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Two commitments have always guided Catholic education in the archdiocese: creating a foundation of faith and shaping a vision of the future for children.
Today, that twin focus has led to a 97 percent high school graduation rate in the archdiocese, with 94 percent of those graduates entering college.
The approach has also earned national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence recognition from the U.S. Department of Education for 25 Catholic schools in the archdiocese—more than any other diocese in the country.
That dual commitment has been shared by Catholic families, lay teachers, priests, and religious sisters and brothers. It also has been a priority for the 11 bishops and archbishops who have served Catholics in central and southern Indiana since May 6, 1834, in the Diocese of Vincennes and then in the Diocese of Indianapolis when it was established on March 28, 1898.
Here’s a historic look at how each of those 11 spiritual leaders have shaped Catholic education in the archdiocese in the past 175 years.
A physician, priest and former Catholic college president, Bishop Bruté graduated from medical school at the University of Paris with the highest honors before deciding to study for the priesthood as a member of the Society of St. Sulpice and come to America as a missionary.
Upon his arrival in southern Indiana in late 1834, the first Bishop of Vincennes dedicated his ministry to educating people in the faith and preparing men for the priesthood.
He invited the Sisters of Charity from Kentucky to help him with the ministry of Catholic education in the new diocese, and archival records report that “before very long about 50 day pupils and four boarders were in attendance” at the school in Vincennes.
“In a comparatively short period of time, an educational system had been set up in Vincennes,” the archival records explain, “which included complete elementary, secondary and higher education for both sexes and which was intended as a model for the entire diocese.”
Bishop Bruté worked hard to recruit 20 priests and seminarians as well as establish churches and schools in the German Catholic settlements in southern Indiana.
Within five years, 130 students attended elementary schools, and both a college for men and an academy for women had been established in the diocese.
“In addition to that of being head of the diocese,” the archival records note, “the first bishop’s duties embraced those of pastor of the congregation, seminary professor and school teacher.”
Bishop Bruté was recognized as “one of the most learned and distinguished men as well as an outstanding Catholic educator in the United States.”
He died on June 26, 1839, in Vincennes.
A lawyer and priest, Bishop de la Hailandière was installed as bishop of Vincennes in Paris on Aug. 18, 1839.
Before returning to Indiana, he appealed to the French Sisters of Providence for help in educating Catholics in his diocese.
Responding to his invitation, Mother Theodore Guérin—now St. Theodora Guérin—came to the diocese with five sisters to found what would become Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, recruit new sisters and later teach at parish schools.
During his eight years as bishop, he carried on Bishop Bruté’s plans for an educational system in the diocese. He also arranged for the construction of a library to preserve his predecessor’s large collection of scholarly books.
He died on May 1, 1882, in France.
A priest and former college president, Bishop Bazin was interested in the religious instruction of children.
He was installed as bishop on Oct. 24, 1847, but died in Vincennes a few months later on April 23, 1848.
A former nobleman, Bishop St. Palais was installed on Jan. 14, 1849, in Vincennes. He is remembered for his commitment to caring for orphans and the education of young men for the priesthood.
Also in 1849, he approved the establishment of an academy and free school by the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
During his 28 years as bishop, a “young ladies academy” was established in Madison and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart opened a boys’ school in 1906 in Indianapolis and later founded a high school in Vincennes.
Bishop St. Palais died on June 28, 1877, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, a day after he attended a commencement ceremony there.
The former rector of the American College in Rome, Bishop Chatard studied medicine before answering God’s call to the priesthood. He was installed as bishop on May 12, 1878.
During his 40 years as bishop, the Diocese of Vincennes was renamed the Diocese of Indianapolis.
The interparochial high school in the Indianapolis North Deanery is named for this bishop, who wrote a pastoral letter on Catholic education.
By 1922, there were Catholic schools for boys and girls in “22 localities” and “upwards of 14,564 children were receiving a Catholic education under the care of sisters.”
He died on Sept. 7, 1918, in Indianapolis.
As coadjutor bishop with the right to succession, Bishop Chartrand assumed the spiritual leadership of the archdiocese following Bishop Chatard’s death.
He is remembered for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and as a “compassionate and wise confessor.”
Bishop Chartrand taught religion classes at Cathedral High School across the street from the Cathedral rectory and was known for participating with [grade school] pupils in recess games on the playground of SS. Peter and Paul School.
