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St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church is a majestic presence standing on the highest point of Lake County in northwest Indiana. But its roots are humble. Founded by a small group of settlers in 1839, the first church building was a mere log cabin that served a growing membership. In time, the parish erected two more buildings to hold worship services for its expanding membership.

By early 2000, the parish had grown to more than 1,400 households, and the six masses held each weekend were often standing room only. The church was dedicated to fostering active participation in the liturgy, and it became apparent to the parish that a new, larger church building was needed for the growing population to be present and participate as one.

Preliminary plans to build a new church were initiated in 1999, and parishioners began pledging the necessary funds in 2005. In that time, St. John's leadership sought the direction of Eden Religious Facilities, a full service firm specializing in church design.

The company had just completed work on the largest Catholic Church in Indiana, St. Maria Goretti in Westfield. St. John's also hired ENR Midwest/McGraw-Hill Construction to build the project.

"The church's primary goals were to meet budget, attain a timeless design, and make a 'connection' with the existing church so parishioners would feel the new church was an extension of the old church," said Jacob Polsley, principal and development director for Eden Religious Facilities.

And, since Lake County is populated by a primarily union workforce, the builders knew it would be important to use union trades for the project.

Ground was broken in the summer of 2006. The project was built in one phase and involves a 41,250-square-foot church that seats 1,200 people. It features structural steel with heavy-gauge, metal-stud exterior walls and masonry veneer exterior. Accents of insulation finish are on the upper section of the nave and narthex. A 7,400-square-foot basement houses the mechanical room. The remaining part of the basement is reserved for future development.

The exterior is highlighted by two massive bell towers that stand tall from the highest elevations of Lake County and make the church visible from miles away.

The interior of the church is striking, with high ceilings accented with glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) trim and columns, and a paint scheme that incorporates traditional colors accented with gold banding. The floor in the narthex is an epoxy terrazzo with an inlaid cross. The entry into the nave is through 10-foot-tall oak doors. Solid oak trim is used throughout the church, and flooring is composed of terrazzo, hardwood, carpet and vinyl plank under the pews.

Inside the nave is the baptistery, which is trimmed in oak columns and oak detailing with a marble cap. Bowls built into the marble have flowing water. The GFRG columns are located throughout the nave, as well as the narthex, and are painted with the same gold banding as in the narthex.

The ceiling is a composition of arched beams painted navy blue with gold trim that culminates at the peak with a stained-glass window of a dove representing the Holy Spirit. Under the window, at the center of the church, is a life-sized statue of the crucified Christ hanging over the altar.

The tabernacle is set in an elaborate wood screen, which is adorned with portraits of angels that a parishioner painted. The pipe organ sits in a niche behind the tabernacle and towers over the tabernacle screen.

The artwork is extensive and noteworthy. Most windows contain stained glass. Other elements include statues and Stations-of-the-Cross sculptures.

"The underlying goal was to design a church that maintained as many of the key architectural features of the original church," Polsley said.

Thus, GFRG columns and identical stained glass windows were replicated in the new church building to offer comforting reminders of the pervious church. Wood star cross designs used in the old church were also used throughout the new building.

The new church was dedicated in May 2008, and has since received praise from parishioners and community members alike. It also received Midwest Construction's Best of 2008 Award, with raving reviews. 

The best reviews, however, come from within the church community.

"There's something mystical that happens when you walk into a church like this. The whole reason for these high ceilings is that we want that whole feeling of mystery to come back into the church," said Fr. Sammie Maletta in a promotional video for Eden. "What we wanted to achieve here through these various elements was for people to feel that the love is present. And they really do."

Eden Religious Facilities is a full-service firm founded 25 years ago to help churches bring their visions to reality, www.BuildChurch.com.

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