Rev. Dale Melczek, our bishop for the Gary Catholic Diocese of Northwest Indiana, celebrated his 75th birthday Tuesday night with an invitation-only party at Innsbrook Country Club in Merrillville. (His actual birthday was Nov. 9).
It's another special milestone for Melczek, who also enjoyed a grand celebration in February 2008 at Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary with cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters and parishioners from around the Region honoring what was then, the 25th anniversary of his elevation to bishop.
Melczek was installed as bishop of the Gary Diocese in 1996, with Cardinal Edmund Szoka, archbishop emeritus of Detroit, presiding over Melczek's installation as bishop in 1983. Pope John Paul II had appointed Melczek auxiliary bishop of Detroit in 1982.
Melczek was born in Detroit, the oldest of three children to Aloysius and Geraldine Melczek. He was ordained a priest in the Detroit Archdiocese in 1964.
He took over as apostolic administrator for Gary in 1992, taking over full-time duties from Bishop Norbert F. Gaughan, who had a stroke and spent his latter years retired and living at St. Anthony Home in Crown Point before passing away at age 78 in October 1999.
Melczek was installed as the 50-year-old diocese's third bishop in June 1996.
A favorite interview I did for a cover story with Melczek in May 2000 featured the topic of "religious icons," the one-dimensional religious paintings revered in so many orthodox faiths and created with paints, wood, wax and resin.
Melczek said he displayed an icon in his office at the chancellery, and explained an Ethiopian icon was also a prominent adornment at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary.
"Icons are considered to be Eastern or Byzantine, but they have a place in Western dedications, too," Melczek told me.
"The icon I have in my office is of Christ and it was given to me as a gift when I was installed as bishop from all of my fellow classmates who were ordained priests with me in 1964. Icons are very inspirational to many."
Melczek said parish publications and literature disseminated in the diocese also have used reproduced images of icons on the cover because of the faith and devotion they represent.
"It's true they may not be as popular or predominant in religions other than Eastern Orthodox, but they do have a place."
During his time as our bishop, one of Melczek's projects included a renovation of the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary in time to welcome the millennium in 2000.
The Rev. Robert Gehring, who was pastor of Holy Angels Cathedral at the time, was one of the many so pleased with Melczek's commitment to preserving the architectural focal point for Northwest Indiana's Catholic faith.
Melczek described the $360,000 renovation to the interior of the cathedral as "both a sign of liturgical renewal and the Catholic church's commitment to renewal in the inner city."
"The people that live in Gary need to know that we do believe in this area," Gehring told me at the time, commending the Bishop.
"I know that this was a hard decision for the bishop, because there was also a push to move out to Highland or Munster. But we have a promise and commitment here."
The renovation included construction of a total immersion baptismal font, a new altar moved to the center of the assembly and a new lighting and sound system for the 60-plus year-old cathedral space, which seats 1,000 people and also contains a side altar alcove where the body of Bishop Andrew Grudtka is entombed.
"Because the cathedral is considered 'the bishop's own church,' a place where representatives of the entire diocese can gather for prayer on truly special occasions, it should be a model of the proper liturgical environment for all parishes," said Melczek, reminding that the last time the cathedral was renovated was in 1965.