John Craig Roak (1933 - 1972)

The Beginning of the Modern Era

John Craig Roak served as Gloria Dei's rector from 1933 to 1972. Reverend Roak guided his congregation through the end of the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and all but the very end of the United States' involvement in Viet Nam. Social changes during his tenure at Gloria Dei included the Great Migration of African Americans from the South, the Civil Rights Movement, the rekindled Women's Movement that began in the 1960's, President Lyndon Johnson's experiment with the Great Society, and increasing immigration from "new" parts of the world, especially Southeastern Asia and Latin America.

Aside from keeping the place alive through some trying times, no small accomplishment in itself, Reverend Roak and his wife, Marian (nee Sponsler), revived interest in Gloria Dei's Swedish history and culture, especially through the creation of our Luciafest, which they initiated in 1938, and which remains an essential element of the life of the congregation even now. In addition, and working with Congressman William Barrett and with then governor of the Swedish Colonial Society, Colonel Frank Worthington Melvin, Reverend Roak obtained from the Department of the Interior "National Historic Site" designation for Gloria Dei in 1942 (before Independence Hall was so designated). That enabling legislation called for the church to be given "an appropriate setting", which resulted in removal of other structures on the block, landscaping of the land, and construction of a wall around the entire block. And finally, John Roak was a major force in fighting the proposed routing of Interstate 95 along the west bank of the Delaware River where it would have been erected just outside the front windows of the church, assuming the church itself would not have been removed.