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Moving to Indianapolis – Succession of Bishops – Cornerstones

On 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. Church ‘politics’ of course requires that kind of phrase. I’m sure Chatard “directed” himself to Indianapolis. 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.

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 Bishop Chartrand in December of that year, Ritter was named Bishop of Indianapolis on March 24, 1934.

The Criterion, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, ran an article on their website about a talk given at the Ritter House by Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville. Ritter was way ahead of his time when he desegregated the Indianapolis Catholic schools and then did the same thing in Saint Louis. He met much opposition to this, but in the end he prevailed. The archives of the Sisters of Providence have an interesting set of documents with regard to the integration of St. John’s Academy in Indianapolis. It seems that the other two girls academies in town, St. Mary’s and St. Agnes had decided to refuse entry of so called “colored” children. St. John’s was the only one at first. The others eventually followed suit. Ritter reportedly said “The cross on top of our schools must mean something,” and expressed his belief in “the equality of every soul before Almighty God.” 1

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.

We also remember that on March 30, 1826, Rev. John B. Champomier laid the cornerstone of the present St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Vincnennes. It was a Thursday. [Cauthorn p.228]

  1. Religion: Four New Hats. TIME Magazine. 1960-12-26[]

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