November 10, 2023

Love of worship, God’s people mark 50 years of ministry for Father Stephen Jarrell

Retired Father Stephen Jarrell listens to a reading proclaimed while concelebrating a July 11 Mass in the chapel of Envive Healthcare of Beech Grove where he lives. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Retired Father Stephen Jarrell listens to a reading proclaimed while concelebrating a July 11 Mass in the chapel of Envive Healthcare of Beech Grove where he lives. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

BEECH GROVE—For much of his 50 years of priestly life and ministry in the archdiocese, Father Stephen Jarrell has been a pioneer.

He served as the first director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship from 1976-1993. Then he was appointed to be the founding pastor of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood.

Later health challenges may have forced Father Jarrell to cut back on outward groundbreaking ministry. But he continued to be a pioneer, exploring more the spiritual depths of what it means to be a priest.

Through it all, it’s been Father Jarrell’s love of the Church’s faithful and its worship that has guided him through 50 years as a priest.

His love of worship was nurtured when he grew up before the Second Vatican Council as a member of St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville.

“In Connersville, people cared for the liturgy,” Father Jarrell recalled. “The Mass was never rushed. The priests didn’t give it a short shrift. There was always music.”

It was also while growing up in Connersville that the seeds of his priestly vocation were planted.

“There was an impulse, something that rang true with my heart,” Father Jarrell said. “It wasn’t a divine revelation, though. But I was very focused on it.”

In the years just before Vatican II, many young men from St. Gabriel became archdiocesan seminarians.

“It was like it was OK to be a priest,” Father Jarrell said. “It was a very positive environment.”

That encouragement continued through his years of priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

“The call to the priesthood was always strong for me, pretty constant,” Father Jarrell said. “I felt very supported through all my seminary days. I heard echoes of support not just from professors and spiritual directors, but also from peers.”

It was during his years at Saint Meinrad, 1961-73, that the Church’s worship underwent significant reform during and following Vatican II.

“At Saint Meinrad, everything was changing,” Father Jarrell recalled. “I didn’t feel, though, that everything was out of control. The monks really led the way, I think, in our country in terms of helping us make that transition better.”

After Father Jarrell was ordained a priest on May 20, 1973, he was charged with helping further that transition in the Church’s worship across central and southern Indiana, serving immediately on the archdiocese’s liturgical commission.

In 1976, he was appointed the first director of the then-new archdiocesan Office of Worship. He led workshops on liturgy in parishes across the archdiocese, often served as master of ceremonies for liturgies celebrated by the archbishop and organized major liturgies in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, including ordinations and chrism Masses.

“It wasn’t about me or me having something great to give people,” Father Jarrell said. “There was always a sense of collaboration. My approach to pastoring and in teaching was to collaborate with others [in archdiocesan leadership] and also with folks in the audience.”

This focus on collaboration was necessary in Father Jarrell’s next assignment, as the founding pastor of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, a ministry he was given in 1993.

Father Jarrell recalled meeting with new parishioners in a public library since the fledgling faith community had no property or buildings yet.

“You could tell that these people were super-committed to making this work,” he said. “They were so much together in making it happen. And we got to know each other. I’d never had an experience of bonding quite like that.”

In 2003, Father Jarrell was appointed pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, with shepherding Annunciation Parish in Brazil being added to his responsibilities two years later.

On Jan. 10, 2007, Father Jarrell was severely injured in a car accident. Immediately, this very active priest had to adjust to being cared for by others.

“The shepherd of the flock was tended to by the sheep,” he said. “It was a role reversal. I was laid up for three-and-a-half months.”

Parishioners made meals for Father Jarrell and took him to medical appointments.

While serving as pastor of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis from 2010 until his retirement in 2017, Father Jarrell experienced a loss of strength and growing balance problems due to neuropathy in his legs.

More recently, he’s begun to suffer from the nerve disorder Huntington’s chorea.

This has led Father Jarrell to now live at Envive Healthcare of Beech Grove, a retirement facility and nursing home previously known as St. Paul Hermitage.

The limitations his health has placed on his priestly ministry have not dampened his love for his vocation and the fulfillment he’s experienced in it.

“My love for the people of God when I started out as a new priest existed,” Father Jarrell said. “But I didn’t know the depth of it. It’s just like in a marriage. Over the years, I think I’ve opened my heart to allowing the Lord to love me more deeply, especially when I was weak, vulnerable and dependent. I also welcomed the love from God’s people, too.”

Father Jarrell shared words of encouragement for men considering a possible call to the priesthood in their own lives.

“I often think of the words of our Lord from the Bible, ‘Do not be afraid’ ”

(Lk 12:32), Father Jarrell said. “So often today, we live in a world where so much is mechanized and planned. We’re trying to predict everything. That’s not how it works with God in the life of faith—in the life of a priest or in life in a marriage.

“If we’re in love, we have to learn how to leap into the unknown and to trust God and each other.”

(For more information on a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit

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