June 12, 2015

Spirit of Pentecost alive at combined Mass for St. Rita, Holy Angels

Brenda Hall, left, a member of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, shares some of her poetry with fellow parishioners Jerry Monette and Anne Scott Murrell. Hall recited one of her poems during the Connected in the Spirit Pentecost Mass held on May 24 at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis. “We must let the Holy Spirit set us free,” one verse begins. “Let the Holy Spirit be what it be.” (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

Brenda Hall, left, a member of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, shares some of her poetry with fellow parishioners Jerry Monette and Anne Scott Murrell. Hall recited one of her poems during the Connected in the Spirit Pentecost Mass held on May 24 at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis. “We must let the Holy Spirit set us free,” one verse begins. “Let the Holy Spirit be what it be.” (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

By Victoria Arthur (Special to The Criterion)

As the soulful Gospel choir called on the Holy Spirit and members of two congregations united in the same sacred space, Anita Bardo was in the front pew, taking in the moment.

For all of her 46 years, St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis has meant everything to her. This is where she was baptized, received her first holy Communion, was confirmed and went to school. This is where she was married and where her four children continue to receive their sacraments of initiation. Before she was born, members of her family helped to construct the beautiful church northeast of downtown Indianapolis, brick by brick.

But on this day, Bardo was witnessing the building of something altogether different. This was the first combined Sunday Mass for two parishes—St. Rita and Holy Angels—one year after Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin announced that they would be “linked parishes,” sharing one pastor. That move was among the decisions resulting from the “Connected in the Spirit” planning process for the four Indianapolis deaneries in the archdiocese, which examined ways in which the Church could best serve its communities in changing times.

Fittingly, this Mass was held on May 24, Pentecost Sunday—the day commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the foundation of the Church itself.

“In the beginning of Connected in the Spirit, we were so apart,” said Bardo, who serves as St. Rita Parish’s director of religious education and youth director.

“There was the nervousness of how we were going to work together and be one community. Today shed light that we can do things together. If we can pray together and lift our voices together, then we can do everything else, whether it’s community service or a fundraiser—or anything.

“We don’t need to be scared anymore,” she continued. “We don’t need to be hesitant in wanting to work together and to support our pastor as one.”

The liturgy, a two-hour celebration punctuated by soaring vocals, dramatic dance performances and original poetry, was carefully planned by members of both parishes. What wasn’t orchestrated was the spontaneous applause and affirmations that rang out during the Mass.

“It just came together,” Bardo said. “You see the smiles; you see the laughter. You could see the Spirit moving today, and that’s what it’s all about.”

‘The power to overcome anything’

Father Kenneth Taylor, better known as Father K.T., was raised in Holy Angels Parish, in a near-northside neighborhood once considered the “suburbs” of Indianapolis.

At the time of his birth in 1951, the area was transitioning to a mostly African-American population, and Holy Angels School—an important part of the future priest’s formation—reflected that change. He never could have anticipated that he would one day return to Holy Angels as a pastor, but nearly 10 years ago that became a reality. Then, last summer, he became pastor of St. Rita Parish as well.

These days, he does “a lot of running back and forth” between Holy Angels, St. Rita and Marian University in Indianapolis, where the Holy Angels congregation currently meets for Mass. The original Holy Angels Church, built in 1903 at what is now 28th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, was demolished in August of 2012 because the structure was deemed unsafe. Plans are underway for a new church to be built on the same site, co-located with the school, which remains open.

He admits that the sudden doubling of his workload has been a huge challenge. But from the beginning of the Connected in the Spirit process, Father Taylor had strongly advocated for both parishes—the two predominantly African-American faith communities in the archdiocese—to remain open.

“Both of these churches are an important and visible presence for their neighborhoods and for the black community,” said Father Taylor, who serves as president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.

“We want to let the community know that the Catholic Church is here, and that the Catholic Church cares. And in the process, we want people to see the Spirit within us and want to become part of our spiritual journey.”

During the Pentecost Mass, Father Taylor urged his parishioners to emulate the first disciples, whose “focus went outward” to preaching Christ’s message of salvation once they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, he acknowledged that his parishioners are asking many of the same questions that those disciples faced.

“If we could put ourselves back in that house on the first Pentecost, we would be in the midst of people who were filled with doubts and with questions and with uncertainty,” he said. “They didn’t know what would happen. We have our own questions about the future of our faith communities.

“But even today, the Church is motivated and guided by the Holy Spirit. We need to let the Holy Spirit work in us and through us so our faith communities will flourish and grow in spite of the obstacles that we face—because the Holy Spirit has the power to overcome anything.”

Phyllis Carr, who helped greet members of both parishes at the door that day, was heartened by that message.

“This was a great day for the healing and the coming together, and the showing of love for each other and our pastor,” said Carr, an active member of St. Rita Parish for more than 50 years. “And he [Father Taylor] has quite a challenge being the pastor of two churches, with all the dynamics.”

Carr said that she, like many others, had felt a tremendous sense of relief when it became clear following the Connected in the Spirit process that St. Rita would remain open. The parish, founded in 1919 as the parish for black Catholics in Indianapolis, has been an enduring presence in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood for nearly a century.

“I was glad. … I was excited … and I thank God for it,” she said, her voice breaking. “That was my constant prayer—that St. Rita would not close, because we are the mother Church of black Catholics in this city, and it would be awful for a lot of people if we closed.”

Carr had overcome plenty of obstacles to join St. Rita in the first place. She was raised in the congregation of nearby Bethel A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) Church, the city’s oldest African-American congregation, known for its work with the Underground Railroad in the 19th century. As a child, she and a Catholic friend from her neighborhood would occasionally visit each other’s churches. Carr felt a tug, and when the pull became stronger she worked up the courage to tell her parents that she wanted to become Catholic. They told her she could—when she turned 18.

Upon reaching adulthood, Carr made her leap of faith. Although it is unusual for non-Catholic blacks to seek to be received in to the full communion of the Church, Father Taylor and others are hopeful that their numbers will grow.

In fact, developing engaging evangelization programs is one of the goals outlined for both St. Rita and Holy Angels parishes as a result of Connected in the Spirit. An eight-member implementation team—four members from each parish—is currently devising plans for meeting these objectives.

“We began as strangers,” team leader Jerry Monette said of the group. “But we’ve done a great job establishing great communication between the groups, and now we are working as a unified team. We plan to re-evaluate our evangelization mission and develop new methods to share the good news of the Gospel in our local communities.”

A member of Holy Angels since 1978 and past parish council president, Monette called the Pentecost Mass the “capstone” of the two faith communities’ new arrangement so far.

“It was symbolic, and it was foundational,” Monette said. “This experience will propel our combined efforts as linked parishes going forward.”

The ultimate aim, he said, is for the parishes to serve as “a beacon of hope” in the neighborhoods they serve.

(Victoria Arthur is a freelance writer and a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg.)

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