History of Saint Stephens (Magyar) Church
South Bend, St. Joseph County, Indiana
Established 1900

Until their parish was organized, the Hungarians of South Bend attended St. Patrick's Church, and also St. Mary's Church, because many of them spoke German. During this time, Rev. Charles Boehm, of Cleveland, and Rev. Robert Paulovits, of Toledo, Ohio, paid their country-men in South Bend repeated visits, and ministered to them.
Rev. Michael J. Biro, C. S. C., shortly after his ordination in February, 1900, was appointed pastor of the Hungarian Catholics, and within a short time organized the St. Stephen's Congregation.

A Methodist chapel, known as the Milburn Memorial Chapel, was for sale, and Father Biro negotiated its purchase, on July 3, 1900. The architectural style of this church is the Cross-Gothic-Romanesque, of the fifth century. The building was in good condition but had to be altered considerably to serve the purpose of a Catholic church. Three altars were secured, with statues of the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and St. Anthony. A choir loft was built and the stations of the Cross were erected. The entire church property was inclosed with an ornamental iron fence. All this was done at a cost of $1,450. The original cost paid for the property was $14,800.

Father Biro erected the parochial school in 1900. The building [was] 45x45 feet, has four class-rooms, each of which can accommodate fifty children. Three thousand dollars was spent on this building. The school [was] in charge of three secular teachers, one male and two females, who teach six grades. The attendance at the present time is 171. The priest's house was part of the first purchase, but Father Biro has spent on it $500 in repairs and improvements. The debt on the church property [was] $7,900.

When Father Biro took charge in 1900 he found about sixty Hungarian families. At the present time there are 321 families, numbering 2166 souls. The seating capacity of the church is only 350, and the necessity of building a more commodious church is evident. St. Stephen's Congregation has the following societies: The Knights of St. Stephen, twenty members; the Holy Rosary, sixty members; the Children of Mary, fifty-six members. The Aid Societies are: St. Stephen's forty-five; St. Joseph's, 325; St. Peter's, 108; Holy Trinity, eighty; St. Anthony's, 125; Blessed Virgin Mary's, eighty-seven; St. Elizabeth's, ninety; Catholic Young Men, fifty-six; County Szechemyi's, 240 members.

2003 update:
In his 1941 book, The Diocese of Fort Wayne: Fragments of History, Bishop Noll relates that in 1907, Father Biro retired. Upon his retirement, the Congregation of the Holy Cross turned over the church to the care of secular priests. The first of these to serve as pastor was Rev. John Froehlich. He was responsible for the building of a new church in 1910, at a cost of $30,000.00.
Bishop Noll writes: "Unfortunately this parish was divided by an independent movement sponsored by the Rev. Victor Kubinyi and Father Froehlich resigned from the parish in 1911. His successor was the Rev. Louis Kovacs who remained less than one year because of the difficulties in the parish. On May 1, 1912, the Rev. Alex Vallacky was appointed pasotr, and remained until 1915. He restored a great deal of order and engaged Dominican Sisters to teach in the school."
Rev. Lawrence Horvath served as pastor from 1916 to 1922. In 1916, Our Lady of Hungary church was established to serve a portion of the people of St. Stephen's. In 1922, Father HOrvath was succeeded by Rev. Count Frederick Wenckheim. Father Wenckheim was responsible for the building of new classrooms and an auditorium, in 1925, in addition to substituting the Sisters of Divine Charity ofr the Dominican Nuns. During the second half of the 1920s, Bishop Noll turned the parish over to the care of the Franciscan Fathers. The first of Franciscan Father to pastor St. Stephen's was Rev. Lawrence Biro, O. F. M., who was later trnasferred to the Cleveland Diocese. He was succeeded by Rev. Tarzicius Kukla, O. F. M. who served until 1939, when the Bishop returned the church back to the care of diocesan priests. From 1939 through 1941, the pastor was Rev. Curt A. Suelzer, assisted by Rev. Joseph Horvath. Priests who have served at St. Stephen's more recently include: Rev. Thomas F. Lemos, C. S. C. (pastor, 1998), Rev. John Steele, C. S. C. (associate pastor, 1998), Rev. David J. Porterfield, C.S.C. (pastor, 2003) and Rev. Christopher W. Cox, C.S.C. (associate pastor, 2003).
St. Joseph County is presently encompassed within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

St. Stephen (est. 1900)
1102 W. Thomas Street - South Bend, IN 46601 Phone: (219) 287-7681.

pages 399-400

Items of Historical Interest


A Schism in the Church

In 1911 a controversy broke out at St Stephen’s over the pastor’s handling of the title to the property. He wanted to deed the building to the diocese; the parish trustees wanted to retain ownership of the structure their donations had built. The parishioners divided into factions and the division became bitter. Julius Pinter who’s father emigrated to the United States in 1907, recalls his fathers stories of men and women fighting in the church building “even throwing people down from the balcony”

Aproximately 100 families left the church to form, temporarily, a National Catholic parish which soon died for lack of financial support. Some of the dissident families then formed the Sacred Heart Independent Church, which later became the Immanuel United Methodist Church on Ewing Street. The rest of the dissidents petitioned to join the Episcopalian Church. They founded the Hungarian Episcopalian Church on W. Colfax Ave. It later relocated at Holy Trinity Church, 915 So.Olive.

