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View of the NW corner of W. Georgia Street looking east from Capitol Avenue (IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis History Collection, 1913 Indianapolis Streetcar Strike Scrapbook loaned by Deedee Davis)

While documenting the increasingly angry crowds during the 1913 streetcar strike, a photographer captured the corner of W. Georgia Street and S. Capitol Avenue–a block that played an early role in Catholic education in Indianapolis.

This view looks northeast at W. Georgia Street from the intersection of S. Capitol Avenue. Located directly south of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, these buildings served as Catholic schools and offices between 1859 and the 1970s and a rectory to the present. The L-shaped brick building on the corner (to the left) was constructed in 1858 as St. John’s Academy for Young Ladies. It was operated by the Sisters of Providence from St. Mary-of-the-Woods and an addition was built three years later due to increasing enrollment. The Sisters soon played another role during the Civil War, when Governor Oliver Morton requested the assistance of several sister-nurses, helped by students, teachers, and parish members, in managing the Military Hospital (City Hospital). By 1870 the supervisor and ten academy teachers instructed 325 female students. When a larger academy was built on W. Maryland Street in 1872, the former academy building saw various uses including a grade school for St. John’s Parish, a Catholic Workingmen’s Library, and housing for Brothers of the Sacred Heart.

To house their clergy, the church constructed the brick rectory (seen in the center in the photograph above) in 1863 and 1867 according to the plans of architect Diedrich A. Bohlen, who also designed the church. The west wing was added in 1878 as the residence of the Bishop of Vincennes. St. John’s School for Boys, operated by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, was in the taller building to the right. The building was later known as St. John’s Hall.  

Georgia W St John1964-offices_rectory_Boys-School

1964 aerial view courtesy of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church

In 1963 the Chancery announced plans to demolish the pre-Civil War former academy building on Georgia Street to make way for a new, three-story administration building to house various archdiocesan offices. Wilhelm Construction built the modern brick and limestone structure. This 1964 photograph shows the recently completed building on the corner, as well as the rectory and the old Boys’ School, then home to The Criterion, the weekly publication of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Same view on 18 June 2014, photograph by Joan Hostetler

Photograph by Joan Hostetler, 18 June 2014. Georgia Street is to the right.

Although the downtown church campus is beautifully preserved and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1963 administrative office building was razed to make way for parking in the early 1980s and the old Boys’ School/Criterion building removed by the late 1970s. The beautiful 1860s church and rectory survives, as does the historic brick fence. Tucked behind the fence is the St. John Courtyard, an outdoor space that serves as an extension of the church, hosting informal gatherings, cook-outs, and “St John’s Christkindl Village,” a live nativity at Christmas. The leaders have embraced their proximity to Georgia Street, a three-block cultural walkway that connects the Indiana Convention Center to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In 2013 St. John’s celebrated 175 years of ministry in downtown Indianapolis. With their “Opening Wide the Doors” philosophy, the church welcomes a diverse group, from convention attendees, downtown professionals, the homeless, Colts fans, and traditional parishioners.

Read more about historic Georgia Street:
*See how St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church participated in the 2012 Super Bowl
*Learn about Georgia Street and the grassroots campaign to keep the historic street name
*Revisit the singing blacksmiths across the alley from the St. John’s School for Boys

Sources
St. John’s Catholic Church Web Page; Hyman’s Handbook of Indianapolis, 1907, p. 82; Indianapolis City Directories; The Criterion, “New Building Planned for Chancery Block,” 15 March 1963, p. 1; Baist and Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps; Indianapolis: A Historical and Statistical Sketch of the Railroad City, W. R. Holloway, 1870, p. 182

7 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church – Schools and Rectory, Georgia Street and Capitol Avenue”

  1. Jeff says:

    I work across the street from this corner. Thanks so much for the history lesson. I love storytelling and it seems I now have a new one to tell.

