September 28, 2007

Father John Sciarra was founding pastor of St. Barnabas Parish

By Mary Ann Wyand

Father John N. SciarraFather John N. Sciarra, a retired diocesan priest who was the founding pastor of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis in 1965 and served there for 24 years, died on Sept. 22 at St. Francis Hospital in Beech Grove. He was 89.

Father Sciarra retired as pastor of St. Barnabas Parish on July 5, 1989, and was named pastor emeritus of the Indianapolis South Deanery parish on Feb. 2, 1995. The parish hall and gymnasium there are named in his honor.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Sciarra on Sept. 27 at St. Barnabas Church.

Father James Farrell, the third pastor of St. Barnabas Parish, assisted with the Mass. Father Paul Shikany, pastor of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, was the homilist. Both priests served as associate pastor of St.Barnabas Parish while Father Sciarra was the pastor.

Burial followed at the St. Ambrose Parish Cemetery in Seymour, which was Father Sciarra’s hometown.

Wake and prayer services for Father Sciarra were held on Sept. 25 at St. Paul Hermitage and on Sept. 26 at St. Barnabas Church.

Father Farrell remembered Father Sciarra as “a great priest and wonderful pastor who was very present to his people and very committed to stewardship as a way of life. He founded this parish on that concept, and we try to live up to that today by practicing stewardship in our parish.”

Father Sciarra “had a wonderful way of communicating with people of different generations,” Father Farrell recalled. “… He made himself present to others by his stability, his steadfastness, his faithfulness and his perseverance.”

After retiring from active ministry, Father Sciarra lived at the St. Barnabas Parish rectory with Father J. Joseph McNally, the second pastor, before moving to St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove nine years ago.

“He certainly was a big part of our community life,” Father Farrell said, “and even in retirement he stayed close to the parish and did a lot of work here.”

Longtime St. Barnabas parishioners John and Barbara Scheib of Indianapolis remember Father Sciarra’s piety and wonderful sense of humor. They met him at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove in 1954 and became good friends.

“He was a very pious man,” John Scheib said. “He was a wonderful person. Any time you needed anything, all you had to do was call and he was right there for you. He had a great sense of humor. We joked around quite a bit.”

Longtime St. Barnabas parishioners Eldon and Sylvia Talhelm of Indianapolis also were good friends with Father Sciarra. She worked as a parish secretary for Father McNally for eight years.

“He was very humble and had a very dry sense of humor,” she said. “He was very matter of fact about life and death. ... He would say that we were just put here to work our way toward heaven.”

Father Sciarra suffered a stroke a few years ago, she said, but recovered from it amazingly well.

John Nicholas Sciarra was born on July 6, 1918, to Fidele and Helen (Cooley) Sciarra in Seymour. He grew up in St. Ambrose Parish and attended St. Ambrose School then graduated from St. Mary High School and St. Mary College in Kentucky.

After completing his studies at Saint Meinrad’s major seminary, he was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter on Feb. 2, 1945, at Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church in St. Meinrad.

He celebrated his first Mass at St. Ambrose Church in Seymour on Feb. 4, 1945. His first assignment was as assistant pastor of St. Mary Parish in Richmond, where he served from

Feb. 12, 1945, until 1949.

On Nov. 10, 1949, Father Sciarra was named assistant pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford. Three years later, on July 1, 1952, he was appointed assistant pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove.

Father Sciarra received his first pastorate on May 20, 1961, at St. Nicholas Parish in Ripley County, where he served until May 19, 1965, when he was asked to establish St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.

On March 19, 1984, he was appointed to the archdiocesan Board of Consultors and served in that capacity until Dec. 31, 1988.

He was named administrator of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh on July 5, 1984, while continuing as pastor of St. Barnabas Parish.

On Sept. 1, 1985, Father Sciarra was appointed dean of the Indianapolis South Deanery then reappointed on Sept. 1, 1988. He retired from active ministry a year later.

Surviving are a sister, Helen North of Columbus, and several nieces and nephews.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Catholic Community Foundation for the St. Barnabas Parish Father Sciarra Endowment Fund. †

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