Source: Michiana Magazine June-22-1975







The first Independent Hungarian Catholic Church in America was dedicated Sunday in South Bend when the dissident Sacred Heart congregation formally opened a new house of worship just off Indiana Ave. on a newly opened street as of yet unnamed. Elaborate services in the charge of Right Rev. Francis Hodur , Bishop of the Independent Catholic diocese of Scranton, PA. officiated. Nearly 3,000 people attended the ceremonies which were preceeded by a parade of church and military societies through the west sectionof the city.

Bishop Hodur acted as celebrant at a solemn high mass, Rev. Father Boldanowicz acted as deacon, and Rev. Father Victor Kubinyl, pastor of the parish was the master of ceremonies and the Rev. Joseph P Plaga honorary deacon.


Addresses were made by Bishop Hodur, Rev Father Kubinyl and Rev Father Plaga. The ceremonies were brought to a closewith a picnic held in the church yard in the afternoon.

The organization of the Sacred Heart congregation is the result of frictions between former members of St Stephens Hungarian parish and authorities of the Roman Catholic church. Rev Father Kubinyl called from Newark NJ organized the congregation four months ago. He has since been excommunicated. In the new organization the rites and sacraments of the Roman Catholic church are to be retained, the only difference being that of authority. The edifice just erected, which cost over $6,000 is free from debt.

Source South Bend Tribune

September, 9, 1912

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- It's the wrecking ball for South Bend's former St. Stephen Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend announced Monday in a press release that the church building at 1102 W. Thomas St. will be razed by the end of the month.

The church closed on May 31, 2003, and its congregation was merged with St. Adalbert and St. Casimir Catholic parishes in South Bend. As recently as January, the 93-year-old building's fate remained undecided in statements by the diocese.

Ziolkowski Construction Co. of South Bend has been hired to demolish the building and dispose of any hazardous materials found on the site.

In its press release, the diocese said the church's property will be donated to El Campito, a day-care program currently housed on the first floor of the former St. Stephen's School, 1024 W. Thomas St. House of Hospitality, a poverty-relief agency modeled on Dorothy Day's Houses of Hospitality, will continue to operate out of the parish's rectory.

In its release, the diocese said the St. Stephen's church building is "near collapsing," and that it's estimated it would cost more than $4 million to repair it and its former school.

"In this case it seems better to spend money on programs for the people instead of raising money to repair and maintain buildings," the Rev. Robert Schulte, diocesan vicar general, said in the release.

Some of St. Stephen's liturgical artifacts have been taken to St. Adalbert's, while its pipe organ was sent to St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in Culver and its bells were sent to St. Pius X in Granger. King Richard's Antiques of Atlanta has bought St. Stephen's stained-glass windows, pews, altar and accompanying statuary, pulpit and light fixtures.

Bishop John M. D'Arcy, the press release said, is considering a memorial plaque to honor the Hungarian Catholic immigrants who built St. Stephen.

El Campito intends to build a modern facility on the site, the day-care agency's board president, Kevin Smith, said Monday.

"The other thing it'll allow us to do is expand the number of children we'll be able to serve, and that'll be really positive," he said. "We'll still serve the neighborhood we've been serving (since 1985)."

El Campito, Smith said, also is exploring the possibility of providing Family and Children's Center Inc. with some facilities at the site. Smith said he has been meeting with an architect to discuss possible designs and uses for the new building. A capital campaign will be launched to raise money to pay for the construction.

"We're going through the process of integrating the neighborhood components and looking to see what would work out for the neighborhood as well as for our needs," he said.

After the parish closing in 2003, the Historic Preservation Commission received several nominations from former parishioners requesting that the building be considered for landmark status

"I think it's a fine idea to donate the land to El Campito," HPC assistant director Julie Schutte said Monday. "Again, we do regret to see that such a structure that did provide a lot of spiritual health for the community will be lost. It is very good to see that something will be built on the property that will be used to support members of the community."

Staff writer Andrew S. Hughes: ahughes@sbtinfo.com



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