St. Augustine’s is the only church in the Diocese of Northern Indiana with a predominantly African-American congregation and the only parish in the state founded as a Colored Episcopal Mission. It has existed in the City of Gary, Indiana for over 90 years. The documented roots of the congregation go back to 1919; however the idea to form a mission came to fruition in 1923. A meeting led by Atty. F. Louis Sterling, Mrs. Florence Alexander and Father James Foster of Christ Episcopal Church resulted in receiving assistance from the Diocese of Northern Indiana. The Rt. Rev. Campbell Gray recognized the group’s need for a priest and a place to worship. Due to the prejudices and social constraints of the times, segregated afternoon services were held for the congregation at Christ Church on 6th and Adams Street in Gary. In 1927, the congregation moved to a former Roman Catholic Church in Midtown at 19th and Adams Street, which later became St. Augustine’s Mission.
The historic black parish was chartered by a group of thirty African- American professionals in 1927. Some of the founding congregants included Dr. George Gonzalez, Mrs. Florence Alexander and Atty. F. Louis Sperling, Mrs. Cecil Kellogg, Mr. L. Stovall, Mr. L.K. Wallace, Mr. James Whittier, Mrs. Mary Williams and Mrs. Anna Washington. At the suggestion of Mrs. Washington, the name St. Augustine, also the name of her college in North Carolina was selected for the mission.
The mission was initially supported by a series of supply priests. In April 1939, Bishop Gray assigned monks, Don Paul Severance, Fr. Leo Patterson and Fr. Dom Francis Bacon of the order of St. Benedict to serve the church. They shaped the liturgical worship of the church and the Bishop designated Fr. Patterson as the monk with primary oversight for the mission. Fr. Patterson’s sermons and rigorous liturgy were important for the formative years of the church. The monks stayed with St. Augustine’s until 1946 when they moved to a permanent settlement in Three Rivers, Michigan. Their service to the church was commemorated in an annual visit to St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers by the congregation for many decades.
Fr. Langendorff succeeded Fr. Patterson as priest-in-charge. His expansive knowledge of the history and traditions of the church were major contributions to the communal worship of the congregation. Fr. Patterson was succeeded in 1951 by Fr. Wallace Wells, an educator and a member of the congregation who completed his training for the priesthood at Seabury Theological Seminary.
Fr. Well’s service to the church was ambitious and memorable. During his service of 12 years, a church building fund was established, a new building was commissioned and parish status was attained. The present church home, which has architectural significance, was erected. The first service in the new church was held in April 1959. The Rt. Rev. Reginald Mallett, Bishop of the Diocese, dedicated the church in May, 1959. In 1960, Edward Dart, the renowned Modernist architect who designed the church, received a “Citation of Merit for Excellence in Architecture” awarded by The Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and The Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry for the design of the church. A second award came for the Church Architectural Guild. Fr. Wells resigned on September 1, 1963, to accept a call to St. Luke’s Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Fr. Robert Hood succeeded Fr. Wells on November 17, 1963. An innovative priest, he did much to attune the church to the social changes of the sixties, introducing an expansive program of music and art to the church and community. During his tenure the Moeller pipe organ was dedicated in a recital by Alec Wyton (M.A. (OXON) F.A.G.O of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The parish also held a juried art show. In 1967 upon completion of his doctorate from the University of Chicago, Fr. Hood left St. Augustine’s to pursue an academic career and became a member of the theological faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York.
In January 1968 the church welcomed its third rector Fr. William James Walker. He introduced a wide usage of Negro Spirituals into the Eucharist but only remained at the church through December of 1969.
Upon Fr. Walker’s departure Fr. Joseph Riggs became the rector in September 1970. He was a gentle man who imbued the parish with his spirituality. Female congregants took on new roles as Vestry members and acolytes. New stained glass clerestory windows were installed in 1974. The church mortgage was burned during his tenure. Fr. Riggs served as rector until August 1975.
During the interim period after Fr. Riggs’ departure, Fr. Richard Phelps became priest-in-charge.
In January 1976, the Rt. Rev. William C.R. Sheridan instituted Fr. James D. Manning as rector. Fr. Manning blended humor with rigorous interpretations of the customs and traditions of the church.
In November 1983 Fr. H. Fitzroy Thompson became rector of the church and remained until July 1989. A native of Barbados, the distinctive part of his ministry was the emphasis on the Anglican liturgy of our spiritual heritage.
The Rev. Canon David L. Hyndman became the rector of the church in October 1991 and served until his retirement in September 2018. During his tenure, St. Augustine’s signature roof was reroofed. Another significant project was St. Augustine’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Nominated by a parishioner, it listed on September 18, 2013. At the time of listing, St. Augustine’s was Gary’s only postwar modern church structure. The listing resulted in the parish establishing relationships with the historic preservation organization Indiana Landmarks and Partners for Sacred Places. Ball State University performed a choral concert at the church as part of their Musica in Situ series in 2014. In 2016, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached and celebrated communion at St. Augustine’s.
Upon Fr. Hyndman’s retirement the congregation was invited to join the Calumet Episcopal Ministry Partnership (CEMP) in the summer of 2018. With this partnership of churches St. Augustine’s heads into the future with faith and hope that it will continue to be a concrete reality in the community for what God has planned in his love. It is with thanksgiving for the faithful; honor for all who have found a home within the congregation; for all who have worked and generously shared their time, talents and treasures; and the larger community; that we give praise to Almighty God. The presence of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit has given life to this congregation for over 90 years and built a community around the altar that has been a holy home – St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.