November 15, 2019

Fortville parish celebrates 150 years as a welcoming faith community

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson leads members of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville in prayer during a Sept. 14 Mass to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the faith community. (Submitted photos)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson leads members of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville in prayer during a Sept. 14 Mass to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the faith community. (Submitted photos)

By Sean Gallagher

When St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville was founded 150 years ago, it was a small rural parish community.

It continues to be a small parish of 232 households. But now it is not so rural.

The population of Indianapolis and suburbs in northeastern Marion County and southern Hamilton County—a 15-20 minute drive from Fortville—has soared since the end of World War II and in recent decades, and spread closer to the small community in northwestern Hancock County.

Because of its proximity to Indianapolis and its small size, St. Thomas did not have a resident pastor until 1961. Before that, priests from parishes in either Greenfield or Indianapolis traveled to minister to the Catholics of Fortville.

Although the growth of Indianapolis and its suburbs have moved closer to Fortville over the decades, St. Thomas parishioners continue to foster its tight-knit community, often through nurturing the faith of its young people.

Maya Watt is a 19-year-old sophomore at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., who is active in her Catholic faith. The foundation for it was laid at St. Thomas. Growing up there, she appreciated its tight-knit community.

“I could go to really anybody at the parish about any issue, simply because it was so small and I felt close to the other parishioners,” Watt said. “It felt like home there. That’s why now I still practice my faith.”

While a high school student, Watt served at St. Thomas as a lector, a catechist in its children’s Liturgy of the Word and on the parish’s pastoral council.

She relates her choice to major in special education at Ball State to her experience in catechesis at St. Thomas. “I feel like that led me to want to be a teacher, honestly,” she said.

Stephanie Garst had a similar experience while growing up in the parish during the 1970s.

She and her family moved to the area in 1976 when she was 14. They were soon welcomed into the parish community and got involved there. In fact, when Garst graduated from high school, the parish’s pastor at the time invited her to become its music director.

Garst led music ministry at St. Thomas for several years and now helps plan its liturgies, including the festive Mass on Sept. 14, celebrated by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, that marked the 150th anniversary of the parish’s founding.

“The parish itself has always been welcoming,” Garst said. “It tries to involve as many people as possible. That just makes your faith more your own.”

Like Watt and Garst, parishioner Rosemarie Ritchie gained an appreciation of the community at St. Thomas after her family joined the parish in 1959 when her father was stationed at the former Fort Benjamin Harrison U.S. Army installation in Indianapolis.

Although they were new to the small, close-knit faith community, Ritchie and her family were soon welcomed into the family-like parish.

She experienced the importance of her ties to the parish community and Father Matthew Herold, its pastor at the time, in the late 1960s when she was 19 and her brother was killed in a car accident.

“The support from our Church family just made all the difference,” Ritchie recalled with emotion some 50 years later.

“They came immediately to the house. Father Matthew Harold went to the scene of the accident and anointed my brother, came to the house and told my parents. All the people from the church came to our house. They couldn’t do enough for us.”

Although she lived in Indianapolis and was a member of another parish for many years, Ritchie returned to St. Thomas in 2002.

She assists in ministry to the homebound and residents of nursing homes, is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and currently leads the parish’s finance committee and serves in the leadership of its women’s club.

Ritchie sees the growth around Fortville and wonders what effect it may have on St. Thomas in the future.

“There’s a lot growth in our township, lots of housing developments going up,” she said. “We haven’t yet seen an equal growth in our parish, but we’re anticipating that some growth is bound to happen. So right now, we’re determining how to prepare for that.

“It’s exciting to see the possibility of this growth coming.”

At the same time, Garst expects that St. Thomas will retain its small, caring nature that attracts parishioners from many places.

“We get more than just Fortville people,” she said. “We get McCordsville people, Pendleton people and some Greenfield people. We’re just a little country church.” †

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