Hi, HI. Last weekend, I bought an old postcard of an Indianapolis church. Can you please tell me if the building pictured on the postcard is still standing today, and if it is, where it is located? ~ Evan F., Indianapolis
I am very sorry to inform you that the beautiful church pictured on your recently acquired postcard no longer exists. The former St. Catherine of Siena Church was just south of Raymond Avenue and just east of Garfield Park. The convent school and the rectory that were adjacent to the church are also gone. The address of the church was 2245 Shelby Street. The address of the rectory was 1109 East Tabor Street. The address of the convent school was 1115 East Tabor Street. From the first decade of the 20th century to the last decade of the 20th century, these buildings served their community well.
Bishop Francis Silas Marean Chatard (1834-1918) made the decision early in 1909 to create a new parish to serve the south side of the city. Chatard was the first bishop of the newly formed Archdiocese of Indianapolis, holding that position from 1898 to 1918. He is also the man for whom Bishop Chatard High School was named in 1961. The boundaries of St. Catherine’s parish were from the White River and the Indianapolis Belt Railroad tracks on the west, north to Minnesota Street, east to Keystone Avenue, south to Southport Road, north on Madison Avenue to Southern Avenue, and back west to White River.
The site originally selected for St. Catherine of Siena Church was four blocks south of where it was ultimately erected. When negotiations for a property near Finley Avenue and Shelby Street broke down, the site at Tabor and Shelby Streets was purchased instead. The cornerstone was laid in a downpour of rain on July 25, 1909. Parishioners can be seen hoisting umbrellas in a photo of the ceremony.
We note that the word “Sienna” was misspelled on the postcard, as well as in newspaper articles in the early years of the church’s existence. There is only one “n” in “Siena.” Perhaps the double-n spelling was considered an acceptable “Americanized” version of the name at the time the parish was created. However, the Dominican tertiary for whom St. Catherine’s was named was born in Siena, Italy, so her name came from the name of her hometown. In later years, articles about and publications by St. Catherine spelled Siena with only one “n,” indicating that someone in a position of authority had made the decision to adopt the Italian spelling.
Catherine was born in Siena in 1347 and died in Rome in 1380. She tended to the sick and served the poor. St. Catherine was a scholastic philosopher and theologian, as well. Her writings include hundreds of poems and letters and are considered to be among the classics of the Italian language. St. Catherine of Siena is one of two patron saints of Italy, the other being St. Francis of Assisi. She is one of six patron saints of Europe, the others being Benedict of Nursia, Saint Cyril, Saint Methodius, Bridget of Sweden, and Edith Stein.
Charter members of St. Catherine’s Parish included families with the surnames of Betzler, Braun, Budenz, Cheezum, Curran, Mahern, Oberting, Sullivan, Straub, and Weber. The original building was constructed as both a house of worship and a school. The cost of the building was $38,000. The dedication took place on May 22, 1910. Catholic societies from throughout the city and a marching band assembled at Fountain Square and participated in a mile-long procession to the church.
For the first five years, there was no rectory for the parish. Two rooms in the north wing of the church were used as living quarters by the pastor. The classrooms were staffed by Sisters of Providence from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. As there were no convent quarters for the nuns at St. Catherine for the first fifteen years of the school’s existence, the sisters who taught there resided at St. Patrick Catholic Church at 950 Prospect Street and either walked to St. Catherine or rode the streetcar.
The first rectory for the church was a frame house, which was originally built on a residential lot at 1417 E. Kelly Street. In 1914, the house was moved two blocks west to the church’s property. The Indianapolis Public School System then built IPS School 34 on that site. The public school survives today as the Eleanor Skillen Elementary School.
St. Catherine’s classrooms were all located in the church in the early years, but the space allotted for the school was soon outgrown. On April 18, 1922, ground was broken for a separate school building. The school cost $50,000 to build. The new St. Catherine School was dedicated on September 3, 1922, again with a parade from Fountain Square. The ceremonies were directed by Bishop Joseph Chartrand (1870-1933). A south side high school was named for Chartrand from 1962 to 1969. After consolidation with Kennedy High School (originally called Sacred Heart High School from 1914 to 1966), the school then was renamed Roncalli High School.