  2. Natalie says:

    We came very close to losing that gorgeous church. In the late 70’s/early 80s, Archbiship Edward O’Meara was planning on closing the parish, due to its VERY low membership as result of urban flight. Without telling the archdiocese, the priest at the time pursed and received National Historic Landmark status, so nothing could be done to the church structure–thank God! If you haven’t been in the church, they’re doing some renovations after a fire in the Georgia St. vestibule last year left much smoke damage. Go in and see the church if you haven’t. It’s beautiful, and they give tours.

  3. Jack Boeldt says:

    Sorry I never visited St. Johns. I spent 2 years engineering power lines around the Hoosier Dome site, and getting the high voltage service lines in that terminated under the dome’s grand stairs just across from the church. I had a parking space in the power plant lot at West and South, and as it turns out, I never had to cross Capitol Ave. for that work. Others reworked the power lines when the dome came down as I had retired by then. St. Johns reminds me of the famous catholic church in Manhattan that I have toured.

  4. Sharon Kennedy says:

    Hello,
    Just a couple of comments on this article. LOVED seeing the photos and story about St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and outer buildings. I’m adding additional information, and some corrections to the story!

    I graduated from St. John Academy in the last class – May 1959. In September 1959 demolition began, after a decision by the Sisters and Archbishop it was decided to have the Academy building torn down. (low enrollment) As I read the article — it noted “the academy building” was torn down in 1963?? (I have photos from the newspaper regarding the demolition.) Must have been one of the other buildings in 1963?

    St. John Academy was a LOVELY old building (LOCATED to the LEFT of the church) — in very good condition from what I could see/remember as a student there for four years. In today’s world – I feel the building would NEVER have been torn down, and likely included as a Historic Landmark. It was a sad day when the wrecking ball began to dismantle the Academy building. A PARKING GARAGE WAS BUILT IN IT’S PLACE. 🙁 The St. John Academy Alumnae ladies still meet each year for Mass/Brunch.

    Also, I belong to the National Society, Daughters of the Union, 1861-1865, Inc., Governor Oliver P. Morton Chapter, Indianapolis. (Civil War lineage society) Our current project is to honor the actual SEVEN Sister-Nurses who served/ran the old City Hospital (called Military Hospital)during the war).

    We plan to install a “Marker” at the Cemetery/Saint Mary–of-the-Woods Cemetery sometime in the fall — which lists the names of the Sister-Nurses who ran the hospital in that period. Those sisters went into a hospital that was filthy, and poorly run — cleaned up the place, and proceeded to care, with love, devotion and hard work, for the many soldiers who were ill with disease/or wounded in service. They were true Patriots!

    Sharon Kennedy, Class of 1959
    St. John Academy, Indianapolis

  5. Joan Hostetler says:

    Thanks for your comments, Sharon. We love hearing from people with first-hand knowledge of the buildings. I’ve corrected the number of sister-nurses involved with Military Hospital. Concerning the demolition of St. John’s Academy, they demolished the school that you remember (the 1872 building on Maryland Street seen here: http://images.indianahistory.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/P0130/id/318/rec/3) in 1959. The building demolished in 1963 that I was referencing was the *original* 1858 Academy building on Georgia Street (seen in the “then” photo above).

  6. Sharon Kennedy says:

    Thanks Joan,
    I felt dumb after I re-read the entire piece and what I had written. I do not remember anyone ever mentioning the old bldg. WOW! I sure would liked to have seen it. I did intend to write a correction just didn’t get back to the computer until now. I fell Monday afternoon climbing over a baby gate (gate and me went) and I am now nursing a fractured rt arm just below the elbow towards the wrist. BAH!!! Just what I did not need. Have a sling only — what a pain, it isn’t doing much good, slides all over the place OR I’m doing too much.

    Enjoy seeing the things you occasionally are involved in. I remember you from a Palatines to America meeting (I believe) some years back. 🙂 I’m still involved — but less after 30+ years.

    Thanks again,
    Sharon Kennedy

  7. Dave Horlander says:

    I attended mass at St. John’s Saturday evening before Labor Day; beautiful church, simply fantastic.

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