Know your Neighbor
The Post-Tribune Neighbors section introduces you to different people who live or work in your community.
By Kass Stone
Doing what he always wanted to do.
From agricultural school in Yugoslavia, to pastor of St. Joseph the Worker
Who: Fr. Stephen Loncar
Home: Gary, IN
Occupation: Pastor at St. Joseph the Worker Croatian Catholic Church
Gary - "I always wanted to be a priest," said the Rev. Stephen Loncar, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Croatian Catholic Church.
"I went to church every Sunday and was an altar boy as long as I knew myself. It is what I always wanted to do."
Loncar was born and raised in a devout Roman Catholic family, with four brothers and one sister, who is now a nun. They lived in what is now the Podravina region of Croatia, along the Hungarian border, in communist Yugoslavia. His father was a blacksmith and, as a child Loncar assisted his father by hammering away on the hot anvil.
Following his eighth-grade year, Loncar was assigned to an agricultural school, even though he wanted to enter a seminary. After two months of attempting to make a go of it at the agricultural school, Loncar left, determined to enter the priesthood.
"I was there for two months and as I was listening to the teacher talk about weeds I thought, ‘I don’t want to talk about weeds! I’m into weeding out evil and helping people get their lives straight,’" Loncar said.
After finishing the tour of duty demanded of all young men in Yugoslavia, Loncar served his time as a novice on the island of Cres, located off the Croatian coast in the Adriatic Sea, where he and other young men worked to rebuild Cres’s Franciscan monastery.
Soon after, Loncar was arrested by the Yugoslavian government and held as a political prisoner - a common occurrence for Catholic priests in those days - for possessing a Croatian flag.
After serving his sentence, Loncar was given the opportunity to study English and, in 1984, traveled to Lackawanna, N.Y., where he continued his seminarian studies. In 1988, he was ordained in Albany, N.Y., and returned to Yugoslavia, where he was made the associate pastor of St. Joseph Church in the Croatian city of Pula.
In 1993, he enlisted in the Croatian army and served as a chaplain of a division stationed high in the mountains, where they waited on the front lines to repeal any Serbian incursion into independent Croatia.
In 1994, Loncar was sent by his Franciscan order to serve as the associate pastor of St. Joseph the Worker. In the fall of 2000, he was made pastor of the church, and he has since been working actively to invigorate the church and the community that surrounds it.
"It’s different, but it’s all in the language," Loncar said about adjusting to the American life. "It’s the same religion, You’re preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ. If they want to get it they’ll get it. It’s the same message."
Fr. Stephen Loncar with CCD students and teacher Mrs. Dolores Bianchi inside St. Joseph the Worker Church.
Do you know a Neighbor we should know? Call Tara Wilson at (219) 648-3099 or e-mail her at email@example.com
Source:Post-Tribune, South Lake County Edition, Neighbors Section B, page 2 Monday, February 24