In Memoriam: V. Rev. Archpriest-Stavrophor Nedeljko Lunich (1938-2024)

In Memoriam: V. Rev. Archpriest-Stavrophor Nedeljko Lunich (1938-2024)

My dearest Kumovi: Stevan, Neda and Mike, Gabby and Trey, Ally, Stella and Michael, Kuma Danica, Extended Family and Kumovi, parishioners of this parish, dear brothers and sisters,

Our dear Fr. Ned was born in the village Ruzic, Drnis, in Dalmatia on January 23, 1938, to honest and faithful Serbian Orthodox parents Dusan and Anica Lunich.  He was the only boy of six children, receiving extra attention and care.  The Second World War began when Nedeljko was just three years old.  He and the other faithful Serbs of his region were under the protection of the Cetnik resistance forces under General Dragoljub Draza Mihailovic and local Vojvoda Momcilo Djujic.  In gratitude for that protection, as well as a heartfelt belief in what those people stood for, he would spend his life as a dedicated member of the Cetnik organization, and for many decades being its spiritual father.  

After the war, he went to elementary school five miles from his home, after which he attended Seminary in Rakovica Monastery, where our very own St. Mardarije was once the head of the Monastic School.  His classmates were modern-day luminaries of our Serbian Orthodox Church, such as Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Atanasije of blessed memory.  He was an exemplary student, finishing with high honors for his dedication and knowledge, promising to be a successful clergyman in the homeland.  He continued his education at the Theological Faculty in Belgrade, soon pausing for military service, which he fulfilled.  But, then made his way to Italy and America, to get out of communist-occupied Yugoslavia.  He had hoped to be reunited with those of like mind, and the plan on where to serve changed.

Young Nedeljko came to Gary in 1963, where he established for himself a new home in the United States.  He made new friends, among them was my father.  A friendship that turned into kumstvo and lasted a lifetime.  He worked in Gary at Inland Steel and for Gary Parks Department.  Soon he met his future wife Joan Enich from Joliet.  They were married in 1965, and he was quickly ordained by Bishop Frimilian for service of Christ’s Church.  

As a young priest, he spent four years at St. Lazarus “Ravanica” in Detroit, Michigan, where he was a part of the building of the magnificent Cathedral.  During his time in Detroit, God blessed him and his wife with two wonderful children, Stevan and Neda.  It was actually at Stevan’s 3rd birthday that young Fr. Ned called his friend Lazo Kostur from Gary to be at Stev’s party.  This was a setup to introduce his friend to a church school teacher in Detroit named Mira Stepanovich.  The two hit it off and were married just a couple months later.  He had the foresight to see of the match that my parents would be, and as a family, we thank him for his great vision!

During that time in Detroit, Fr. Ned succeeded in his pastoral work as well as on working on his own education.  He completed his Master’s Degree and much of his doctorate.  Education was always a priority for him, and that was evident as to how he conducted himself, as well as his command of the English language, which never ceased to amaze me.  He instilled that value in his children and grandchildren, always supporting their education to better themselves and give them good opportunities.  He remembered from where he came, and the importance of education for one to succeed.

After his tenure in Detroit, Fr. Ned was transferred to St. George East Chicago, where he remained for about 5 years, leading the parish as they built their new hall in Schererville.  That time period was a difficult one, not so much on the actual parishes where Fr. Ned served, but generally within church life.  The church was going through terrible temptations with the division, with lawsuits and arguments.  But, Fr. Ned kept his path very clear.  He did not sway from that in which he believed, and his priority was always keeping the good of the Church in first place.  This is quite typical of someone from Dalmatia—strong-willed and stubborn, but with a purpose.

In 1974, Fr. Ned was moved to his wife’s home parish of St. George here in Joliet.  Over his time in Joliet, he worked with this parish on the building of the hall, the church and the parish home.  With the experience he gained in Detroit and East Chicago, he was able to be a driving force in accomplishing these feats.  He worked hard in order to keep the hall a successful operation, while caring for all the spiritual needs of the parishioners, serving liturgies, baptisms, weddings and funerals.  He guided the people with pastoral wisdom and understanding, learning every detail about all of the families here in Joliet.  He knew everyone, where they were from, their children, grandchildren and extended family and kumovi.  He was a wealth of knowledge and an exemplary pastor.  He truly loved this town.  It was his new home, and he really embraced it lovingly, and likewise, this community embraced him back.  He was a perfect fit for his entire time here.  He was a staple of the community and cared for it with his heart.  He wanted to see only the success of the parish of St. George and every parishioner that came through.  For him, this parish was his family.  Let us just contemplate how many people he baptized, converted, married, buried, counseled, encouraged and enlightened.  The number is beyond concept.  Yet, God made it possible for him to do this work.  He knew that and was thankful for it.

Fr. Ned’s ability to serve so successfully in parish life was evident to all, especially the diocesan bishops under whom he served, which is why they gave him extra duties to serve in Diocesan positions, such as hierarchical dean and deputy.  He was a problem solver, accomplishing his missions with wisdom and understanding.  He would be sent to parishes to calm difficult situations between parishioners and clergy, always listening to all that needed to be said, while remaining unbiased in order to come to a wise decision, as King Solomon in the Old Testament. 

