St. Augustine’s is the only church in the Diocese of Northern Indiana with a predominantly African-American congregation. It has existed in the City of Gary, Indiana for over 90 years. St. Augustine’s began as an idea in 1923 as the outgrowth of a meeting led by Atty. F. Louis Sterling, Mrs. Florence Alexander and Father James Foster of Christ Episcopal Church. Fr. Foster solicited the assistance of the Bishop of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, The Rt. Rev. Campbell Gray, to provide the congregation with a priest and a place to worship. As a consequence of that meeting, special 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 the inner city, which later became St. Augustine’s Mission.
The founding congregation consisted of 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 several years.
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, a member of the congregation who completed his training for the priesthood at Seabury Theological Seminary.
Fr. Well’s service to the church was memorable. During his service of 12 years, the mission became a parish, and the present church, which has architectural distinction, 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 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. 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. 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 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. In 1967, 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. 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. 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 remains the longest tenured rector to serve St. Augustine’s retiring in September 2018. We are thankful for Fr. Hyndman’s leadership and spiritual guidance. During his tenure many interior and exterior improvements were made to the building and grounds. The building, designed by Edward Dart, was the first of Dart’s commissioned designs to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places and it was listed on September 18, 2013. At the time of listing, St. Augustine’s was Gary’s only postwar modern church structure. Through the years the congregation has supported several activities and projects in the community that surrounds the church. The congregation supports an annual “School Supply Giveaway” for children in the community to ensure they have the necessary supplies to undertake their studies for the beginning of the school year.
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.