CROWN POINT | A church started by immigrants to Northwest Indiana from the Republic of Macedonia will celebrate its 50th anniversary this week.
Religious services, dances and feasts are among festivities planned for the celebration Thursday to Sunday, highlighted by a visit from the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude, Archbishop Stefan.
The original Sts. Peter and Paul Macedonian Orthodox Church was built starting in 1962 at 5100 Virginia St., Gary. It opened July 14, 1963, said Nick Nochevich, church member and anniversary celebration organizer.
The church won acclaim as the first Macedonian Orthodox church to be built in North America, and church officials from around the globe attended its consecration, said Nochevich, of Crown Point.
The church and adjoining hall provided an important gathering place for a congregation made up mostly of recent immigrants to the area, Nochevich said.
"The vast majority seemed to have come after World War II," attracted by jobs in steel mills and other industries, Nochevich said.
"The church played a significant role," not only for religious services, but as a place to celebrate births, weddings and other occasions, Nochevich said.
Dances and other events at the hall, "allowed us to maintain our heritage," he said.
That did not change when the congregation moved to the new Sts. Peter and Paul church and hall constructed at 9700 Broadway, Crown Point, starting in 1988. The first service was held Oct. 8, 1989.
Born in 1962, Nochevich grew up a church member, attending first the original location in Gary and now the church in Crown Point.
The church remains a vital part of life for many of the region's estimated 5,000 residents of Macedonian descent, Nochevich said.
"It's an opportunity to continue to exercise our language, our traditions, our culture, and to teach the young a little about their heritage," he said.
"We are all Americans now, but we do have Macedonian heritage," Nochevich said.
Events planned for the 50th anniversary celebration include:
Starting about 6 p.m. Thursday, church members will greet the arrival of His Beatitude, Archbishop Stefan, at the church, 9700 Broadway, Crown Point.
A church service and reception also are planned as part of the greeting.
On Saturday starting about 3 p.m., the church will host a picnic with barbecue, ethnic foods, music and drinks. The public is welcome.
On Sunday, a gala banquet begins at 7 p.m. at the church hall with guests including the archbishop, Crown Point Mayor David Uran and other dignitaries.