May 1, 2009

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish to celebrate 100 years

Father Augustine Sansone, fourth from left in the back row, stands on the steps of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis after his first Mass on May 26, 1929. The parish’s founding pastor, Father Marino Priori, stands second from left in the back row. (Archive photo)

Father Augustine Sansone, fourth from left in the back row, stands on the steps of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis after his first Mass on May 26, 1929. The parish’s founding pastor, Father Marino Priori, stands second from left in the back row. (Archive photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Catholics of Italian descent have called Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis their spiritual home since it was established in 1909.

A century ago, many Italians were moving from their homeland, where Catholics were ubiquitous, to places in the

United States like Indianapolis, where they were a distinct minority.

This made parishes like Holy Rosary all the more important since they served as an anchor for newcomers to a country that seemed so different from their native place so far away.

A hundred years later, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those first Italian immigrants have fully integrated into American society. In the past generation, many moved away from their neighborhood parish on the near south side of Indianapolis.

But the Italian heritage of Holy Rosary Parish remains vital, both in the hearts of the descendants of the founders who remain and who regularly return, and in the many newcomers the parish has welcomed in recent decades.

That heritage will be displayed when the parish’s current members gather in its recently restored church at 4:30 p.m. on May 9 for its centennial Mass.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein will be the main celebrant. A banquet will follow at Primo South Banquet and Conference Center, 2615 E. National Ave., in Indianapolis.

Vince Gatto, 81, is the grandson of Rosario Gatto, a founding member of the parish. He has lived behind the church his entire life and plans on attending the centennial Mass.

“It will be wonderful,” Gatto said. “I’m almost 100 years old so I’m close to it. … [The parish] is my whole life. I depend upon it. My religion is Holy Rosary.”

Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general and Holy Rosary’s pastor for nearly 11 years, is also looking forward to the celebration.

“In the past 10 years, the parish has more than tripled in size, Sunday support and vitality all the way around,” he said. “We have much to celebrate. We need to honor those original members and those who came after them—they kept the parish and her traditions alive through thick and thin.”

Michelle Venezia, 41, lives with her family about a block away from Gatto. She and her husband, John, both come from Italian families that go back deep in the history of Holy Rosary Parish.

She thinks the parish church’s restoration, which includes uncovering many stained-glass windows and prominently features a painting of Our Lady of Pompeii on the walls of the sanctuary, underscores its current vitality and its Italian roots.

“That really put us back with our ties to Italy,” Venezia said. “It’s the way it looked when my grandmother made her first Communion here at Holy Rosary.”

As rooted as Venezia is in Holy Rosary’s Italian heritage, she gives credit to Msgr. Schaedel for maintaining and strengthening it.

“[He] has been very, very respectful of what the parish was in the past,” she said. “And I think that is one of the things that has endeared him to the people that are here, even though he’s not Italian.”

Venezia also acknowledged that the newcomers to the parish, many of whom do not have Italian ancestors, value its Italian heritage and work hard to nurture it, especially during its annual Italian Street Festival, which began in 1983 and this year will be held on June 12-13.

“The majority of the booths are run by old Italian families,” Venezia said. “But if you get into the background, the people who are inside working and do a lot of the set up are new parishioners. They’re becoming just as invested in Holy Rosary as some of the older people.”

Many of the newer parishioners were attracted to Holy Rosary because of its traditional Latin Mass apostolate, which has been a part of the parish since 1998. Currently, the extraordinary form of the Mass is celebrated on a daily basis.

Marcus Shutta, 33, is one such new member, joining Holy Rosary Parish in 2006.

He and his wife, Emily, and their nearly 1-year-old daughter, Marinn, regularly attend the Sunday morning traditional Latin Mass, and appreciate its tradition, beauty and reverence. That is also why Shutta values the Italian heritage of Holy Rosary.

“Tradition is one of the aspects of the Church that I just love so much,” he said. “So to think about those families that are still here and the traditions that they’ve carried on through the generations—you don’t find that today.”

Ann Naughton, 48, also values the parish’s ethnic roots because of the way she was made to feel at home at Holy Rosary when she became a member in 2004.

“It was the Italians who welcomed me,” Naughton said. “They are the hosts as far as welcoming people, I think. It was the older people who made me feel like I was a part of their family.”

Naughton helped lead the parish’s participation in the Legacy for Our Mission: For Our Children and the Future archdiocesan capital campaign that made the church’s restoration possible.

Although she and other new members of the parish contributed to the campaign, Naughton gave much credit for the success of the campaign in the parish to “the people who have been here all those years, being devoted to it and having it as a priority in their lives.”

(A $15 per person reservation fee is required to attend Holy Rosary’s May 9 centennial banquet at Primo South. To make reservations, call 317-636-4478 or send an e-mail to

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