The Indianapolis Roman Catholic Church opened its doors to black people at a time when others turned their backs on them. Opposition to the education of black children was common in Indiana. State laws explicitly called for separate but equal services for citizens living in Indiana. Leaders within the church worked in this contemporary reality by creating new opportunities where there were few.
This column highlights one of the parishes in Indianapolis and how its buildings were used to put the words of the church into action. A second column will continue the history of this parish as well as others who have represented all in Indianapolis.
St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church (hereinafter referred to as St. Bridget’s Church) was founded in 1879, with construction beginning in June of that year at a site on West Street (now known as Dr . Martin Luther King, Jr. Street) at Rue Saint-Clair. The neighborhood when the church was founded was called Jimmy Blake’s Woods. The sanctuary of the Sainte-Brigide church was consecrated on January 1, 1880.
This parish was primarily designed to serve Irish immigrants who had already settled here as well as those who were to move to Indianapolis in the years to come. Eventually, the congregation became a predominantly black congregation. Some reports have indicated that blacks have been a part of St. Bridget’s Church since its initial founding.
The name of the parish was chosen to recognize one of the three patron saints of Ireland: Sainte-Brigide; the other two patron saints of Ireland are St. Patrick and St. Colmcille. (Many people use Sainte Brigitte to refer to the saint in English; Sainte Colombe is also used as the spelling for Sainte Colmcille.)
The feast day of St. Bridget of Ireland was removed from the official calendar of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Paul VI in 1969. The Pope took this action for a number of Saints whose Church has determined to be. ‘a confirmed story was missing. While the feast of Saint Bridget of Ireland has been removed, there is still an annual feast for Saint Bridget of Sweden on the church calendar on July 23.
One of the aspects that the church could not confirm with certainty was whether Saint Bridget of Ireland actually existed or if her life story was a legend. Her name was also the name of a Celtic goddess that many Irish worshiped before Ireland became primarily Roman Catholic. A number of reports have indicated that Saint Bridget (the person) was conceived as the daughter of a slave and a high-ranking nobleman who owned her mother as property.
For many Irish, whether real or legendary, is somewhat unimportant. It’s what she stands for that counts. The story – the caption – said that his compassion and kindness was exemplified by his willingness to help those in need.
A year after the church was consecrated, the parish added a school to its property when St. Bridget Roman Catholic School was founded in 1881. It was also called St. Bridget Roman Catholic Academy. Hereinafter, this school is referred to as St. Bridget School.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, public policy in the state of Indiana was separate but equal and was practiced by many people – inside and outside government departments – at Indianapolis. This included the operations of elementary schools within the Indianapolis Roman Catholic Church.
St. Bridget’s Church has established a separate elementary school for “colored children”: St. Ann’s Roman Catholic School (hereinafter referred to as St. Ann’s School). This school opened on Fayette Street at its intersection with Pratt Street (now known as Ninth Street) in 1892. Referring to this school, some newspapers of the time added the words “for colored children ”or“ for black children ”in the reports. .
The funeral notice from Reverend Daniel Curran, the first pastor of St. Bridget’s Church, provided some context for the time. Published December 17, 1918 in The Indianapolis News, the funeral notice stated that “Father Curran’s greatest and most lifelong ambition was to improve the condition of people of color among whom he was considered a patriarch and was widely known for his benevolence. He created Indiana’s only school for Catholic children of color, now known as St. Anne’s School on Fayette and Pratt streets.
St. Ann’s School closed in 1919. At this time, the students transferred to St. Rita Roman Catholic School (hereinafter referred to as Saint Rita School) at 1816 N. Arsenal Ave. This school was founded as part of the new Roman Catholic Parish of Sainte-Rita. According to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Saint Rita School was designed to be the only Roman Catholic elementary school for black children in Indianapolis.
The building that housed St. Ann’s School then became St. Bridget’s Parish Hall and was used for all parish activities. Years later, the structure was used as the DePaul Center, a youth center for black children. The DePaul Center was opened on June 24, 1945. This building was eventually demolished and the land is now used today as a playground for the St. Mary Child Center.
The next editions of What’s In A Name, Indy? will provide additional details on the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the lives of black people living in Indianapolis.
Do you have questions about the communities of Indianapolis? A street name? A landmark? Your questions can be used in a future news column. Contact Richard McDonough at [email protected].