St. Joseph Church
St. Joseph Church
5310 Hohman Avenue
Open for Mass and other services.
St Joseph Church, located in Hammond, Indiana, was founded by Father Francis X. Baumgartner in 1879. The first frame church measured 24 x 40 feet. After Father Baumgartner died in 1885, the Rev Henry Plaster was appointed pastor, and served the parish for 31 years. As the parish increased in size, a new two story brick church was built in 1889 measuring 50 x 100 feet. By 1910 the parish had grown to 350 families, and Father Plaster announced that a new church would be built in a Romanesque style that would seat 1,000, at a cost of $90,000. When the cornerstone was laid for the new church in June of 1912, a large ceremony was held with a parade of more than 2,000 people. The church formally opened on June 10, 1913.
After Father Plaster retired in 1916, Father John Berg was appointed Pastor. In 1919, Father Berg had 52 stained glass windows installed in the church that were designed by FX Zettler of Munich. Father Berg also had plans for adding frescoes to the church, but he had a serious illness, was bedridden twice and died in 1927. Father Francis J. Jansen was then appointed as the next pastor of St. Joseph which had 800 families at that time. The church was in need of a new school, nun’s convent, as well as frescoes. The sisters decided they would rather have a new school than a convent. Shortly after the school was built the depression occurred.
The growth of the steel mills and oil refineries in northwest Indiana in the 1900s increased the size of the population and parishioners, but when the depression hit, the many unemployed workers could not provide support to the church. The church was not able to pay off its debt and could not afford the fresco work at that time.
In November of 1942, John Mallin received a letter from Father Jansen asking him to come and see him regarding the decoration of the church. In 1943 the church finally had sufficient funds to have frescoes put in the church. Father Jansen wrote a detailed description to Mallin of what was to be included in the frescoes, which included a history of the parish and the industries in the area. To provide context for the Pastor’s request, it should be noted that Hammond is next to Gary in northwest Indiana, where steel mills were the predominant industry for most of the 20th century. At one time there were approximately 100,000 steel mill employees in the area.
The description Father Jansen wrote has no date. However, in June of 1934 Mallin received a copyright for a drawing of the arch above the altar of St Joseph Church. The copyright states, “The work of St. Joseph. Composite picture within semi circular arch. Central group at top: The Holy Family at work, four angels around them. Group of modern laborers at work with other men studying plans and model, below at left and right.” Father Jansen perhaps made a request to Mallin in 1934 to design the frescoes, but had to wait until 1943 before the church had sufficient funds to hire him. Father Jansen’s description of the murals was written after 1934, as it includes some changes to the 1934 design as described below.
An article in the Hammond Times newspaper in February of 1943 also included a description of the in progress frescoes above the altar. The article, entitled “Laborers in the Vineyard” states that Father Jansen wanted Mallin “to carry out the theme that there are no idlers in the kingdom.” In Pastor Jensen’s letter to Mallin, he mentioned that he wanted to show workers of all varieties, including steel workers as well as the artist himself. He states, “It would be nice to have steel workers painted as working the glow of the white hot metal of the furnace. Down below, Father Berg showing (instead of the church) the cartoons, or sketches of the stained glass windows of the church (he had them put in) to the present Bishop Jon T. Noll. Instead of the two clergymen with the Bishop, we might have a stained glass worker and an artist (yourself).”
The Hammond Times article states, “Another picture presents Bishop John F. Noll, Msgr. Edward Mongovan, chairman of the building committee of the diocese and Father John Berg, the third pastor, examining a model of the stained glass windows, depicting the life of Christ, which were installed by Father Berg.” The final mural, which was not yet complete at the time the newspaper article was written, includes the artist, John Mallin, wearing his distinctive bow tie, showing the cartoon, or sketch of the arch design to Bishop Noll.
The 1934 copyrighted Mallin drawing included angels around the Holy Family. However, describing the center arch picture of the Holy Family, Father Jansen states, “The angels around the Holy Family are out. There should be an open house, the front left out, in which they are working. Father Baumgartner’s head to represent St. Joseph. He was the first pastor.” The Hammond Times article further elaborates on the Holy Family scene. “At the highest point and in the most central position the Holy Family is shown engaged is useful occupations as told by sacred records which have it that Joseph was a carpenter, or a many like to term it, a home-builder. As nobody living knows what Joseph looked like, his face in the painting is that of Father Francis X. Baumgartner, the first pastor of the parish. St. Joseph is shown at work on his carpenter bench. The Holy Mother is spinning. With a hammer and chisel the Christ Child is shown putting a hole in a plank, assisting his foster father. (The picture is 16 x 11 feet and the figure of St. Joseph 6 feet 5 inches tall). Thus the Holy Family is presented as a model for workers.”
Father Jansen’s letter further describes his ideas for the left arch, “On the left side, (looking at the picture), Father Henry Plaster, the second pastor, and father Jensen, the present pastor, discussing plans. Father Jansen to have the purple cincture and also purple Pom-pom on biretta. The architect to have on an ordinary present day business suit.” The Hammond Times further elaborates, “To the left and a little below the Holy Family are shown a brick mason, a stone mason and structural iron workers and to the right and under the level of the main picture are scenes from the steel mills. Under a drawing of a building in course of construction appear Father Henry M. Plaster, who built the church, and Father Jansen, who built the parish school, discussing plans with an architect. To the credit of Father Plaster, who was shepherd of the flock for 33 years, it must be said, the building, dedicated in 1913, was so well constructed there is not a crack in the structure to this day.”
The construction perhaps also protected the church against three attempts to burn down the church in 1956, 1960, and 1971. The first attempt in 1956 may have prompted Father Jansen to ask Mallin to add additional decorations and restorations to the church in 1957. In a letter written to Father Jansen dated January 16, 1957, Mallin states, “There will be some new improvements made in the Sanctuary wall, color scheme and design. The wall will be laid in with genuine XX 23 carat gold leaf and worked out in a mosaic effect and symbols. All the mural paintings will appear like new after restoration and you will find all the decoration to come up to all your expectations.”
More than 17 years later, in 1974, the church was again in need of renovation and restoration. In the fall of 1974, the Indiana Decorating Company of Quincy, Illinois was hired to do the renovation. According to the 1979 St. Joseph Jubilee book, “much of the original fresco work was retained and redone.” It is not stated what specific restoration was done but the mural pictures today are identical to the mural photos portrayed in the Mallin brochure.
The color photos recently taken in the church are provided by Kathy Mallin and Noah Vaughn. The black and white photos are from the Mallin brochure, date unknown, either after the 1934 or 1957 decorations.
“Laborers in the Vineyard” Hammond Times Article, Feb. 18, 1943, p. 12.
Description of decorations from Father Jansen to John A Mallin (no date).
Letter from Father Jansen to John A Mallin Nov. 12, 1942, requesting Mallin to come visit him regarding the decoration of his church.
Letter from John A Mallin to Father Jansen Jan 16, 1957.
Copyright of mural decorations received by John Mallin from Library of Congress Copyright office. The copyright is dated June 30, 1934. Copyright mention included in the “Catalog of Copyright Entries 1934 Engravings, Prints, Etc, Fine Arts Series Vol 29 Pt 4 For the Year 1934.
Noll D.D., Most Rev. John F. The Diocese of Fort Wayne Fragments of History, Vol. II. 1941.
St Joseph Jubilee book 1879-1979. Copy provided by the Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest.