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Sacred Heart Independent Hungarian Catholic Church

Sacred Heart Independent Hungarian Catholic Church

Information collected and present to you by: Gary Gabrich

Thank you Gary for the enlightment of this Church

Sacred Heart Independent Hungarian Catholic Church

A brief history 1912 to 1924


In the Histories of St. Stephen’s and Our Lady of Hungary parishes, as well in the history of other parishes provided by the diocese of Ft. Wayne/ South Bend, there were only brief statements about a schism which occurred in 1911 at St Stephen’s but there was no additional information on what transpired, who was involved, or what issues caused the demise. The reality was that this split led to the establishment of four other church’s in the Hungarian Community, three non Catholic and one Catholic. The following account will, hopefully, provide more detail and add some color to the struggles that occurred in the early years of the Hungarian Churches therefore it is well worth the information to document this event.

The basis of this schism was centered around the pastor of St. Stephen’s. This was the individual who built the magnificent new church building in 1910 on Thomas St., a monument to the strong Hungarian presence in our community. Regardless, there were growing charges against the pastor involving his personal life in which the South Bend Tribune described as “offenses of a revolting nature” and at least a dozen parish individuals filed affidavits against the pastor. At odds in this conflict were the parish trustees and their supporters who demanded the pastor’s ouster, and the bishop who supported the pastor and his claim that he is innocent. Because of this stalemate large mobs of dissatisfied parishioners began blocking the pastor from entering the church. The tribune reported that crowds as large as 2,000 would gather peacefully but eventually this action turned into violence.  This went on for several months and caused a strain on the South Bend police force and the reputation of the Catholic Diocese. The church was forced to close in June of that year by the Police Chief. In July the bishop finally transfers the pastor and brought in a new replacement from a Parish in New York, The two bishops involved agreed to switch out the two troublesome pastors but somehow both congregations got wind of what was happening. Mob picketing continued for several more months. Things eventually settled down in South Bend with about 500 families remaining loyal to the bishop so St. Stephen’s continued functioning. The dissatisfied faction was still not happy with the church and they began to look for a spiritual leader that could direct them and guide them in the healing process with the bishop.

Sometime in the fall of 1911 this group brought into town a flamboyant, dynamic and ambitious young priest they heard about from the New York City area. They hoped he would be their spiritual leader and guide them back into the Roman Catholic fold. They got their wish! His name was Victor Von Kubinyi, godson of the Austrian emperor Francz Joseph. This dynamic individual soon won the hearts of the entire Hungarian community both Catholic and non Catholic. He invigorated the Hungarian nationalism most had lost since their arrival from Europe when the Catholic priesthood in South Bend at all Catholic churches tried to Americanize their congregations. He established a Hungarian horseback mounted guard, a Hungarian brass band, several religious societies, a Hungarian baseball team, a Hungarian cemetery and consolidated this new energy to strengthen his new formed parish and his personal power.  He did offer to the bishop his loyalty if the bishop would recognize his flock as a new Hungarian Roman Catholic parish on the South side of the city in the Rum Village neighborhood. If the bishop accepted he would no doubt have lost face in this confrontation. He had already transferred the troubled priest and agreeing to this request would still have resulted in a divided St. Stephen’s community, something he opposed from the beginning. The Bishop did not accept the terms so in the spring of 1912 Rev.Von Kubinyi organized his followers into Sacred Heart Independent Hungarian Catholic Church. The bishop subsequently excommunicated the entire group!

A story worth noting is in regard to a cemetery issue. In June of 1912 a young lad age 16, died of tuberculosis and his widowed mother chose to have him buried in the family plot at Cedar Grove Cemetery at Notre Dame. Since she was a new member of Sacred Heart Independent church the officials of the Cemetery refused to provide help in the burial process. The only alternative left was that the burial party and pastor Von Kubinyi ended up digging the grave for the grieving family. Such were the feelings Von Kubinyi faced in his efforts to receive acceptance in the Catholic community. Within a month he secured funds and purchased 20 acres on Division St., now called Western Ave, for a site for his new cemetery aptly named Sacred Heart Hungarian Cemetery. This is across the street from St. Josephs Polish Cemetery.

That same spring it became obvious that the congregation needed a home and Von Kubinyi organized an ambitious fund raising campaign and within a four month period he had raised $6,000 and built a modest new church on South Catalpa St. at Indiana Ave. To give credibility to his congregation and his movement, he sought and received confirmation that he and his flock henceforth would be affiliated with the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC), headquartered in Scranton, PA. This church followed the Roman Catholic doctrine however it did not recognize the Pope as an infallible leader. Each congregation owned their own church, not the bishop as it is in Catholicism.

On Sunday September 8, 1912 an elaborate dedication ceremony took place at the new church with a parade of many community bands, religious societies and fraternal organizations leading the way. Bishop Hodur of the PNCC conducted the religious ceremony which was both in Polish and Hungarian. The afternoon events ended with a large community picnic. The church was incorporated with the State of Indiana.

Things appeared to have settled down after the opening of the new church, members began to feel they were accepted by the South Bend community when on Dec. 7, 1912 Rev.Victor Von Kubinyi announced to his flock that he was leaving. He stated “ his work here was now complete” and by his leaving healing between the congregation and the catholic community could now begin. No doubt the congregation was devastated by the news and some might have felt betrayed.

Luckily Bishop Hodur had at his disposal an intelligent and pastoral priest named Basil Sychta who was Polish but spoke fluent Hungarian as well and was dispatched to Sacred Heart immediately. It didn’t take long for Fr. Sychta to win the hearts of the Hungarians and he added many non-attending poles in the area to his congregation for a new and dynamic ethnic parish.

Again things had settled down until the first week of April when the bold Rev.Victor Von Kubinyi once again arrives in town. His intent was to take back his Sacred Heart Parish and set himself up as a bishop in a new national Hungarian church which would be headquartered here in South Bend. Later it was revealed Rev. Von Kubinyi had spent the winter and early spring combing the hills of Pennsylvania and the East seaboard looking for fractured Hungarian communities which he could persuade to follow him as leader of a new national Hungarian church.

On Sunday April 27, 1913 a service was performed in South Bend at the “Magyar Haz” (Hungarian Hall) by Archbishop Timotheus Vilatte, of Buffalo, N.Y., leader of the “Old Catholic Church”, where he consecrated Rev. Victor Von Kubinyi as Bishop and founder of a new “Hungarian National Church of America”. Four days later Bishop Von Kubinyi files suit in the Circuit Court against Fr. Sychta and the Sacred Heart board of trustees in an effort to get his parish back - but he lost his case soundly. On Sunday May 4 Rev. Von Kubinyi gave his famous talk “True Religion” covering his thoughts on what constitutes a true religion. The Rev. does gather a few loyalists from Sacred Heart and a number of others scattered throughout the city and they began to meet in homes that fall. On Dec.7,1913 it was reported that Victor Von Kubinyi and his flock were accepted into the Episcopal Church by Bishop White of the Northern Indiana Diocese and soon thereafter he founded Holy Trinity First Hungarian Episcopal Church on the West side in South Bend. This church is still in existence on Olive St. now known simply as Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

That same summer of 1913 was quite exciting for Rev. Sychta. Beside the scare of a lawsuit he was about to be the rector of another blossoming schismatic church. In 1912 there was a revolution going on at St. Adelbert’s Catholic Church on Olive Street. It was recorded that the Pastor was a controlling person who took away many of the Social and Cultural freedoms these immigrants found and cherished in their new land. He had many idiosyncrasies but his stand against Drinking and Smoking was drastic. He began a campaign of identifying persons by name from the pulpit and humiliating them before the congregation. A large group petitioned the Bishop to no avail so about 100 formed a group to find a new church. They immediately went to Fr. Basil Sychta, quite well known for his openness, and after prayer and reflection they voted to found St. Mary’s of the Most Holy Rosary Church which would be located on West Sample Street and would also be affiliated with the Polish National Catholic Church. Of course Rev. Sychta was to be their pastor until a permanent priest could be found so he served both congregations for one year. This church currently is still in existence commonly known as St. Mary’s Polish National Catholic Church. In the Summer of 1914 a group of poles at St. Hedweg Catholic Church had their own Riot and problems with the Bishop. This event is known as “bloody Sunday” and as a result a good number of these families left their home church and joined St. Mary’s.

