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The Road from Vincennes to Indianapolis

On this day, March 28, 1898, the Diocese of Vincennes, officially became the Diocese of Indianapolis. For all intents and purposes that move took place about 20 years previously, in 1878, when Bishop Francis Silas Chatard became the fifth bishop of Vincennes. (He was, of course, also the FIRST Bishop of Indianapolis). By apostolic brief dated March 28, 1898, the title of the diocese was changed to that of the Diocese of Indianapolis, with the episcopal see in the city of Indianapolis. Although the bishop’s official residence was changed, the patron of the diocese remained St. Francis Xavier, the title of the Old Cathedral at Vincennes.

Upon his appointment in 1878, Bishop Francis Chatard was directed to fix his residence at Indianapolis. (I’m sure that Bishop Chatard ‘asked’ to be directed). Although the site of the cathedral and the title of the see were continued at Vincennes, Bishop Chatard used St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis as the cathedral. Even after the see was moved to Indianapolis in 1898, St. John’s continued as the pro-cathedral until the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul was completed in 1907. St. John the Evangelist Parish, established in 1837, was the first parish in Indianapolis and Marion County.

You can read more on Saint John’s in a previous post. There are also a number of sites featuring items (particularly the architecture) on St. John’s. Here is the result of a typical Google search

Charles Blanchard, in his History of the Catholic Church in Indiana made scant mention of the official move to Indianapolis. He wrote:

In the spring of 1898 the brief from the Holy Father, Leo XIII. was received by Bishop Chatard, granting permission to change the name of the diocese from that of Vincennes to Indianapolis, entailing all the legal changes that must result as an effect of the brief. It makes Indianapolis not only an episcopal city, but also the see city and seat of the ecclesiastical authority for the diocese. It also empowers the erection of a cathedral, which long-expected work will be undertaken in the near future. The issuance of the brief referred to is the latest event of importance in the history of the former diocese of Vincennes and the present diocese of Indianapolis. The following letter announcing the change in the title of the diocese was addressed to the priests by Bishop Chatard:

Reverend Sir: A brief from the holy see, bearing date March 28, 1898, for reasons approved of by his Holiness, and on the recommendation of the Most Rev. Archbishop of Cincinnati and of all the right reverend bishops of this province, changes the title of the diocese of Vincennes to that of the diocese of Indianapolis. We notify your reverence of this act for all legal effects following from it, and that all communications to the ordinary of the diocese may be so addressed.

Indianapolis, Ind., April 30, 1898. – Bishop of Indianapolis.

Also on this day in 1933, Joseph Elmer Ritter was ordained auxiliary bishop at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Indianapolis. Ritter was appointed titular bishop of Hippo and auxiliary to the bishop of Indianapolis on February 3, 1933. He was consecrated in the cathedral at Indianapolis on this day by Bishop Chartrand, assisted by Bishop Emmanuel Ledvina of Corpus Christi and Bishop Alphonse J. Smith of Nashville. He had been named vicar general of the Diocese of Indianapolis two days after the announcement of his appointment as auxiliary, on February 5, 1933.

Upon the death of Chartrand in December of that year, he was named Bishop of Indianapolis, March 24, 1934. Ritter had an enormous impact on the this (Arch)diocese, the Archdiocese of Saint Louis as well as the universal Church. It seems that much has been forgotten about him. The recent election of Pope Francis brought on a conversation about an American being named Pope, however, few seem to remember the same thing happened back in 1963 when Ritter’s name was mentioned as “Papabili”, although no one gave much credence to the idea.


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