His talents were recognized also within Serbian national organizations, such as the SNF and the Chetnik Organization.  His skills in writing, both in the Serbian and English languages, helped him serve as the editor of the Path of Orthodoxy, writing for many newspapers, such as the Srbobran and Srbija.  His talents were many, and he gave them all for the good of the Church and our Serbian Orthodox people.

Truly, Fr. Ned was a Dalmatian Serb success story.  Coming from a small village in a remote place, he emerged as en extremely educated and gifted person, not only known in his own land, but also in his new land, as a writer, thinker and authority.

I must take a little time to personally express my own gratitude to my Kum Fr. Nedeljko, who was one of my mentors and hands down my greatest support after my very own father within church life.  I witnessed him in action both in church and out since the earliest days of my life.  Many of those times were at funerals of Cetniks, when he would come to serve with my father in Merrillville, often giving an inspiring eulogy on the life and dedication of the reposed.  And most-often I heard him repeat the words of the Gospel: “Good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Master!”  These words often resound in my mind from his repetition of them, as the desire of every faithful servant and the need to be good and faithful in all that we do.  I saw him at Diocesan events as an authority along bishops and other senior clergy, always having a sober, direct and balanced answer.  He was always on the side of justice.  Yes, he could play politics in his decision making, but that was only in order to set up a good foundation so that the righteous decisions could be made.  He knew and believed in what was true.  I can say that I also knew him on the golf course, being his caddy, counting all of his strokes—even the ones he didn’t want me to count.  Kum Ned, as we lovingly referred to him, was always around and always a part of our lives.  He was an encouragement to me in my desire to study theology, even when I did not have an interest in doing so!  He tried to convince me to go to Seminary in Serbia when I was 14, in the middle of the 90s.  At that point, I had no inclination toward ministry, but he did for me.  Later on, when I decided to go to Seminary, he was one of my biggest supports.  Throughout my studies, ordinations and service to the Church, both on the local, Diocesan and National level, he was there every step of the way to encourage and mentor me in fulfilling my duties in the best way possible.  And when I was appointed his successor in Joliet, I can say without a doubt that no other priest in the history of successors had such a smooth transition from senior to junior as I did with him.  Everything was prepared for me: names of parishioners, when he would typically visit them, which day to go and in what order.  He had everything written down, so that I could just come to St. George and get to work.  Any of my questions were never a burden to him, and he was always there to explain, teach and guide.  This is a testimony as to what kind of pastor he was to this flock.  This was a testimony to what kind of a person he was to his successor.  It was not about him, rather, it was about serving the church in the best way possible.  Thank you, my dear Kum.

There are several words that could easily sum up that which we have said about him: he was a Serb, he was Educated, a Pastor, a Politician, an Authority, a Mentor and a true Friend.  But let us look at Fr. Ned as Dad – Ta.  He was an amazing father to Stevan and Neda, and I know you both know that he loved you with all his heart.  Your accomplishments throughout life gave him strength and comfort.  Your children brought him the greatest joy, and you were constantly in his prayers and on his mind.  We see what an excellent father he was to you, always putting himself second to your needs. His joy was seeing the success of his children.  Seeing you on the right path confirmed for him the efforts that he put forth, that they were worth it.  And whenever challenges arose, that was not a stumbling block for him.  He persevered through the difficulties with faith in God, knowing that which comes, will pass, no matter how difficult a challenge it may be.  His four grandchildren—Gabby, Ally, Stella and Michael, you were what kept him going.  He was so proud of the good young people that you have become.  His time with you was a treasure for him, and he glorified God in seeing your success.  He was so overjoyed being a part of Gabby and Trey’s wedding, and even though at one point he wasn’t sure if he would make it to the wedding, he again put himself last and did all possible in order to be there.  He loved you and always will.  Now, a legacy is left for you to emulate.  Perhaps not in the same capacity that he was in, but you can all live up to that which he left for you.  That is, be good, upright Orthodox Christians, dedicated to your family and to righteousness.  Care for each other, strengthen each other, love each other.  Know that how you live will effect those around you, and never forget to have similar dedication to our Orthodox Church and to love God deeply and firmly.

On behalf of all of us clergy here, as well as those who could not be here for various reasons; on behalf of the entire Kostur family, especially my children, for whom Kum Nedjo was a part of daily life, we offer to all of you our most sincere condolences, prayers and support.

So, my dear Kum, we must say farewell, and we will do it in faith in the Lord’s Resurrection—trusting in the sincerity of your service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  You have fought the good fight, you have finished your course, you have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7).  Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Master! (Matt 25:21).

Memory eternal, may the Lord bless his soul!  Вјечнаја Ти памјат, драги Оче Прото, драги наш Куме!  Амин!

Eulogy delivered by Rev. Nikolaj Kostur

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