After utilizing the frame home that had been moved from Kelly Street to the churchyard as the rectory for more than a decade, a 2-story brick rectory was built behind the church, facing Tabor Street. The new rectory was christened on September 5, 1926. The frame house was moved across the street and became a private residence again.
On June 19, 1934, during the severest years of the Depression, the parish celebrated its 25-year Silver Jubilee. Despite the hard times, it was a joyous period for the parish. The number of families who had joined the church continued to grow, as did the number of children enrolled in the school. An organ was installed in the sanctuary. The Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and St. Catherine’s Dramatic Club provided wholesome recreation and entertainment for the young people in the parish.
In 1959, the parish celebrated its 50-year Golden Jubilee. The church was extensively redecorated for the occasion. The interior was completely repainted, and marble altars and hand-carved statues were installed.
The 1960s brought marked change to St. Catherine of Siena. As a result of the Second Vatican Council, a directive was issued for Mass to be celebrated facing the congregation instead of facing the altar. Mass began to be spoken in English instead of in Latin. About the same time, hundreds of homes in the parish were purchased by the federal government for the construction of the new Interstate highway system. I-65 cut a north-south swath through St. Catherine’s parish about three blocks wide and about a mile long. I-465 also crossed the parish from east to west on the parish’s southern end. For nearly a decade, segments of the highway were under construction, causing detours and delays. I-465 was completed in 1970, and I-65 was completed in 1976. The I-65 portion of the freeway system was only a few hundred feet east of St. Catherine, and the Raymond Street interchange to access I-65 was only a few hundred feet north of St. Catherine.
About 1,000 families belonged to St. Catherine of Siena Church at the height of its membership. With the building of the Interstate system, it became less convenient for those who lived on the other sides of the highways. Residential streets that formerly extended for blocks, or even miles, dead-ended. Children who formerly walked to school and parishioners who once walked to church could no longer do so with the Interstate dissecting the neighborhood. Around the same time, the migration of families from many urban neighborhoods to the suburbs had begun on all sides of Indianapolis. In addition, the 1909, 1922, and 1926 parish buildings were aging and in need of repairs and updating. All of the above situations contributed to a decline in St. Catherine’s membership.
In September of 1974, St. Catherine consolidated with St. James, St. Patrick, Sacred Heart, and Holy Rosary parishes, becoming the Central Catholic Education Complex. St. Catherine School was then called Central Catholic School.
In 1993, St. Catherine of Siena Parish and St. James the Greater Parish consolidated, forming Good Shepherd Parish. Good Shepherd Church is located at 2905 Carson Avenue, slightly less than a mile south of the former St. Catherine of Siena Church. The Archdiocese determined that there was no practical purpose to maintain two churches in the same parish.
On January 10, 1997, after consulting with the Council of Priests, the Most Reverend Daniel M. Buechlein, O.S.B., Archbishop of Indianapolis, issued a decree “. . . relegating St. Catherine Church and School to profane but not sordid use.” This official act paved the way for the property to be demolished or used for non-religious purposes.
On June 12, 1998, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis sold the property to BGM LLC. Today there is no indication that there was ever a church, school, or rectory on this site. With businesses like a tanning spa, video store, pizza place, and bargain discount store, the 2200 block of Shelby Street is now completely commercial.
Sharon — as a “FREELOADER,” I normally have not looked at these historical items.
This one was very well done and I thank you for creating it.
Pam and I have been gone from Indy a good bit since Thanksgiving. She returned Jan. 1, 2014, to pick up her work as a volunteer tutor at the Indiana Women’s Prison.
We had driven to Arkansas to spend a couple of days with very old friends from 55 years ago when we were married — we spent a couple of nights and three days at Mt. Magazine State Park — highest point in Arkansas — excellent facilities — probably best seen in the fall with the colored leaves.
From there we went on to New Mexico, to Columbus, NM, right on the border where Pancho Villa invaded in 1916 — a great state park — Pancho Villa State Park is there.
