One hundred years is a long time ago, and during that time many things have come and gone. However, one historic establishment still stands tall and strong, and has no signs of leaving any time soon: St. Rita Catholic Church.
Established on Aug. 3, 1919, St. Rita Catholic Church was originally located at 19th Street and Arsenal Avenue for over 40 years. Father Bernard Strange became the priest at the church in 1935. Under his leadership the church became a vital part of the community as Strange fought for the desegregation of Catholic schools and welcomed diversity to St. Rita.
The church moved to its current location, 1733 Dr. Andrew J. Brown Ave., in April 1958. The church was dedicated to the glory of God in honor of St. Rita on May 17, 1959.
“We are standing because we support one another,” Anita Guynn-Bardo, 50, said. “Through all the ups and downs. We support each other through our ministries, revivals, fundraisers, programs and most importantly through the offering of the mass.”
Guynn-Bardo, a longtime member of St. Rita, has been youth director for 19 years and the director of religious education for six years.
“Our parish is unique in its design and the rich history we hold so dearly,” Guynn-Bardo added. “We were the support system for seminarians, priests and associate pastors, the support for nuns and sisters. We have continued to be a welcoming community to those that have come through our doors and will continue to through years to come.”
St. Ritas has always been a diverse and welcoming community for all. Predominately consisting of African American parishioners, the church has many ethnically different members.
“We have a very diverse community,” longtime member Denise Gavia-Currin said. “Even though we are 'quote' in an African American community, we love everybody. My dad was Hispanic that’s why we came here. I have been here for over 60 years.”
As the parishioners celebrate the church’s 100th anniversary, members reflect on how their faith and membership impacted their lives.
“I joined the church under my mom,” said Carrie Conwell, newly elected councilman of St. Rita. “Once I got of age it became a part of my life and it enriched my life. It has kept me grounded and rooted, and to become a better person. It has made me grateful for all I have.”
St. Rita isn’t just significant to the community. Members hold fond memories of events that happened inside the church’s walls.
“In 1981, myself and four others became the first Black girl altar servers in the Diocese of Indianapolis under the direction of Father Elmer Powell,” Guynn-Bardo said. “He had a lot of push back but continued onward until it was approved and accepted. Today we continue to have young ladies serving the church.”
In addition to memories of the past, St. Rita remains relevant today by creating new memories for the church’s youth. One more recent is activity is Vacation Bible School, which began 10 years ago.
“I was only 6 or 7 when I first came and since I’ve been here we have had youth Sundays, Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, Lily Reeves-Woods, 14, said. “They have done a lot for us. My favorite was Vacation Bible School. I liked the fun we had.”
With triumph also comes obstacles, and despite the church’s success over the years, it has had to overcome some rough patches.
“With all churches, there is debt,” Guynn-Bardo said. “We had it, and we were debt free many times throughout our years. Our building is old and through these years we have been blessed to be able to maintain it with the help of several talented men and women in our parish. We have continued to pray for the upkeep of our facilities.”
Despite the obstacles at St. Rita, the church membership continues to thrive and maintain a tight-knit family environment.
“We have a very diverse community, said Gavia-Currin. “There is a great love, closeness and connection.”
Contact newsroom intern Adriana Brown at 317-924-5143.
St. Rita turns 100
Help celebrate the 100th anniversary of St. Rita Catholic Church by taking a tour of the church 10 a.m.-noon. Aug. 3 at 1733 Dr. Andrew J. Brown Ave. Following the tour there will be an anniversary Mass with Archbishop Thompson at 4 p.m.