July 28, 2017

Archbishop’s ministry connects Louisville, Indianapolis and Evansville

By Natalie Hoefer

The people of three dioceses were on the mind of Archbishop Charles C. Thompson as he prayed in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on June 30, a day after receiving his pallium from Pope Francis.

He prayed for the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville, where he was raised, felt the call to the priesthood and served as a priest; for the people of the Diocese of Evansville, whom he led for six years as bishop; and for the people of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, whom he will shepherd starting on July 28.

“I couldn’t pray for one without the other,” he told The Criterion. “They’re all connected to me. They’re all a part of me. And they always will be.”

His words were true not just on a personal level, but on an historical level as well. In familial terms, the Archdiocese of Louisville is the grandmother of the Diocese of Evansville, and the mother of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Here is a brief background of the three dioceses that share both a history and a hold on the heart of Archbishop Thompson.

In the beginning

Going further along the diocesan family tree, it all started in 1658, when the Diocese of Quebec was established. At its peak in 1712, the diocese covered all of the lands from “New France”—now Canada—down to the Gulf of Mexico.

More than 130 years later, a new diocese was carved out of the vast Diocese of Quebec. To meet the needs of the newly formed United States of America, the Diocese of Baltimore was established—or erected, using the Church term— from the Quebec Diocese in 1789. Its boundaries encompassed the entirety of the newly formed nation, and the lands as far west as the Mississippi River.

The grandmother: Archdiocese of Louisville

In 1808, a new diocese was erected. It included most of what was or would become the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The new episcopal territory was called the Diocese of Bardstown, a town located in the heart of a three-county area in central Kentucky with a dense Catholic population. The area came to be known as the “Kentucky Holy Land,” where Archbishop Thompson was raised and shaped in the faith. (See related story on page 30.)

As the population moved north and the economy shifted to the quick currents of the Ohio River, the see of the Diocese of Bardstown was moved north to Louisville in 1841, and its name was changed to the Diocese of Louisville.

And so it was called for almost 100 years when, in 1937, it was elevated to an archdiocese.

The mother: Archdiocese of Indianapolis

By the time the see was moved to Louisville, the Diocese of Bardstown had already decreased in size. From within its borders was erected the Diocese of Vincennes in 1834. The diocese encompassed the 22-year-old state of Indiana, and the eastern third of Illinois. Its first shepherd was Servant of God Simon Bruté, for whom Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis is named. Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein opened his cause for canonization in 2005.

The Church in Indiana was hardly new at that time. In 1732, St. Francis Xavier Parish became the first parish founded in what would become the state of Indiana. It was founded in the French outpost and fort town of Vincennes, a town strategically located on the Wabash River, which served as a major conduit of trade in the 18th century. More than 100 years after its founding, the well-established St. Francis Xavier Parish became the cathedral for the newly formed Diocese of Vincennes in 1834.

Just nine years later, the Illinois portion of the Diocese of Vincennes was carved away in 1843. Not long after, in 1857, the northern half of the state became the Diocese of Fort Wayne, which later became the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Like its neighboring state to the south, the population and economy of Indiana shifted north with time. While still called the Diocese of Vincennes, the see was directed to be moved to Indianapolis in 1878 under its new shepherd, Bishop Francis S. Chatard. The see was officially declared to be Indianapolis in 1898, thus changing the name to the Diocese of Indianapolis.

SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral was constructed to become the cathedral. Until construction of the new cathedral was completed in 1907, St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis served as the pro-cathedral.

The grandchild: Diocese of Evansville

Almost 50 years after the diocesan see was moved and the name was changed to the Diocese of Indianapolis, a papal decree elevated the diocese to the status of archdiocese in 1944.

Through the same decree, the Diocese of Evansville and the Diocese of Lafayette were erected. (The Diocese of Gary was erected in 1957.)

Twelve counties and four deaneries comprise the Diocese of Evansville. Included within the diocese is the former see of the Diocese of Vincennes, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, commonly called the “Old Cathedral.” It was declared a minor basilica in 1970 in honor of the significant role it played in the history of the Church in Indiana. The first four bishops of the Vincennes Diocese are buried in its crypt.

In 2016, four parishes were merged into St. Francis Xavier Parish. The basilica now serves primarily as the site for the Old Cathedral Library and Museum. The library is the oldest in the state, housing about 12,000 rare volumes, including a papal bull issued by Pope John XXII in 1319 and a book from the 1200s.

In 1987, Archbishop Thompson was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville. In 2011, he became the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Evansville, and on July 28 he will become the seventh archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

The three related dioceses have made their mark on him, and he on them, bringing even fuller meaning to his prayer on June 30: “I couldn’t pray for one without the other. They’re all connected to me. They’re all a part of me. And they always will be.” †

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