Melczek Looks Back on Two Decades at Gary Diocese
By: Hilary Powell
December 12, 2014—“All good things are gifts from God,” Gary Diocese Bishop Emeritus Dale Melczek says.
To hear it from him, good things come to those who don’t wait but just go.
For someone with a 23-year long career, the Detroit native had a short introduction to the region.
“I received a call on august 19th, that morning, from the apostolic nuncio that is the pope’s representative,” he says. “So I said, ‘when shall I go?’ And he said, I think you should go today. And, so I threw some things into the car and drove here. And so I’ve had 23 wonderful years.”
More than two decades spent praying, shepherding, and serving the people of Northwest Indiana, like he did at recent at a mass for St. Margaret Mary Church in Hammond, Ind.
When he turned in his retirement request last fall at the age of 75 — the age limit to serve according to church law—in order to welcome Gary’s fourth bishop, Donald J. Hying, Melczek continued a theme central to his life— letting go, and letting God.
“We really experience the peace and strength and love of the Lord when we do what Jesus did and that’s surrender,” he says. “I’m sure Bishop Hying and myself, you know, we seek to surrender to whatever God’s will is for us. And that enables us to experience any challenge we might be given with an inner-serenity and peace and really sense of joy. I would suspect Bishop Hying feels pretty much like I did back in 1992.”
He speaks fondly of 1992, the year Pope John Paul II appointed him to serve in Gary and even of the time he met the Holy Father during a papal visit to Detroit in 1987. Melczek was tapped to organize the event.
“He’s a very profound prayer and thinker,” he says. “He has people right in the palm of his hands, listening to him. He really ingratiates people to him.”
Of his own years at the diocese, he says he prays every morning and evening because to be close to the people, he says he must first be close to his creator.
“Jesus is the source of our hope, and peace and tranquility and inner serenity, even as we experience suffering in our lives and in our communities,” the religious leader says.
During his career he says he’s focused on seeing the concerns of his congregation as opportunities, not obstacles.
“While we have many advantages here in Northwest Indiana, we have poverty, we have violence, we have many children born out of wedlock, we have dope, we have racism,” he says.
Some of the work he’s most proud of he says includes pastoral papers he wrote celebrating the region’s diversity and parish-based discussions confronting racism.
“We have a beautiful diocese here in Northwest Indiana and part of the beauty is the cultural diversity,” he says. “My role I think is to challenge the people to not go the way of the culture, but to be rooted in the lord, and to address the ills of society. We spent three years, I wrote two pastoral letters on racism back in 2002, 2003 and we spent three years as a diocese focusing on racism, helping our people to recognize that every person is created in the image and likeness of God.”
He says he was called to lead others after 8th grade. He joined the seminary at age 12 and was ordained to the priesthood in the sixties. He says celebrating mass is a favorite duty.
At the service for the members of St. Margaret Mary Church in Hammond, parishioners stood to their feet for one they’ve knelt with for years.
“I’m so sad that he’s leaving, he’s been such a good bishop,” says church member Alma Perez. “We’re just going to miss him. It seems like yesterday. He’s been in all of our religious ceremonies and it’s just so sad to hear he’s leaving.”
And if you think he’s sad to move on, there’s that carefree creed once more, putting his faith in the unforeseen.
“When there’s change in leadership at the diocese or parish, it helps us reflect that yes this is, the church is Jesus’ church,” he says. “Because I want to surrender to God’s will my plan is not to have a plan.”