August 21, 2015

St. Barnabas Parish to mark 50 years of generosity and faith

With members of St. Barnabas Parish looking on, Father John Sciarra blesses with holy water the cornerstone for the Indianapolis South Deanery’s church in 1985. For the first 20 years of its history, St. Barnabas, like many archdiocesan parishes founded during the baby-boom generation, had Masses celebrated in its school gymnasium. Father Sciarra, St. Barnabas’ founding pastor, retired in 1989. At left is Father Michael Fritsch, associate pastor of St. Barnabas at the time. (Submitted photo)

With members of St. Barnabas Parish looking on, Father John Sciarra blesses with holy water the cornerstone for the Indianapolis South Deanery’s church in 1985. For the first 20 years of its history, St. Barnabas, like many archdiocesan parishes founded during the baby-boom generation, had Masses celebrated in its school gymnasium. Father Sciarra, St. Barnabas’ founding pastor, retired in 1989. At left is Father Michael Fritsch, associate pastor of St. Barnabas at the time. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

The baby-boom generation, generally spanning from the end of World War II to the mid-1960s, was a time of great growth and change in the United States.

G.I.s coming home from the war got married and began families—in many cases large ones. Many of them went to college in greater numbers than previous generations, and helped contribute to the rapid economic growth of the country at the time.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis was affected by the baby-boom generation like many other social institutions.

From 1946 to 1965, 27 parishes were founded across central and southern Indiana, with 19 of those located in quickly expanding suburbs in Greenwood, Plainfield and the outskirts of Marion County.

St. Barnabas Parish, founded 50 years ago in 1965 on the south side of Indianapolis, was the last of the parishes during this period to be established.

Members of the faith community, located at 8300 Rahke Road, in Indianapolis, will celebrate this anniversary with a festive Mass at 5 p.m. on Aug. 29. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin will be the principal celebrant of the liturgy.

Sue Kegley will attend the Mass, much as she has participated in weekend liturgies at St. Barnabas throughout its 50-year history.

A charter member of the parish, Kegley, 79, was a young wife and mother when St. Barnabas was founded. By that time, though, she was an experienced hand at being a member of a start-up parish.

In 1946, at the start of the baby-boom generation, Kegley and her parents went from being members of St. Roch Parish to the newly-founded St. Mark the Evangelist Parish, both in Indianapolis, when Kegley was a grade-school student.

When recalling her memories of St. Barnabas’ early days, she quickly spoke of its founding pastor, Father John Sciarra, who led it for its first 24 years.

“He was very welcoming, very open, very accepting,” Kegley said. “He loved children. He dressed up as Santa Claus at Christmas. I had never seen a priest do that. You could see the children just light up when he came in the room.”

Kegley also spoke of Father Sciarra’s successor, Father Joseph MacNally, who led St. Barnabas for 13 years until his retirement in 2002.

She recalled his warm, outgoing personality that endeared him especially to the students at the parish’s school.

While “Father Mac” was pastor, Kegley worked in the school’s cafeteria. The students were supposed to be quiet during lunch. But that rule went out the door when the beloved pastor walked through the door.

“Everybody started screaming, ‘Father Mac! Father Mac!’ ” Kegley recalled. “Forget blowing the whistle. That wouldn’t work.”

Many other priests have served as associate pastors at St. Barnabas, which its current pastor, Msgr. Anthony Volz, described as “a training ground for priests.”

In its 50-year history, St. Barnabas has had 26 associate pastors, including Father James Farrell, who later succeeded Father MacNally as its pastor.

“Father Sciarra had a wonderful style of leadership,” said Father Farrell, now pastor of St. Pius X Parish and director of Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House, both in Indianapolis. “He empowered lots of people. He did not micromanage, but gave everyone a chance to spread his or her wings.

“He was kind, compassionate and very much a father figure in the community. People of all ages found that they could turn to him. I realized that this is the kind of pastor I wanted to be—approachable and available.”

The witness of Father Sciarra and the many other priests who have served at St. Barnabas over the past half century helped lead six men of the parish to discern a call to the priesthood and be ordained, including Msgr. William Stumpf, archdiocesan vicar general.

His family joined the parish when it was founded. He was a third-grader at the time.

“It was a great parish and a young parish,” Msgr. Stumpf said. “So I think there was a lot of bonding together because it was so new. They had to create their own traditions and really help create the parish and the school. There wasn’t a whole lot there in 1965.”

Karen Beckwith can attest to that. She entered sixth grade at St. Barnabas School in 1965, having been enrolled previously at the former Sacred Heart School, much closer to Indianapolis’ downtown than St. Barnabas.

“It was pretty much cornfields,” said Beckwith of St. Barnabas’ early surroundings. “I remember my friends from Sacred Heart telling me that I was moving out to the boonies. There were no fast-food places. I think there was a little grocery store. We were so excited when Burger Chef opened. We’ve come a long way.”

The land around St. Barnabas may have been built up greatly during the past 50 years, but so have the many ways that the people of the parish express their faith.

They do that in part through the strong bonds of friendship and faith that have formed there over the past generation.

Clint Meinerding and his family joined the parish in 2000 after moving to Indianapolis from Anderson, Ind.

“We went to Masses at all of the area churches at first, but St. Barnabas just felt like home to us,” he said. “At the time, we never really thought choosing a parish was a significant decision, but our entire lives have changed because of the people at St. Barnabas.

“Fifteen years later, all of our best friends are people we have met at [St.] Barnabas. It’s like a big family for us. We pray together, we laugh together, and we cry together.”

Like a family, the members of St. Barnabas have been quick to lend a helping hand. Beckwith is a member of its outreach community and sees this generosity firsthand.

She is involved in Helping Our Own People, an organization independent of St. Barnabas that gives food, clothing and other necessities to homeless people in Indianapolis.

“If I put something in the bulletin that we need more water, the next week we’ll have a box out there full of bottled water,” Beckwith said. “It’s always been that way.”

Msgr. Volz appreciates the attitude in the parish that stewardship is a way of life, a notion instilled in many of its early members by Father Sciarra.

“It’s … a way of living, a way of being kind to others, a way of approaching life in the sense that everything that God has given to us is a gift and we need to give those gifts back to God,” Msgr. Volz said. “People open their hearts and talents and come forward whenever someone needs help.”

The effects of such openness have multiplied at St. Barnabas as the parish has grown from a small faith community in 1965 to more than 1,300 households today.

“Even though it’s a huge parish, it has a small feel to me,” Beckwith said. “We have small church communities. There are smaller groups that do things within the parish. To me, it still has that smaller feel. No matter what Mass I go to, I know a lot of the people.”

Meinerding agrees.

“St. Barnabas has been wonderful for us,” he said. “Although we’re a larger parish, it still seems like we know everyone. … We really feel like St. Barnabas is more than just a church, it’s more like a family.” †

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