During his 15 years as bishop, 112 parishes operated schools, the archival records explain, and more than 16,000 children were receiving a Catholic education.
Bishop Chartrand also established a diocesan school board.
The archival records note that “educational progress in the Diocese of Indianapolis during the past quarter of a century is best shown in a roughly sketched account of the erection and dedication of a large number of the schools, which took place during this period, some of which were newly founded and a great number of others which were rebuilt.”
Bishop Chartrand died unexpectedly on Dec. 8, 1933, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A native of New Albany, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph E. Ritter was named bishop on March 24, 1934, and was installed as the first archbishop of Indianapolis on Dec. 19, 1944, 10 months after
Pope Pius XII signed the apostolic decree establishing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Archbishop Ritter is remembered for his courageous commitment to civil rights and for integrating the Catholic schools in the archdiocese two decades before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in public schools.
In 1946, he was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where he also supervised the integration of Catholic schools.
Archbishop Ritter was named a cardinal by Pope John XXIII on Jan. 16, 1961. He died on June 10, 1967, in St. Louis.
Remembered as a visionary spiritual leader, Archbishop Schulte was installed on Oct. 10, 1946.
Many parishes and schools in suburban areas of Marion County exist because Archbishop Schulte foresaw the population growth and demographic changes then bought land in a number of outlying areas.
Archbishop Schulte also supervised the construction and development of the four interparochial high schools in the Indianapolis deaneries: Bishop Chatard, Cardinal Ritter, Roncalli and Father Thomas Scecina Memorial.
As a Father of the Second Vatican Council during the 1960s, Archbishop Schulte helped make many of the liturgical decisions that have shaped the Catholic Church in modern times.
He died on Feb. 17, 1984, in Indianapolis.
As coadjutor bishop with the right of succession, Bishop Biskup also served as pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Indianapolis before he was installed as archbishop on Jan. 14, 1970.
Archbishop Biskup is remembered for supporting the concept of Total Catholic Education and the establishment of lay boards of education to govern the parish elementary schools and interparochial high schools.
Archival records report that “it was during his administration that the archdiocese became known nationally for its holistic approach to Catholic education under the leadership of Father Gerald A. Gettelfinger, then superintendent of Catholic education” and now bishop of the Diocese of Evansville.
Archbishop Biskup died on Oct. 17, 1979, in Indianapolis.
The former director of the U.S. branch of the Church’s Society for the Propagation of the Faith was installed as archbishop on Jan. 10, 1980, and enjoyed visiting Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana during his 12 years of ministry.
The 1970s and 1980s ushered in an era that saw a dramatic increase in the involvement of lay people in teaching and running Catholic schools.
As a result, the archdiocese received national recognition as a leader in lay governance of schools.
Archbishop O’Meara died in Indianapolis 12 years to the day after his installation as archbishop.
Known as the “education bishop,” the former president-rector of Saint Meinrad School of Theology and Saint Meinrad College has focused on the educational needs of Catholics since his installation on Sept. 9, 1992.
For nearly 17 years, Archbishop Buechlein has built relationships with parents, parishes and corporate donors to raise funds to ensure that Catholic schools in the archdiocese will remain affordable for all children.
In 1996, he established the Celebrating Catholic School Values Scholarship and Career Achievement Awards program, which has raised more than $4 million to benefit Catholic education.
Archbishop Buechlein also initiated the Building Communities of Hope and Legacy of Hope capital campaigns to raise tens of millions of dollars, in part, to rebuild Catholic schools.
These successful campaigns enabled the archdiocese to build the new Holy Angels School and extensively renovate Holy Cross Central School in Indianapolis, which resulted in national news coverage as the first new inner-city Catholic schools constructed in the United States since the 1960s.
Each year, the six center-city parish schools in Indianapolis that are now Mother Theodore Catholic Academies help hundreds of students from low-income families rise above the cycle of poverty, achieve success in the classroom, and look to the future with hope and confidence.
Since 1985, 25 Catholic schools in the archdiocese have earned 31 national Blue Ribbons from the U.S. Department of Education recognizing their excellence. A total of 22 Blue Ribbon Awards have been earned by archdiocesan schools in just the past five years—more than any other diocese in the country. †