October 16, 2020

Holy Angels breaks ground after eight years without church

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, center, joins others in breaking ground for the Indianapolis faith community’s new church during a ceremony on Sept. 26. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, center, joins others in breaking ground for the Indianapolis faith community’s new church during a ceremony on Sept. 26. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Nelli Simpson and Claudia Nicholas stood side by side looking at the site where Holy Angels Church once stood.

“I was here the day they tore it down,” said Nicholas of the date eight years ago when the 109-year-old structure was razed. “I cried and cried. That was a sad, sad day.

“But this is a great day,” she quickly added, her mask-covered smile sparkling through her eyes.

The “great day” was Sept. 26, the day Holy Angels Parish held a groundbreaking and blessing ceremony for its new church on the same site as the former one on the near-west side of Indianapolis. Completion is expected by March or April 2021, depending on weather.

The event was more than a decade in the making.

Prior to 2010, “Our beloved pastor, Father Kenneth Taylor, … formed the Sacred Space Committee,” said committee co-chair Vincent Harrington as he shared the project’s history during the ceremony.

But more than a century of weather had caused irreparable damage to the wood-frame church, leading to the decision to raze rather than restore the building. The last Mass was celebrated there on Oct. 11, 2011, and the structure was demolished on Aug. 22, 2012.

Since then, the faith community has been celebrating Mass about three miles away in the Chartrand Chapel of Marian University in Indianapolis, all the while working to raise funds and finalize plans for the church project.

“After eight years we are still a community, because we have faith,” said Harrington. “Now, here we are, about to break ground on our new church building.”

St. Joseph Sister Gail Trippett, parish life coordinator for Holy Angels, echoed Harrington’s sentiments.

“We made it!” she said, drawing cheers from the roughly 100 people present.

‘We are home again’

Sister Gail thanked the Sacred Space and fundraising committee members and the parishioners for their perseverance.

“Our drive comes from the fact that ‘catholic’ means we are responsible for every soul within our parish boundaries,” she said. “Regardless of denomination, our resources, care and prayers serve those in need.

“We are proud to continue this 117-year ministry. … We are home again, ready to roll up our sleeves and pass on a new generation of hope … confident that God will continue to guide the work of our hands.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joseph Hogsett thanked the faith community for that work. Addressing the crowd, he noted the parish’s contributions to the local community, “everything from Holy Angels Catholic School, which provides scholarships to students of various economic backgrounds, to services like tax preparation and furniture donations for our families.”

He also thanked the parish’s leaders, “both those with us today and those dearly departed,” particularly naming Father Clarence Waldon, pastor from 1970 until his death in 2005, and Father Taylor, pastor from 2005 until his death in 2018.

Among the chairs for dignitaries present at the ceremony, two seats were left empty to honor the former pastors.

“We did not reach this moment by ourselves,” Sister Gail noted. “It has been affirmed by two archbishops who possessed a vision for the impact urban ministry and presence can have on the lives of those who receive the blessings God offers through the gifts of the faithful.”

She particularly recognized Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.

“He was the one who allowed us to continue our journey after Archbishop—now Cardinal—Joseph [W.] Tobin moved. Everyone thought, ‘Well, that’s the end of it.’ But Archbishop Thompson has the same vision for our ministry and the space of the Catholic Church here in this neighborhood, in this community.”

Where any person stands ‘is sacred ground’

The archbishop shared a few thoughts before blessing the people and the ground where the new church’s cornerstone would soon be placed.

“I chose my episcopal motto, ‘Christ the Cornerstone,’ because it reminds us to keep Christ at the center,” Archbishop Thompson explained. “If we don’t, we become self-centered or agenda-driven, and we lose our way. If we stay

Christ-centered, then everything falls into place.

“And whatever happens here, whether it’s a school event or a picnic or a Mass or whatever it is, as long as it stays Christ-centered, it all ties together.”

He reminded those present that the call to holiness “is not just for a few—it’s not just for Father or for Sister. It’s for each and every one of us, young and old and all in between.

“If we are truly to be Church, … we must all embrace our call … in the mission Jesus Christ has given us to proclaim the good news and transform the world, rather than letting the world transform us. We can only do that if we stay Christ-centered.”

The archbishop noted that the land where the new church will stand “is indeed sacred ground.

“Your homes are sacred ground, too,” he added.

“This dedication of this church is a great achievement. But I hope you take with you today that each family and each household is a domestic church. It’s where that joy of the Gospel, where that rootedness, that vibrancy must also live … .

“Where any human being stands, sits or lays is sacred ground. Let us never take that for granted.”

Before beginning the blessing and groundbreaking, Archbishop Thompson encouraged those present to “continue to praise the Lord, praise God, stay Christ-centered and never lose sight of the joy that it means to be claimed by Christ, to be saved by him and to be temples of the spirit.”

‘This is a wonderful day’

Several local news outlets recorded the archbishop as he walked among the socially distanced congregation and the land where the new church will stand, blessing all with holy water.

Next, he and the dignitaries and certain committee members donned hardhats. Cheers and applause erupted as they dug their shovels into the earth on the small hill where Holy Angels Church will stand.

Together, Holy Angles parishioners Simpson and Nicholas walked through the area marking the site where the church’s doors will welcome all who enter.

“My parents joined the parish around 1953 or ’54,” said Simpson. She noted that both her family and the Nicholases “were the first families to integrate the parish,” which is now a predominantly Black community.

“I got married at Holy Angles, had all my sacraments there,” she continued.

Looking at the ground where her parish church will once again stand, Simpson smiled.

“I’m excited, I’m elated,” she said. “This is a wonderful day.” †

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