March 29, 2013

Museum continues to preserve Cardinal Ritter’s legacy

A collection of memorabilia from Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter’s ministry in the Church is displayed in the renovated museum room of the Cardinal Ritter House in New Albany. The room was formerly the kitchen of the cardinal’s family bakery. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

A collection of memorabilia from Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter’s ministry in the Church is displayed in the renovated museum room of the Cardinal Ritter House in New Albany. The room was formerly the kitchen of the cardinal’s family bakery. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

By Patricia Happel Cornwell (Special to The Criterion)

NEW ALBANY—A crowd of about 100 people gathered at the Cardinal Ritter Home in New Albany on March 14 to hear a lecture on liturgical renewal, view the newly renovated museum, enjoy Irish coffee, and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

The talk, “Liturgical Renewal Today: Reconsidering Sacrosanctum Concilium,” was delivered by Dr. Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. He discussed liturgical changes made following the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965, and Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter’s role at the council.

“Cardinal Ritter wasn’t the greatest intellectual at the council,” O’Malley said, “but it seemed he knew how to work with others better than most.”

O’Malley said the council issued several documents, one of which was “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” dealing with liturgy.

“The bishops began with the document on liturgy because it was essential to the life of the Church,” he said. “They could not foresee the revolutionary movements that would take place in the ensuing years—the secularization of society in Europe, consumerism at the expense of our humanity, moral relativism, and a lack of a faith base in many families.

“There was never a doubt in the minds of those at the council that the faith would continue to be passed on but, of course, it’s not,” he added. “There are increasing numbers of people with no faith at all.”

O’Malley attributes this partly to inadequate interpretation of Scripture as it relates to several life, uninspiring architecture and art in modern Church buildings, and oversimplified liturgical music.

“The sense of wonder has been lost because we have forgotten the value of beauty,” he said. “At the second Vatican Council, the issue was not simply to turn the altar around or to make the church look more modern. The goal was that people would see that their whole life is to be liturgical and transformative.

“For Catholics, helping the poor isn’t conservative or liberal. It’s eucharistic. The poor are Christ, reaching out for help. What drives us isn’t a series of ideologies. It is a eucharistic grammar of love.”

Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation vice president Greg Sekula invited those in attendance to view the newly renovated museum space in the building, a room that was originally the kitchen of the Ritter family’s bakery. The bakery was opened at the site in the 1870s, and the attached house, where Cardinal Ritter and five siblings grew up, was added in the 1890s.

The site currently is home to four non-profit agency tenants—the Louisville-based Home of the Innocents, New Directions Housing Corp., ElderServe, and InfoLink of Southern Indiana.

In 1998, local historians identified the dilapidated building as the birthplace of Cardinal Ritter, but the city of New Albany had condemned it and ordered its demolition. A group of volunteers pleaded their case with Historic Landmarks of Indiana, which bought the property in 2002. The Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation was formed in 2004, and fundraising efforts began to rehabilitate the structure.

In 2007, restoration of the front of the house was completed with a $220,000 grant from the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County, and a historical marker was erected with funding from Knights of Columbus Cardinal Ritter Council #1221.

In 2009, the city allocated the Ritter board $190,000 of a $6.7 million federal grant from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The same year, a park behind nearby S. Ellen Jones Elementary School was dedicated as Cardinal Ritter Park, with funding from the New Albany redevelopment commission.

In 2011, the community room at the back of the Ritter property was completed and dedicated as the Cardinal Ritter Neighborhood Resource Center.

The Ritter foundation was awarded one of five “Facelift Awards” in 2012 by the New Albany Historic Preservation Commission.

The Ritter foundation hired a consultant, Troy McCormick of Natural Concepts, Inc., to develop a plan for the facility’s museum, which would memorialize the life and ministry of Cardinal Ritter. Funds were raised to renovate the area and, according to Sekula, the cost of renovation for the museum space came in “under budget.”

The foundation needs $20,000 more to complete the museum and install an adjacent walled rose garden. Sekula said the board hopes to have the “basic exhibits” installed by July 20 in honor of the cardinal’s birthday and to coincide with the bicentennial of the founding of New Albany.

Joseph Elmer Ritter was born on July 20, 1892, at 1218 Oak St., where his parents and grandparents ran a bakery in the front of the home. He attended St. Mary Parish in New Albany, and received his priestly formation at Saint Meinrad College and Seminary. He was ordained a priest in 1917.

In 1934, he was named bishop of Indianapolis and became the first archbishop of Indianapolis 10 years later. He became archbishop of St. Louis in 1946 and, in 1961, was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Blessed John XXIII. The only cardinal from Indiana, he died in 1967 and is buried in St. Louis.

Cardinal Ritter was noted for championing the rights of African-Americans and the poor. He faced opposition from the Ku Klux Klan as he desegregated Catholic schools in the archdioceses of Indianapolis and St. Louis years before the U.S. Supreme Court made desegregation the law of the land.

Evoking the cardinal’s devotion to service and justice, Sekula told the assemblage, “The Cardinal Ritter Foundation is looking forward to our next chapter, to being a vehicle for discussion of social justice and civil rights. We hope this will be the first of many such programs.”

(Patricia Happel Cornwell is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Corydon. For more information about the Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation, go to To make a donation, checks should be made payable to Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation, 1218 E. Oak St., New Albany, IN 47151.)

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