EAST CHICAGO "Kind of a holy pride" are the words the Rev. Alin Dogaru, parish administrator, used to describe the feelings of the children of the founders of St. Nicholas Romanian Catholic Church, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this weekend.
While Alin said the parish still has second and third generation members who hold on to their traditions, membership is nowhere near what it used to be when the church at 4309 Olcott Ave. was within walking distance for the many Romanians who lived in the neighborhood.
He said there were once about 200 families who belonged to the parish.
"Our community is shrinking, as most ethnic communities in the area," Dogaru said. "On the roster we have left about 32, 33 families. But most of them are already in retirement age, so it's very difficult for them to join us for regular services."
He said the church still holds much significance for the city, in part because it is the only Eastern Catholic Rite church left in East Chicago.
"East Chicago was incorporated only about 20 years before the church was founded here, so our community is almost the same age as the city," Dogaru said.
Lifelong East Chicago resident Marianne Pivovarnik was baptized at St. Nicholas in 1957.
She said her grandmother carried bricks to help build the church.
Her efforts recently resulted in the city issuing a proclamation in recognition of the church's anniversary and in the honorary naming of the corner of Olcott Avenue and 143rd St."Reverend George C. Muresan Drive."
Muresan was a lifelong resident of the city and served as pastor of the church from 1943 to 1994. He died in 1996.
One of the events scheduled for Saturday was the dedication of the church social hall in his memory.
"Everybody loved him and he was a pioneer for the Romanian Church in the United States, not just for this parish," Dogaru said. "His memory is still very active in our parishioners."
Pivovarnik marvels at all of the weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations and First Holy Communions that have taken place at the church over the years.
She recalls the large St. Nicholas Day dinners that were once held and when there were two liturgical services on Sunday instead of just one.
"It was a small church to start with and it's gotten even smaller," she said. "It's just nice to honor the generations that came before us."
The small, brick church might not be large in stature, but the interior is ornately decorated with, pillars, archways and religious images.
Documents containing a history of the church state that the cornerstone was blessed by the Rev. John Popp in 1913. Since the church was not completed until April 5, 1914, St. Nicholas parishioners attended services at St. Mary's Church at Indianapolis Boulevard and 144th Street until then.
Ted Zagar, 66, is another East Chicago resident who grew up in the parish.
"I think anytime something is still there 100 years after the fact, it's worth celebrating," he said.
Zagar remembers picnics held after Sunday services and how long it took when he was an altar boy to walk with the parish priest to bless all of the Romanian homes in the area during the first week of January.
"The numbers were so different from they are now that we had a touring dance troupe," Zagar said.
He said that as a teenager he went with the troupe to visit surrounding states and perform for other Romanian communities and parishes.
Bob Klitzman still attends St. Nicholas Church even though he now lives in Winamac.
"I was baptized here, so I've been a member for 65 years," Klitzman said.
He attended a liturgical service at the church on Saturday and afterward was proud to point out the bricks on one side of the church that contain names of founding members, one of which was his grandfather, Michael Nestor.
Klitzman reminisced about Easter egg hunts at the church and singing Christmas carols in Romanian.
"It's unfortunate that so many of the Romanians have moved away," Klitzman said.
He said the Eastern Rite liturgy and Romanian language make the church and its traditions unique, but that these things also can contribute to a small membership.
But Dogaru said the church's doors are open to other ethnic backgrounds, "if they are willing to see how our services are slightly different, but also very rich."
Dogaru said that as long as people keep coming to the church and consider themselves members, the effort will be made to keep it open despite small attendance.
"We don't know what God has in plan for us," he said. "It's for us to discover down the road."