Not much is written about Sacred Heart for the next six years but the Catholic Bishop had other plans. He decided in 1916 to build a little mission church on the south side of town to serve the growing number of Hungarians now flooding into that part of town that were being served by the Sacred Heart Independent Church.This mission church was named Our Lady of Hungary, a branch of St. Stephen’s. The mission church was stragitacally built on Catalpa St. three blocks north of Sacred Heart. Its sole purpose was to win back former Catholics into the fold and in 1918 they had their chance! Fr. Basil Sychta suddenly left and was replaced by another less dynamic priest. Little by little families began to leave wooed back to St. Stephen’s, a few at first that in great numbers. By 1921 the Catholic bishop must have felt the time and the numbers of Roman Catholic families living in Rum Village Area was right so he officially bought land on Calvert St. for a new Church and eventually a new school. Our Lady of Hungary parish was officially founded in 1922.

Rev. Sychta eventually returned by 1922 but the damage had already been done. He had lost 2/3 of his congregation. Records of births, marriages and Deaths dwindled during those final years and the parish closed its doors in 1924. At that time there were still many loyal families who choose not to join the Catholic Church, some were not welcomed back being leaders of the original schism at St. Stephen’s and they desired an affiliation with a non Catholic group. Around this time there were several groups of Methodists meeting in homes throughout the Rum Village area. They began to look for a permanent home to purchase and the Sacred Heart building was convenient and within their budget. This deal was perfect for the Methodists for they not only gained a home - they gained a substantial increase in their community membership by welcoming with open arms the loyal Hungarians. Finally this group was named Sacred Heart Hungarian Methodist Mission. Within a few years the majority of members were Hungarian and they remained at their Catalpa location up to the 1950s. The Methodists even provided Hungarian pastors at certain times. In the 1960s a new structure was built on Ewing Ave. and they renamed their congregation Emmanuel Methodist Church which still has a sizable community of Hungarians Today.

In 1924 one Sacred Heart parishioner brought with him the complete set of birth, marriage, and death records to Our Lady of Hungary Church for safe keeping when he transferred his membership. These records have been microfilmed and are found at our local public library. Likewise the ownership of Sacred Heart Cemetery Property was eventually transferred to Our Lady of Hungary and is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Ft. Wayne/South Bend.

Gary Gabrich

amateur genealogist with South Bend Area Genealogical Society

A special thanks is due Chris Kovach for his project of documenting three years of South Bend Tribune articles covering the history of this schism and placing this valuable information on line. All articles can be read at the following location: go to the St. Joseph County GenWeb site at:   Scroll down to Chris’s Hungarian Immigration Collection, then down to “St. Stephen’s Schism – a time line”



All Sacred Heart Independent Hungarian Church records are listed at the “ History of Our Lady of Hungary Church “site found under Church Histories on the St. Joseph County GenWeb site     They were misslabled as the records of Our Lady of Hungary. Likewise microfilms of Sacred Heart Independent Hungarian Church are available at the local main libraries under Our Lady of Hungary.

(Click on Photo's to see enlargements)

Sacred Heart-Immanuel
Sacred Heart inside

This is a speech Victor Von Kubinyi gave just after his consecration as bishop on the topic of a "True Believer".

Return To: Immigrantion

Saint Joseph County, Indiana INGenWeb Site

Started:  Thursday, August 15, 2013 03:32:34 PM

Updated:  Thursday, August 15, 2013 03:32:34 PM