We spent my birthday in December with our daughter and her family at Albuquerque, NM, and our anniversary with our son and his family at Longmont, CO — and then the day after Christmas the three families were together at Trinidad, CO, about 20 miles north of the NM/CO state line. It is an interesting community that is working on building an arts program. Raton, NM, 20 miles south is warmer in winter and summer.
I-25 from El Paso, TX, and Las Cruces, NM, and ABQ, NM, goes through both communities on the way to Denver and to Cheyenne, WY.
Also, the Chicago to Los Angeles Amtrak train stops in both Raton and Trinidad.
Biggest lack — no place to buy the N Y TIMES !
Pam and I would like to stay in touch with you and Mike — why not sent your regular personal e-mail address to me at:
or Pam at email@example.com
Hope 2014 is a great year for both of you.
Another great job, Sharon. My parents met at a St. Catherine’s Dramatic Club’s joint meeting with the Dramatic Club of Holy Name parish located in Beech Grove.
Thank you, Louis. I really enjoyed learning more about St. Catherine of Siena in the course of researching the subject. I am very sorry that the church and school no longer exist. They obviously played important roles in the spiritual and educational lives of many people.
There are two places in Indy that have special meaning to me: Wm. H. Block dept store, where I worked in the 70’s & the Bertha Ballard rooming house I lived in at that time . What can you tell me about their history? I was told the BB was built as a rememberance to a girl that died. My room was next to the stained glass window over the entrance . I know Block’s is now condos.
Thank you , Anne
Thank you for your interest in Historic Indianapolis. We will forward your question to the HI Mailbag queue. If you have a question about Indianapolis history in the future, please send it to historicindianapolis(at)yahoo(dot)com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line of your message. We try to respond to questions in the order they are received, and it is easier to keep track of those still awaiting an answer if all are received in the same location. There are a number of questions currently pending replies. Also, since the histories of the Wm. H. Block Co. and the Bertha Ballard Home are both quite lengthy, these now extinct institutions will probably need to be separate articles. The former opened in 1874, and the latter was founded in 1890.
This article brought back memories. I lived in the neighborhood when the demolition occurred. It broke my heart, not just as a neighbor, but my family was deeply involved in the parish. I have a photo of my grandfather in the Order of St. George around 1922 at St Catherine’s and a photo of him in the drama club from the same era.
When the buildings were being demolished, I bought a small stained glass window and while exploring the rectory, found a stack of the original blueprints from the church’s construction. I also salvaged the glass block from the factory scene in the above photo.
Thanks for the article; while sad it brought back many memories.
Please give me a call. I’d like to talk to you about St. Catherine’s. My family was deeply involved with St. Catherine’s for at least 40 years.
Thank you for leaving a comment, Joe. Would you be willing to share the blueprints you found when the church was being demolished? If you don’t have access to a scanner, we would be happy to borrow the blueprints from you just long enough to copy them.
My grandfather, Carl Kiefer was the organist at St. Catherine’s for many years. Hello to distant cousin Louis Mahern!
I would love to see you do a story about the Old St. Joseph Church at North and College. It was saved from the wrecking ball and has a very long history, especially among the Irish in Indianapolis.
Thank you for your comment, Michael. Is there any chance that someone in your family has a photo of your uncle playing the organ at St. Catherine? If so, we’d love to have a scan of it. Regarding your mention of an article about the former St. Joseph Catholic Church in the Chatham Arch Neighborhood, we will put your question in the HI Mailbag queue. We try to answer questions in the order received at historicindianapolis (at) yahoo (dot) com.
I sang in the choir when Carl Kiefer was the organist.
I remember Mr. Kiefer..I sang with him many times..he thought I sounded good..I thought he might have been hard of hearing!! LOL!! A great gentleman!! Have lots of great memories..
