Melzcek was appointed bishop of the 50-year-old Diocese of Gary in June 1996, with Cardinal Edmund Szoka, Archbishop Emeritus of Detroit, presiding over Melczek’s inauguration. Pope John Paul II appointed Melczek Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit in 1982 and Cardinal Szoka ordained him Bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1983. Melczek was born in Detroit, the eldest of three children of Aloysius and Geraldine Melczek. In 1964 he was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
In 1992, after his predecessor Bishop Norbert F. Gaughan suffered a stroke, Pope John Paul II appointed Melczek as “apostolic administrator” for the Diocese of Gary before eventually taking over the full-time duties of Gaughan, who retired to St. Anthony’s home in Crown Point before his death at the age of 78 in October 1999.
Melczek is buried in Holy Angels Cathedral alongside the late Bishop Andrew G. Grutka, the first bishop of the Diocese of Gary.
The visit will continue on Monday from 8.30am to 9.45am at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels, followed by morning prayer. The Christian Funeral Mass begins at 10:30am in the Cathedral, followed by a light lunch. All liturgies are open to the public and will also be streamed live on the diocesan YouTube channel (dcgary.org).