February 8, 2019

St. Paul Catholic Center celebrates 50 years of faith

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson elevates the Eucharist during a Mass on Jan. 13 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington. Around the altar are clergy from the parish, from left, Deacon Ron Reimer, Dominican Father Justice Pokrzewinski and Dominican Father John Meany. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson elevates the Eucharist during a Mass on Jan. 13 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington. Around the altar are clergy from the parish, from left, Deacon Ron Reimer, Dominican Father Justice Pokrzewinski and Dominican Father John Meany. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

By Katie Rutter (Special to The Criterion)

BLOOMINGTON—Before the liturgy even started, a lector invited the worshippers to greet each other. Smiles and handshakes were passed between those gathered in the nave of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington on Jan. 13, a group that comprised many different ages and cultures.

The ritual was a familiar one, but this particular Mass marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the parish. For those five decades, this faith community has worked to carry out a dual mission of ministry to the students and staff of Indiana University and service to a broader, permanent-resident base.

“I think everyone is very proud of the work that’s done with students,” explained year-round parishioner and parish council member Robin Gress, “and at the same time, I think we want the parish to be strong for residents.”

The parish today is situated on East 17th Street, surrounded by sororities, fraternities and athletic facilities, in the very midst of the campus of Indiana University. This particular limestone building was dedicated as a parish in 1969, but the community’s roots go back much farther.

The community started in 1928 as simply a Newman Club connected to another local faith community, St. Charles Borromeo Parish. As the university grew, however, neither the Newman Club nor a dedicated Newman Center founded in 1955 could accommodate the growing number of Catholic students.

“Father [James] Higgins, who was the founding pastor, knew that we needed a place for the students, a place they could come to study, a place where they could go to Mass, confession and so on,” explained the parish’s current pastor, Dominican Father John Meany.

Soon, plans for a new parish dedicated just to the university were formed. The land for the present structure was purchased from Indiana University by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in 1967, and the building was completed the following year.

On Jan. 12, 1969, Archbishop Paul C. Schulte dedicated the church as a parish called St. Paul Catholic Center.

Following in his predecessor’s footsteps, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson arrived at St. Paul on Jan. 13 to celebrate a Mass for the parish’s golden anniversary. Several hundred parishioners, both university students and townspeople, were present.

“No doubt, it has not always been an easy or popular task,” Archbishop Thompson said during his homily, “yet St. Paul Catholic Community remains a means through which the transforming power of God, God’s grace, continues to transform hearts, relationships, cultures and all creation through the beauty and truth of the good news.”

St. Paul still strives to fulfill the founding vision of serving the students and staff of Indiana University. Six campus missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students operate out of the parish, and the building hosts Bible study groups, afternoon Masses and even a weekly free spaghetti dinner after one Sunday Mass. Father John estimates that the parish currently serves about 1,000 students.

Yet even the very anniversary Mass made evident that a significant number of year-round parishioners call St. Paul home, despite themselves having no connection to the university. Sometimes these community members were drawn by the vitality created by the students.

“There was just something about the vibe, a lot of energy here. I think the youth and the college gives a lot of interest and energy,” year-round parishioner Jim Steward explained after the Mass. He, his wife Lee and their four children joined the parish in 2013 after moving to the area.

“Since it’s a college ministry, it’s used to that transitional kind of—people coming and going all the time—so the regular parishioners, they’re not put off by that,” added Lee Steward, explaining that the family had moved a total of 15 times because of Jim’s career in the Navy.

“We found we could arrive and be accepted quickly and easily,” she said.

The parish currently has about 550 registered households. From the beginning, this parish seemed destined to maintain the balance between serving IU and serving a broader community in Bloomington.

Tom and Emilie Schwen, who were attending liturgies five decades ago, recalled giving feedback to the parish council in the 1970s about how families could be better included. The two ran a baby-sitting service during Masses to give parents a chance to participate more fully in worship.

“We were encouraged to be active in all phases of the church, including giving counsel to the pastor through [the] parish council but through other things as well,” Emilie Schwen said.

“I chaired the committee that hired the most recent youth director,” Tom Schwen recalled, “and one of the bits of feedback was we need to make sure we keep focused on young families in addition to our primary mission.”

Today, the parish offers a family formation program, catechesis for elementary and middle school students as well as youth groups for middle and high school students.

Also evident at the anniversary Mass were two more communities growing within this larger parish faith community: a Spanish-speaking and a Korean community. Mass readings were proclaimed in English, Spanish and Korean. A Korean vocalist, accompanied by a cello, also performed a rendition of Ave Maria as a meditation after Communion.

Father John estimated that these two language communities began to gather at St. Paul in the 1980s or 1990s. The parish now celebrates a Mass in Spanish every weekend and a Mass in Korean twice a month.

“We’re the only place with a Spanish Mass every Sunday in a 40-mile radius,” noted Father John.

“Then we have the Korean community. They’re more connected with the university. They’re recruited by the university from Korea,” he said, adding that these members were typically associated with the IU school of business or music.

Regardless of their native tongue, scores of parishioners gathered after the anniversary Mass for light refreshments in a downstairs community room. On one wall, a chart documented the current status of a fundraising campaign crafted to launch the parish into the future.

This fundraising campaign aims to raise $1.5 million to renovate the 50-year-old building. The funds would be used to update the utilities and revamp the downstairs community space. Parish council members say that this will allow the parish to more easily accommodate the many meetings and activities that take place in the building.

“This space really is the heart of our home. This is where community gathers to share,” said Gress, motioning around her to all of the parishioners enjoying the food and fellowship.

So far, the parish has about $1.2 million in pledges for the renovation.

“It’s nice to be part of this,” summarized Lee Stewart, “because we’re celebrating 50 years gone by, but we’re celebrating the future as well and the next 50 years.”

(Katie Rutter is a freelance writer and member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington.) †

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