Also, I neglected to say my parents Everett & Angeline Laker were heavily involved in that parish also! My mother served as president of their Altar Society for many years..she was asked by Father Hostler to keep serving because of her accomplishments…at the time, I was a toddler and grew up in the basement of the school with all the women of the Altar Society as my Nannie’s…my fav was Mrs. Grote! As I remember, our school was the first to have a cafeteria…run by Mrs. Eagret and as many mothers that could were there cooking and serving! We need more parishes like this once was!! Oh, BTW, my father painted that church for their Golden…he painted most of the Catholic Churches in Indianapolis along with Saint Francis hospital and the Archbishop’s place and Fatima retreat house! Also, I have been looking for a classmate from St. Catherine’s…name Carol Ann Russell…she lived on Hofghen (sp?) St. she was my best friend and lost touch…she attended St, Agnes academy and i Sacred Heart…if anyone knows where to find her, please email me! Thank you
We grew up in the area and often played on the church grounds when they were closed. We’d ride our bikes to Lindner’s for ice cream. Our neighbors attended school there and we remember being envious that they had Easter Monday off of school! We remember I-65 being built, we would have picnics on the hill while waiting for the construction crews to arrive. What a flash from the past!
Thank you for your reminiscences about St. Catherine. Might you have any photos in which St. Catherine buildings appeared in the background? Or any photos of I-65 being constructed? We’d love to have scans of them for our archives.
I must know you ….. I remember the interstate being built as well!
Hello Nikita are you possibly the woman my father raised. Joe!!
Really enjoyed the article/photos about St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church and School. THANK YOU!!!
I was a student at the school for 8 years, and this brought back many memories. Sadly, the church/school is no longer there. It was a grand place. Our family lived a few blocks away, west of Shelby Street/Raymond.
My cousin sent me this article, and I passed the e-mail on to my two sisters and two former schoolmates. My sister Judy was a student at Sacred Heart High School, 1956-1960. I noticed in the one paragraph where Bishop Joseph Chartrand, Kennedy High School and Roncalli were mentioned that something was missing! Before Kennedy got that name — it was Sacred Heart High School from 1914 to 1966! Thought you might like to add that school name to your article — for all those students who graduated from Sacred Heart before it went to the Kennedy name. :-))
Regards, Another Sharon
Weren’t you in my class (1955) at Saint Catherine’s?
Your question — what a surprise. Yes, I was! Graduated with the Class of 1955. Went on to St. John Academy and graduated in 1959. Still see lots of classmates from St. John’s. We all loved the school — and have a strong bond. Gees, soooo long ago. I didn’t notice how fast the years went by until I retired — insurance/secretarial field. Brought back memories when I heard the name “Mr. Kiefer.” Remember him well. Funny how many things you think of as you recall the places like St. Catherine’s. My dad was so disheartened when they tore the church down, he refused to go to Good Shepherd. Went to Sacred Heart Church. I hate driving in the area of Shelby and Raymond, and looking at the buildings there now where the church/rectory was located. Such a shame, but change happens. My mother died of cancer in 1985. I remember your mother, Elsie, and the columns she wrote. Bet those blueprints of the church/school site would be interesting.
Married, children and grandchildren now — and a LONG career as a Genealogist. (1977) Keeps me busy! My husband graduated from Scecina and Indiana Central College/U Indy now. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org if you care to discuss St. Catherine’s/classmates, further.
My eighth grade class was the very last to graduate from St. Catherine’s/Central Catholic. The next year was the year they moved down to the St. James campus and really formally became Good Shepherd. I have photos of our classroom where our class signed the wall in the 8th grade classroom as a farewell. That church holds a lot of great memories for me, and is where I had my first communion, and is still a place I remember as feeling very sacred. I loved to go in and light candles by the Pieta statue, and hear my voice echo. I also served Mass there and got to look through the peephole from the back into the sanctuary before the Mass began. It’s so nice to have an excuse to look back on all those memories, and picture the choir loft, and the way the sun came through the windows, and the soft smells of flowers and paper and candles in the church. Thanks for this article!
Thank you for sharing your memories of St. Catherine of Siena. It’s very sad that this wonderful piece of Indianapolis’ history was lost.
Enjoyed your history of St. Catherine of Siena, my patron saint.
I believe the Archdiocese of Indianapolis was formed in 1944.
