May 1, 2015

Immigration is at the heart of 150-year-old St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin receives a collection taken up during a March 17 Mass at St. Patrick Church in Indianapolis to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of St. Patrick Parish. Bringing up the collection are, from left, Sheny and Jazmin Perez. Assisting Archbishop Tobin is Deacon Oscar Morales, left. (Submitted photos)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin receives a collection taken up during a March 17 Mass at St. Patrick Church in Indianapolis to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of St. Patrick Parish. Bringing up the collection are, from left, Sheny and Jazmin Perez. Assisting Archbishop Tobin is Deacon Oscar Morales, left. (Submitted photos)

By Sean Gallagher

Immigration was the driving force behind St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis becoming a bustling faith community in the years after it was founded in 1865.

At that time, it was a large influx of Irish immigrants to the city in the mid-19th century that gave St. Patrick its name and filled it with a vibrant life of faith.

Now, as the parish celebrates its 150th year, immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries have continued to breathe new life into St. Patrick during the past two decades.

Franciscan Father Larry Janezic has served as St. Patrick’s pastor for nearly two years, following Franciscan Fathers Tom Fox and the late Arturo Ocampo, who ministered to the growing Hispanic community in the parish beginning in the mid-1990s.

“It gives me a great deal of joy and satisfaction. It’s very enriching,” said Father Larry.

At the same time, he recognized that overseeing a parish with a wide array of ministries aimed at strengthening the faith of its largely immigrant community keeps him on his toes.

“It’s a challenge to manage,” Father Larry said. “But it’s a job you do. You have to work at it.”

Father Larry also serves as pastor of nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish.

Originally, St. Patrick Parish was named after St. Peter. But when its first small brick church no longer accommodated its quickly-growing congregation in just six years, the larger structure to take its place (and the parish as a whole) was named after St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

In the decades to follow, St. Patrick Parish established two schools, one for girls and another for boys. Members of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods operated the former, while the Brothers of the Sacred Heart ministered at the latter.

Father Denis O’Donaghue served as pastor of St. Patrick from 1885-1910. For the last decade of his tenure, he was also an auxiliary bishop of the then-Diocese of Indianapolis. His time at St. Patrick came to an end when he was appointed to lead the Diocese of Louisville, Ky.

A series of challenges over the course of several decades confronted the parish beginning in 1927, when an arsonist set fire to the parish’s church. Although parish staff members and neighbors ran into the blazing church to rescue the Blessed Sacrament and some vestments and sacred vessels, the church was gutted by the fire.

Thankfully, it was able to be rebuilt prior to the start of the Great Depression and World War II.

In the years that followed the end of that conflict, however, many descendants of the early members of St. Patrick Parish moved out of the surrounding neighborhood to the quickly-growing suburbs of Indianapolis.

The exodus was accelerated when the construction of interstates 65 and 70 through downtown Indianapolis took out large swaths of the old Fountain Square neighborhood in which St. Patrick is located.

Longtime parishioner Jessie Stewart, 88, who previously served as a housekeeper when St. Patrick had a resident pastor, was saddened to see the church largely empty by the early 1990s.

“It was sad,” she said. “But I can sit at church and see all of [the former parishioners], even the ones that have passed on. To me, the church is full. I love this parish.”

Today, St. Patrick Church is not just full of memories for Stewart: it’s full of living, breathing people, too, who emigrated to Indianapolis from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

“They needed some place to go. And God sent them here,” she said. “I hope they stay. I hope the whole church just stays full. It’s filled now like it used to be—standing room only.”

Eva Morales was on staff at the parish in 1994 when its ministry to the Hispanic community began. She has been active in the parish ever since. Today, she coordinates weddings and the decoration of the church.

Although she is pleased about the way that the parish has reached out to the Hispanic community during the past 20 years, early on it was hard for her to keep up with the growth in its ministry.

“We were very busy,” Morales said. “We didn’t even think about how fast it was growing. We were just thinking about what else we could do to extend services and meet other requirements.”

Maria Teresa Aguayo and her husband Norberto, who moved to Indianapolis from Guadalajara, Mexico, became active at St. Patrick early on in its outreach to the immigrant community. Like Morales, they are pleased with the way that the parish has continued to grow in the past two decades.

“The growth of the community is what spurred on the pastoral care for the Hispanic community—more outreach and ministries for all who were arriving from all places,” said Maria Teresa.

Morales expects the parish to continue to be vibrant well into the future in part because, according to her, some 70 percent of the parishioners are 30 or younger.

“That says the parish has a future in the youth,” Morales said. “We keep growing, with more programs and people active in the ministries.”

St. Patrick currently has four youth and young adult ministry groups and active Christian Family Movement and Catholic Charismatic Renewal ministries in addition to a bustling catechetical program that serves all age groups.

“For us, St. Patrick is our home, our refuge,” Maria Teresa Aguayo said. “We love the Church very much. I don’t know how to express it, but we love going every Sunday and seeing our family there.”

That growing parish family also includes people who have found a home in the Fountain Square neighborhood as it has become revitalized in recent years.

It also includes people like Jeannie Raymann, who has ties to families that belonged to the parish long ago but moved away in the years following World War II.

A member of the parish for 10 years, Raymann, 70, helped organize the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of St. Patrick Parish. It culminated on March 17, the feast of St. Patrick, with a festive bilingual Mass at which Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin served as principal celebrant.

Raymann recognizes that the parish is different from the time that her Irish ancestors populated it.

“Part of it is different as far as the nationalities,” she said. “As far as being welcoming and helpful, there’s really no change. It’s the same as it was before. We all get along well.”
 

(Editor Mike Krokos contributed to this story.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!