Kneeling in back are altar servers Ezekiel Littell, left, and Isaiah Littell, far right.
In 1922, the world was returning to normal after suffering the deadly effects of the three-year Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920.
During those years, Bishop Joseph Chartrand of the then-Diocese of Indianapolis called upon the intercession of St. Roch, patron saint against contagious diseases. He vowed that the diocese’s next parish would be named in the saint’s honor.
Now, as the world once again cautiously moves forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Roch Parish is marking its 100th anniversary.
“We’re preparing for the next 100 years,” says Father Douglas Hunter, the parish’s pastor. “This is a new beginning of our history.”
‘CAUSE FOR REJOICING’
That new beginning was honored Dec. 11 when Archbishop Charles C. Thompson concelebrated a special 100th anniversary Mass at St. Roch Church. Joining him in concelebrating the Mass were Father Hunter, retired former pastor Father James Wilmoth and retired Father Nicholas Dant.
With the parish’s founding in 1922 and its school opening in 1924, the Mass and reception that followed launched a time of rejoicing in the faith community.
“On any Third Sunday of Advent, our sense of anticipation would be greatly heightened,” the archbishop said in his homily. “Add to the mix a 100-year anniversary, and the cause for rejoicing is only intensified for a parish.”
He noted that Father Wilmoth had once attributed the growth and vitality of the parish “to the dedication and commitment of the people, describing the community of St. Roch as ‘a very active, ministry-oriented parish.’ I would imagine that your current pastor, Father Doug Hunter, would echo these same words today.”
While much has happened locally, nationally, and internationally since 1922, the archbishop said, “Through it all, the community of St. Roch Parish has remained rooted in prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service. At the center of it all has been Jesus Christ. …
“May the parishioners of St. Roch never grow tired of celebrating, proclaiming and witnessing to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. ...
“Taking it all in – past, present, and future – there is cause for rejoicing here,” Archbishop Thompson said in closing. “Happy anniversary!”
“I was moved to tears during the Mass,” said Wanda Daprile. At 96, she is among the parish’s oldest members.
“I wish my husband could have been here to see this,” she said of her late spouse Anthony. “He was so devoted to the parish.”
‘I JUST LOVE THIS PLACE’
The Dapriles raised their five children in the parish after moving to the area in 1963. The founding of the parish 41 years prior is described on the yellowed paper of an archived document from 1922.
It recounts how, in January of that year, a new parish was established in Indianapolis, two miles “south of Sacred Heart Church for the people now living there and for the people that are sure to move out in that direction in the coming years. …
“The site selected for the erection of St. Roch Church was a plot of ground consisting of two acres in the 3600 block of S. Meridian Street, bordering Sumner Avenue.”
The parish’s first building was a combination church and school. Mass was celebrated in the basement until the top two stories of the structure were completed in 1924. The first floor then served as the sanctuary while the rest of the building served as the school.
So it remained until 1951, when the current church was built. The current school was completed in 1959.
For 75 years, the parish was served by Franciscan priests.
“In 1997, when the Franciscans said they could no longer staff the parish, Archbishop [Daniel M.] Buechlein asked if I would be pastor,” recalled Father Wilmoth. “I was the first archdiocesan priest in the parish’s history.”
He served in that role until he retired in 2018.
“I just love this place,” Father Wilmoth said emphatically at a reception following the Mass. “The people are just fantastic. They participate in everything. While I was here, we built the Parish Life Center, we renovated the church. And the people of St. Roch made that possible. The people here are so faith-filled. They’ve got real reason to celebrate.”
Father Hunter said it’s “actually pretty exciting” to lead the parish into its next century and beyond.
“I like planning for the future,” he said. “I try to show others in the parish to look to the future and plan for it, whatever that may be: what we see the parish needs or what the community around us needs, what is the future goal of our school – our biggest ministry. ... There’s a lot to look forward to.”
Listening to people’s stories during the last year has allowed him to “envision how [the parish and school] came about in the last 100 years,” said Father Hunter.
“One [story] that sticks out is when they ran out of money to finish the [school] building, and two men volunteered and finished it. … You can see in each stone, whether in the church or school, that it’s tied to someone in this parish community.”
‘JUST A BIG FAMILY’
Lynn Baumann (neé Meyer) recalls the current school being built.
“I have a memory of my dad taking us [children] to see the construction site,” she said. “I remember seeing the steel beams.”
She and her husband Gary graduated from that school. Born in 1955, both are lifelong members of the parish. Baumanns and Meyers have been parishioners since St. Roch’s founding, she said. And the tradition continues – the couple raised their three sons there (one of whom died in 2015), and now seven of their grandchildren are also parishioners.
When Baumann retired, she started working part time as a teaching assistant at St. Roch School.
“Now I’m teaching grandkids of my classmates,” she said. “And so many of the kids’ parents were friends of my boys who spent the night at our house.”
Baumann called the faith community “home.”
“You attend Mass with people who you know so well,” she said. “You know their families, you’ve been to their homes. … I think of all the people that formed my village here.”
Christina Murray used the same word to describe the parish community.
“Between the church and the school, we really have a good village here,” said Murray, a member since 2008 when she married her husband Jarrod, a lifelong parishioner. He marks the fourth generation of Murrays at St. Roch, and the couple’s four children mark the fifth generation.
“We really find that at St. Roch, it’s just a big family,” Murray said. “Feeling that connection is important for us as parents, navigating our lives together.”
And creating memories in the process. Memories like Father Wilmoth being “so excited his face lit up” when using the sparklers the Murrays offered at their wedding.
Or Father Hunter facetime-ing their youngest child (“who just adores him!”) to say “I missed you at Mass” when the family was sick with COVID.
Or in the Baumann’s case, the outpouring of support from St. Roch parishioners when one of their sons died in an accident in 2015.
And so, too, for Daprile, after the death of her husband eight years ago.
“I didn’t drive, and I didn’t know how I was going to get to Mass,” she recalled.
Then she reached out and patted the arm of the woman sitting next to her – Betty Stumpf, a parishioner younger by several decades.
“Betty said, ‘Father, she’ll be there,’ and she’s still taking me after all this time,” Daprile shared.
“I think the most wonderful thing in the world is love, and I feel that here at the parish.”
‘A STAPLE IN THE COMMUNITY’
Daprile shared her memories as she and Stumpf enjoyed the reception following the Mass – the first of many special events scheduled through 2024 to celebrate the centennial of the parish and its school.
Among the festivities planned are a trivia night, a kickball tournament, a gala, a day of service, a chili cook-off and more, said Jeffrey Feltman, chairman of the parish’s centennial committee.
“Being part of this milestone is a humbling experience,” said the 32-year-old lifetime parishioner. “Being able to hear about people’s past experiences and not only see but feel how this parish has impacted their lives is an absolute blessing.”
Baumann reflected on that generational impact.
“I look at when the prior generation of my family moved in the parish and had their family,” she said. “Could they have imagined all that came after, how the parish would be instrumental in so many parts of our lives – the school, the sacraments, the relationships, [my] working here? That makes me look ahead to the next 100 years, how my great-grandkids will be coming here and be involved.”
The milestone also made Murray consider the impact of St. Roch’s 100-year history.
“It’s been such a staple in the community for so long,” she said. “Think how many people the parish has helped. To think about how many people have been touched over the last 100 years—I don’t even know how you can measure it.
“I hope it’s around 100 years from now still helping people.”