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St. Rita Catholic Church continues to service Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood 100 years later

Though the area has changed, the historic St. Rita Catholic Church continues to minister to the community.

INDIANAPOLIS — My trip on WTHR's Black History Month tour took Anne Marie Tiernon and I to the historic St. Rita Catholic Church on Dr. Andrew J. Brown Avenue. I had driven past this beautiful church for years, but didn't know its history and importance to the city's Black community.

Our tour guide, Sampson Levingston, said that in 1919, the church — an extension of St. Bridget's Catholic Church — began meeting in a Knights Of Columbus chapel and after a series of changes, moved into its present location in 1958.

Through the years, the church has been the home of a school and weekly dances that drew hundreds.

As far back as 1935, Father Bernard Strange began the effort to segregate Indianapolis Catholic schools. That same priest also opened up sports leagues in the Martindale neighborhood in an effort to stop juvenile delinquency and instill a sense of community.

In the 1960s, after Martindale was declared a poverty area, the church joined forces with other Brightwood areas to fund the Martindale Area Citizens Service to combat poverty, health and crime issues and deteriorating property in the neighborhood.

Even though the area has changed, the church continues. It still offers weekly worship services, but through the leadership of Parish Life Coordinator Sister Gail Trippett. It also offers other outreach ministries from classes on breaking the poverty cycle to helping its attendees through the St. Vincent DePaul Society.

Anne Marie and I were so impressed not only by the beauty of the building but the testimony of the church itself. After more than 100 years, through times of poverty, neighborhood change and economic ups and downs, St. Rita is still a vital part of Martindale-Brightwood and plans to be for decades to come. I will never again drive by this beautiful building without being encouraged after learning its rich history.

This was just one stop on WTHR's Black history tour of Indianapolis. Tour guide Sampson Levingston led our anchor team around the city to teach them about the many historic sites that played integral roles in Indianapolis' Black community. Follow along through the month of February to learn about them. Click here to see the other tour stops.

Preview: WTHR goes in Indy Black history tour

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