February 25, 2011

Our New Auxiliary Bishop

St. John the Evangelist Parish is new home for auxiliary bishop

This Archive photo of St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis shows its ornate French Gothic and American Romanesque design elements. Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne will be ordained during a Mass on March 2 at the historic downtown church. (Archive photo)

This Archive photo of St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis shows its ornate French Gothic and American Romanesque design elements. Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne will be ordained during a Mass on March 2 at the historic downtown church. (Archive photo)

By Mary Ann Wyand

Historic St. John the Evangelist Church in the heart of downtown Indianapolis will be the spiritual “home” for Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne, the new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Bishop-designate Coyne will be ordained there on March 2 during a 2 p.m. Mass celebrated by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, the principal ordaining bishop.

Bishop Paul D. Etienne of Cheyenne, Wyo., a Tell City native and former priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland are the co-ordaining bishops.

The new auxiliary bishop will preside at some of the Masses in the majestic brick church at 126 W. Georgia St.

He will reside at St. John’s rectory adjacent to the church, which is just two blocks south of the Indiana Statehouse on Capitol Avenue.

His residence at St. John’s rectory will renew a tradition dating back to the early years of the first parish established in Indianapolis and Marion County in 1837.

Archdiocesan records indicate that Bishop Maurice de St. Palais of the Diocese of Vincennes was the first bishop to reside at St. John’s new rectory on a temporary basis around 1863.

Bishop Francis Silas Marean Chatard also served the Church in central and southern Indiana while in residence at St. John the Evangelist Parish. He moved from Vincennes, Ind., to Indianapolis on Aug. 17, 1878.

The 2011 Archdiocesan Directory and Yearbook explains that, “upon his appointment in 1878, Bishop Francis Chatard, the fifth bishop of [the Diocese of] Vincennes, was directed to fix his residence at Indianapolis.

“Although the site of the cathedral and the title of the see were continued at Vincennes,” the directory notes, “Bishop Chatard used St. John the Evangelist [Church and] Parish in Indianapolis as an unofficial cathedral [and residence] until the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul was completed in 1907” at 1347 N. Meridian St.

“By apostolic brief dated March 28, 1898, the title of the diocese was changed to that of ‘Diocese of Indianapolis,’ ” the directory explains, “with the episcopal see in the city of Indianapolis.”

In 1900, Bishop Denis O’Donaghue was ordained as an auxiliary bishop at St. John the Evangelist Church.

According to archdiocesan records, Father O’Donaghue served Bishop Joseph Chartrand as the chancellor and vicar general of the Diocese of Indianapolis. He was named an auxiliary bishop on Feb. 13, 1900, and consecrated at St. John the Evangelist Church on April 25, 1900.

Bishop-designate Coyne will serve as the vicar general of the archdiocese, and reside at St. John’s rectory with Father Rick Nagel, the new administrator of St. John the Evangelist Parish, and Father William Stumpf, who was recently appointed the moderator of the curia for the archdiocese.

Father Stephen Giannini, the former pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, now serves as the full-time vicar for Clergy and Parish Life Coordinators: Formation and Personnel as well as the vice chancellor of the archdiocese.

He said that St. John the Evangelist Parish was chosen by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein for Bishop-designate Coyne’s residence because the historic downtown parish is located close to the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center at 1400 N. Meridian St.

“It’s been 111 years since we’ve had a bishop ordained in this church,” Father Giannini said, referring to Bishop O’Donaghue’s ordination Mass.

“Since bishops have lived there in the past,” he said, “it’s a fitting place for Bishop Coyne to live.”

With its tall twin spires and grand façade, he said, “St. John the Evangelist Church is, in many ways, the Catholic ‘front door’ to the city of Indianapolis because it is so close to the Indiana Convention Center across the street, the downtown hotels and the events that occur downtown.

“There will be times when Bishop Coyne will preside at Mass at St. John’s,” Father Giannini said, “and it will be a nice way to welcome our visitors and guests as well as the many people from the archdiocese that visit downtown Indianapolis on weekends.”

The parish has a fascinating history.

According to archdiocesan records, Father Vincent Bacquelin, the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County, visited Indianapolis monthly, and began celebrating Masses for Irish and German Catholic immigrants in 1837 at a tavern near Washington and West streets. He later purchased the land and had a frame church built there.

Father John Guéguen supervised the construction of a much larger brick church at the corner of Capitol and Georgia streets in 1850, which he named for his patron saint.

The cornerstone for St. John the Evangelist Church was put in place on July 21, 1867, during a ceremony conducted by Bishop St. Palais.

Although construction work continued, the church was dedicated on July 2, 1871, by Archbishop John B. Purcell of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Architect Diedrich A. Bohlen blended French Gothic and American Romanesque design elements in its construction.

Bohlen also designed the former St. John’s School for Boys and the former St. John’s Academy for girls near the church.

Bishop Chatard also hired Boylen to build an addition on the St. John rectory for use as an episcopal residence and chancery.

An ornate high altar made of marble imported from Italy, an elevated Gothic-style ambo, arched side chapels and 25 large stained-glass windows are among the unique design elements in the huge church.

Major construction work on St. John the Evangelist Church was officially completed in 1893—22 years after the church was dedicated—and the downtown parish has enjoyed a rich history in the life of Indiana’s capital city. †

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