July 12, 2013

St. Gabriel celebrates 50 years ministering on Indianapolis’ west side

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and Father Larry Crawford concelebrate a Mass marking the 50th anniversary of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish on the west side of Indianapolis on June 23. (Submitted photo by Patrick Dimmick)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and Father Larry Crawford concelebrate a Mass marking the 50th anniversary of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish on the west side of Indianapolis on June 23. (Submitted photo by Patrick Dimmick)

By Natalie Hoefer

Focus back to early June 1963.

Lesley Gore’s top single “It’s My Party” rocked from radios. President John F. Kennedy presided over “Camelot,” while Catholic cardinals prepared to elect a new pope in Rome after the death of Pope John XXIII.

And on the west side of Indianapolis, a new parish was peparing to spread the message of God just like its namesake, St. Gabriel the Archangel.

On June 23, St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish on Indianapolis’ west side celebrated a Mass in honor of the parish’s 50th anniversary.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin celebrated a bilingual Mass at the church, which is now home to a large Hispanic population.

Mary Divita, a member of the parish since 1964, recalls the shift in the parish’s population.

“In the beginning [of the parish], the west side was recently developed, filled with inexpensive homes attractive to returning GIs, recently married, beginning their families.”

As the shift to the suburbs began, she witnessed the west side—and St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish—boast a higher African-American and Filipino population.

Mary’s husband, Dr. Jim Divita, a professor of history at then-Marian College from 1961-2003, explains one factor impacting the change in demographics.

“The heart of our area is the starter-home. … With the passage of time, the affordable areas attract the newcomers. The increasing Hispanic population of Indianapolis over the last 10-15 years is the latest change on the west side.

“In his homily, the archbishop mentioned that the word ‘parish’ comes from the Latin word for ‘neighborhood,’ ” Divita explains. “So that’s what a parish does, it reflects the neighborhood it serves.”

As members of the parish since 1967, Thomas and Marietta Daehler have witnessed the changes alongside the Divitas. Three generations of Daehlers now worship at St. Gabriel—the Daehler’s daughter and her family are also members of the parish.

“You name it, we’ve done it,” says Marietta of their involvement in the parish over the years. Much of the couple’s activities revolved around St. Gabriel the Archangel School. The school was merged with St. Michael the Archangel School in the fall of 2010.

“[The anniversary committee] pulled out all the memorabilia from the school and church last year,” recalls Marietta. “It was interesting to see it all again. Time goes by and you forget.”

With the closing of the school, the parish was able to do something it had never been able to do—consecrate the church.

“They intended to make the church into a gym and build a new church,” Marietta says of the original church structure. “So the church was never consecrated. We were able to use it for all different kinds of things.”

But along with the school’s closure went the need for a gymnasium. The parish began a remodeling project of the church interior. It was completed in 2011.

The interior was changed 180 degrees—literally. The altar location was moved from the north side of the building to the south side. Stained-glass windows were installed, as well as a new baptismal font. After 48 years, St. Gabriel the Archangel Church was finally consecrated during a special Mass celebrated by then-Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein on Feb. 6, 2011.

The renovation came in time for the parish’s 50th anniversary. Festivities started with a Mass on Nov. 25 of last year, commemorating the 1962 date for the groundbreaking of the church building under the leadership of Archbishop Paul C. Schulte.

Since the start of the 50th anniversary celebration last November, the anniversary committee had Christmas ornaments, T-shirts, mugs and bookmarks made with images of the church and its 50th anniversary logo.

The June 23 Mass celebrated by Archbishop Tobin and the picnic following marked the close of the 50th anniversary festivities.

More change for the parish came with the retirement of their pastor, Father Larry Crawford this month.

But heeding Archbishop Tobin’s call to “focus on Christ and Gospel,” St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish will continue to be, as the archbishop noted in his homily, “a beacon of light not only for each other, but for the neighborhood and the city.” †

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