The histories of St. Bridget Roman Catholic Church and St. Rita Roman Catholic Church are intertwined in Indianapolis. Both parishes operated schools that welcomed Black children.
According to a statement from St. Rita Church, St. Rita of Cascia is the Saint of the Impossible: “Rita [‘Margherita Lotti’ — ‘Rita’ for short] was born in the year 1381 in the village of Roccaporena, near Cascia, Italy. Her parents, Antonio and Amata Lotti, considered her birth a very special gift from God, for Rita was born to them as they were already advancing in age.” The Vatican indicated that her birth may have occurred in 1371, and “through the years, Rita distinguished herself as a humble, zealous religious woman in prayer … She especially visited the elderly, cared for the sick, and assisted the poor.” Her Roman Catholic Feast Day is celebrated annually on May 22.
St. Bridget Roman Catholic School closed due to low enrollment in 1936. At the same time, St. Rita Roman Catholic School moved out of its building on Arsenal Avenue to the former location of Saint Bridget School at 813 West St.
In a news article dated Sept. 4, 1937, in the Indianapolis Recorder, Rev. Bernard Strange reported there had been “much renovating and redecorating of St. Rita’s School and Convent, on the interior as well as the exterior, has been done during the past few weeks.” The priest noted, “There are those who have the impression that only Catholic children are admitted into Catholic schools. On the contrary, admission into this school may be gained by any child, irrespective of the faith of the child or of its parents. Only one requisite is demanded, which is, that the pupil’s character and morals be of a high standard and that it will be docile, respectful, and obedient to its teachers at all times.” (Please note this quote included the actual language used in 1937. At that time, the priest referred to a child using the terms “it” and “its.”)
Due to an increase in enrollment, St. Rita School reopened its school building on Arsenal Avenue in 1945. St. Rita School operated from both locations — on West Street and on Arsenal Avenue — during the 1945-1946 school year, according to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and then moved all classes to the campus of St. Rita Parish in 1946. St. Bridget Parish then reopened the St. Bridget School in the West Street building in 1946.
The City of Indianapolis approved a proposal by St. Bridget School to use a small city-owned property as a playground, according to a news article dated April 12, 1949, in The Indianapolis Star.
A new building for the Saint Rita Catholic School opened on Martindale Avenue (now named Dr. Andrew J. Brown Avenue) in 1954. Construction began on a new church sanctuary at 1733 Martindale Avenue in April 1958; the new church building opened May 17, 1959.
On June 20, 1972, the Roman Catholic Archdiocesan Board of Education announced plans to close St. Bridget School that year. Students were encouraged to transfer to St. Monica Roman Catholic School at 6131 N. Michigan Road. After the closing of Saint Bridget School, the building became the site of a day care center. The building that had housed Saint Bridget School was demolished March 28, 1998.
St. Bridget Church closed July 1, 1994. The church building was demolished on December 2, 2000. Today, the site of the former Saint Bridget Parish — the St. Bridget Church as well as the building that housed St. Bridget School and St. Rita School — are the location of residential housing.
“In 2003, due to low enrollment, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis combined Saint Rita and Saint Andrew Schools to create the Saint Andrew and Saint Rita Catholic Academy,” according to a statement from St. Rita Church. “The academy was subsequently also closed at the end of 2010 school year.”
The playground created by St. Bridget School remains today as a playground for St. Mary’s Child Center at Ninth and Fayette streets. Future editions of What’s In A Name, Indy? will provide additional details of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the lives of Black people living in Indianapolis.
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