Sacred Places Indiana Boosts Restoration at South Bend Church

To continue its work serving immigrant communities on South Bend’s west side, Saint Adalbert Catholic Church is raising money for urgent repairs at its 1926 church.

Saint Adalbert Catholic Church, South Bend
Saint Adalbert Catholic Church, South Bend (photo by: Courtney Nelson, Conrad Schmitt Studios)

Divine Direction

For nearly a century, the twin steeples of Saint Adalbert Catholic Church have signaled the presence of a robust religious community on South Bend’s west side. In the early 1900s, first-generation Polish immigrants founded the church, its largely working-class parishioners contributing money and hands-on labor to construct a combination church and school completed in 1911. In the following decades, the campus expanded to include a Renaissance Revival-style rectory (1915), Neo-Gothic church (1926), and Mid-Century Modern-style Felician convent (1964). Today, Saint Adalbert still carries out its mission of serving first-generation immigrants—primarily from Mexico—with a blended congregation that celebrates Mexican and Polish cultural traditions.

Around 3,000 call Saint Adalbert home, with an average of 900 attending mass any given Sunday. Enrollment is nearly at capacity at the school, which serves students pre-K through 8th grade. The historic church hosts weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations, first communions, and quinceañeras. Saint Adalbert welcomes visitors to access its food pantry, take citizenship classes, and have letters translated. Well-kept houses surround the historic church campus, a testimony to the church’s stabilizing effect on the neighborhood.

Saint Adalbert Catholic Church, South Bend courtesy Kil Architecture

“This church’s history of serving the foreign-born rings true with our Spanish-speaking families,” says parishioner Don Popielarz. “They are drawn by the art, architecture, and history of this immigrant parish and knowing people who attend here have done this before and welcome them. It’s in our DNA.”

Though vibrant, the congregation’s resources are limited, making the restoration needs of its landmark campus seem daunting. When plaster began raining down during a recent confirmation, it illuminated the growing need for repairs. Kil Architecture assessed the church, noting an immediate need for a new roof to halt the water infiltration causing significant plaster deterioration. Rotting window frames and brickwork require repair, one of the steeples is moving, and aging heating and cooling systems need to be replaced.

Saint Adalbert Catholic Church, South Bend courtesy Kil Architecture

“The study showed that if we delay five years, the cost of repairs doubles. If we wait ten years, we may not have a church, which would be devastating to our congregation, neighborhood, and South Bend,” says Popielarz.

The first phase to make the building watertight will cost an estimated $2.7 million, with an overall $14 million needed to address other maintenance issues, add accessible bathrooms, and restore the church interior. The long-term plan would repair its extensive stained glass and decorative elements and conserve artwork including a 1940 mural painted by Chicago artist Jan Malin depicting workers receiving instruction from a priest under a fallen Christ, with smoke rising from a factory in the background, likely inspired by parishioners’ role in South Bend’s industry.

Once exterior repairs are complete, the congregation will focus on interior maintenance, accessibility issues, and repairing stained glass and artwork, including a 1940 mural (above) depicting workers receiving religious instruction with a factory in the background, likely inspired by the Polish workers who attended the church at the time. PHOTO © Kil Architecture

By joining one of Indiana Landmarks’ Sacred Places Indiana training cohorts, Saint Adalbert leaders received direction in fundraising and participated in asset mapping. Church leaders paired English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners together with translators to share congregational strengths and assemble an action plan. The session boosted morale and showed church leaders a new way to hold meetings with its multilingual congregation. “We often think about what we lack, so it’s important to see the assets we have,” says Father Ryan Pietrocarlo. “We’re not starting from zero, and this showed us we have a lot to offer the community.”

To support the first phase of restoration, Saint Adalbert received $400,000 from the first round of grants from Indiana Landmarks’ Sacred Places Indiana fund, and a $250,000 matching grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places, a program of Partners for Sacred Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“Many of our parishioners were part of a historic church that closed in 2003 because the repairs it needed were too immense, and they don’t want to see the same thing happen at Saint Adalbert,” says Pietrocarlo. “There’s a lot of excitement and buy-in, while at the same time we seek additional support to reach our goals.”

Learn about other recipients of Indiana Landmarks’ Sacred Places Indiana fund in 2023.

This article first appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Indiana Preservation, Indiana Landmarks’ member magazine. Learn more and subscribe.

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