I really appreciate seeing this history of St. Catherine’s. My mother’s maternal grandparents, John and Catherine Neubauer, and one of her aunts lived on Finley Avenue, and her parents and both of her aunts were all married in St Catherine’s. The house my g-aunt and g-uncle, Rose and George Cheesum, lived in as far back as I can remember was demolished to make way for I-65. They had been dead for several years at that point, and the house sold, so we didn’t really lose anything.
Hi Sharon and Sharon and Louis. I also sang in Mr. Kiefer’s choir. If I remember correctly, he also taught a boy scout band?? Thank you Sharon for your wonderful history article. I enjoyed the photos and history of Saint Catherine’s. I also graduated in 1955 with Louis and Sharon. I now live in Florida, and Sharon sent me this history. My younger sister also sent this to me. What a shame Saint Catherine’s is gone. It was so beautiful.
I went to St John Academy. I am a sociologist and graduated from Saint Leo University in Florida.
Lorene (Vanston) Mervis
I lived in St Catherine’s Parish from 1933 to 1945, attending first through the sixth grades there. I have many memories of the school from first Communion and Confirmation to watching the troop convoys during WWII on Shelby street departing from Camp Atterbury to the South. I remember singing in the choir, the sports programs.and the long walks from our house back and forth to school. In 1945 we moved to Claremont to take care of my grandfather, who then died shortly after requiring us to move back to town and to Holy Cross Parish. I graduated from Sacred Heart Central High School in 1951 and almost immediately was drafted into the military. After my discharge in 1956 I joined IBM, served 2 years in Indianapolis then started moving up through the company. I am now retired and living in Scottsdale, AZ
This was a great article on St. Catherine’s. Thanks for sharing it.
I went to the school and the church. Reading this brought me to tears with memories of its beauty. I was one of the later classes, being first to graduate from the new church and new school. I miss it greatly.
All of my siblings attended St. Catherine’s, Bernard, Dolores, Helens, Joseph, myself, Robert. Also, my wife June Asher and I were married there is 1962, by my brother Bernard, who was ordained in 1956, My mother (Anna Riegel) also worked in the school cafeteria there for many years. I remember the Aherns all lined up across the front pew, and I also remember attending mass during the summer, often in the choir loft with Carl Kiefer, who taught me piano lessons at his home a block north of Fountain Square. My brother Joe obtained a brick for each of his siblings, I still have mine to help bring back memories. Thank you very much for publishing. By the way, I am quite certain that the spelling inscribed above the church was misspelled also. I remember being amazed to see it spelled Cath(a)rine.
Hi: Thank you for a great article and graphics. My dad and all his brothers attended this school, and I was baptized in the church in 1952. My uncle was the Superintendent at Cathedral High School, Principal at Chatard High School, and Chaplain for the police department; he was ordained in 1951 after graduating from St. Meinrad. Only one of our Higgins clan is left in Indianapolis; the rest have all gone elsewhere, but this town will always be a special part of my own past. –TH
Hi! Thank you so very much for your article and pictures of St. Catherine. I am 1 of 10 family members who attended the school. I served as an altar boy, played football for the school, and met some great kids. It was a great neighborhood to grow up in the ’50-’60’s. I’am looking for class pictures for 1959 and 1960. Any ideas?
Fascinating! A relative of mine was a parishioner here. Thanks for all your research!
Received this article the first time afew years ago. My father Edward Neu is pictured in the photo with the choir. His family grew up in Garfield Park. His family and the Pierle and Swiezy family were all part of St Catherine. Many memories as a kid attending the church for varios weddings and events. Thanks for the article.
Such a wonderful walk down memory lane….I grew up on Kelly St.
So upsetting to see what is in its place now. I just moved back home after 20 yrs and was so upset when I went to see my old “stomping grounds” it WAS such a beautiful place!! The old firehouse and the 50’s ice cream shop are still there but not the same.
Rhonda Clay did you know the Hornberger’s? when did you live on Kelly Street?
Hi I was baptized here in 1970 I believe. Is there any way to get a record of this please?