Thousands of Super Bowl Village zip line riders will get a rare, bird’s-eye view of the Saint John the Evangelist Church as they whiz by this week. Saint John’s was the first Catholic parish in Indianapolis and is one of the last congregations to remain downtown. Being located just three blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium and on the northeast corner of Capitol Avenue and Georgia Street in the thick of Super Bowl Village, the church is in a unique position to participate and they are making the most of it. (Are you too chicken to ride or not willing to wait in line? Take a virtual ride with Jeff from Visit Indy with this video:

After beginning at Washington and West Streets in 1837, the church purchased the current site in 1846. The first church at this location was too small for the growing congregation and leaders hired architect Dietrich A. Bohlen to design the current sanctuary in 1867. Although the brick and stone, Gothic Revival structure was mostly finished by 1871, the spires were not added until 1893. The plan for this church to become the Cathedral of Indianapolis never materialized, however it served as pro-cathedral for the Diocese from 1871 until 1907, when the SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral on North Meridian was completed. For decades the church thrived with a school (now gone) and a large, active congregation. (Above postcard circa 1910)

By the 1980s, the church membership dwindled as families moved away from the heart of the city. Fortunately, the congregation is now growing and feels that the Super Bowl and improvements downtown will only strengthen the church. A raffle of four Super Bowl tickets will raise some of the $600,000 needed to restore the spires.  (Wikipedia)

Donna Winsted, a Historic Indianapolis reader, shared a photo of her visit to Super Bowl Village. This view looks north on Capitol Avenue and shows Saint John Catholic Church in the distance and two zip liners passing by overhead.  The four, 800-foot long temporary zip lines end just beyond the church and the congregation has embraced their pivotal location by offering more Masses, adding Eucharistic adoration hours, and increasing confession time.  Hot chocolate is available from their welcome tent. You can even have a Kodak moment with a life-sized cutout of Pope Benedict XVI.  (Photo by Caren Lettofsky)

Who doesn’t love a church with a sense of humor? Taking advantage of their front-and-center spot, the church has opened their beautiful wood doors to the public for the Super Bowl and other public events. Over 70 trained volunteers guide visitors on tours of the church revealing their history, the function of different interior spaces, and the beliefs of the Catholic faith. The church used to sit closed-up and empty as the streets swarmed with convention goers and sports fans. One day during the Future Farmers of America convention in late 2011, Father Rick Nagel decided to open the doors and was pleasantly surprised to see the pews fill with visitors. A short documentary, formerly available on youtube, tells about Saint John’s “Open Wide the Doors” outreach program, also providing a glimpse of the beautiful interior.

Learn more about Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church and their Super Bowl activities at their web site.

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4 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 126 W. Georgia Street”

  1. Tom Davis says:

    My wife and I took a tour when we visited the Super Bowl Village the other night. For me it was the highlight of the evening, but then I try to go inside churches whenever I’m traveling too because they often include some of the most beautiful art and architecture in any city. By the way, Dietrich A. Bohlen also designed the Gothic Chapel and Crown Hill Cemetery and is buried about a football field from it.

  2. Regina Whipple says:

    You have a beautiful church. I visited and attended Mass on August 26, 2012 at 11 am. I am in town for the American Legion Auxiliary convention. I left the hotel this morning at 10:30 to go for a walk about. I heard the beautiful church bells and followed. Only about 2 blocks away and there was this beautiful church. I was really happy to see that there was an 11 am Mass. (I am sure HE was telling me to go to Mass) Thank you for the lovely experience and wonderful message.
    Regina Whipple, Martin, SD 57551

  3. Bill Mullenholz says:

    St. John’s had en elementary school (later used as the Criterion Catholic newspaper offices,) and a girls school, St. John’s Academy both of which ceased operation in 1959. The other Catholic girls academies were St. Agnes Academy (originally for Irish-Catholic girls,) St. Mary’s Academy (originally for German-Catholic girls,) Ladywood School, and Our Lady of Grace Academy, Beech Grove.

  4. Bob bertram says:

    My mother and her siblings went to school at St John. I can’t find any class photos or information about the grade school or high school they attended before they closed. After St John closed its schools, the children transferred to Sacred Heart’s grade and high schools. Is there some archive of this time?

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