Parish History

Saint Rita Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is located just north of downtown Indianapolis at 1733 Dr. Andrew J. Brown Avenue.

St. Rita, an extension of St. Bridget Catholic Church, was established in 1919 as the first African-American parish in Indianapolis. The first church structure of St. Rita Church, a Knights of Columbus Chapel, was moved from Fort Benjamin Harrison to 19th and Arsenal Avenue and was dedicated on August 3, 1919, by the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis. St. Rita Catholic Church along with St. Francis de Sales become both educationally and socially important to the Martindale/Brightwood neighborhood from the beginning of the twentieth century.

In 1935, Father Bernard Strange begins his service at St. Rita parish. Under his leadership, the church and school became a vital part of the community. Father Strange, a progressive leader, began fighting for the desegregation of Catholic schools in the 1930s. He also directed much of his mission at St. Rita’s towards the congregation’s youth and school.

St. Rita became known for several social activities open to the Martindale community and African Americans throughout the city. Father Strange developed sports leagues which included boxing tournaments and basketball. The school gymnasium was used throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies to house weekly dances which, at their prime, attracted 500-800 youth each week. Throughout this period the church and school continued to be actively involved in community programming.

St. Rita Catholic Church continued its community service through the institution of a summer youth center to combat juvenile delinquency in 1947 and a summer camp for underprivileged African American boys in 1949. St. Rita was also involved in a neighborhood beautification project that same year. 

By 1950, the St. Rita family had grown significantly and established a successful grade school praised by observers within and outside the Catholic community.  A project was underway to start the construction of a new St. Rita School and gymnasium in Martindale.  The new St. Rita Catholic School building was opened completed and opened in 1954. The school enrollment grew to 425 and the parish membership also reached 1500 members.

The growth of the parish family also led to a new church building construction which started in April 1958 on the same property at 1733 Martindale Ave. (now named Dr. Andrew J. Brown Ave). The cornerstone for St. Rita’s new church building was laid on September 14, 1958 by the Most Reverend Paul C. Schulte, the Archbishop of Indianapolis.

The new St. Rita Church was completed and dedicated to the glory of God in honor of St. Rita on May 17, 1959. The theme throughout the architectural plan and appointments is religious sacrifice. St. Rita, the patron Saint was dedicated to Our Savior’s sacred passion and sacrifice on Calvary.

In the mid-sixties, St. Rita began offering several programs to aid underprivileged children and adults. In 1967, following the declaration that Martindale had been declared a poverty target area, the Martindale Area Citizens Service (MACS) organized to provide aid against the poverty, deteriorating houses, health problems, crime, and unemployment that threatened the neighborhood. Both St. Rita and other Brightwood organizations provided services for MACS.

The social and economic downturn in the inner-city prompted families to move to the suburbs. In 1984, to alleviate church attendance, St. Rita Catholic Church joined the Urban Parish Cooperative, organized to help inner-city parishes. In 2003, due to low enrollment, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis combined St. Rita and St. Andrew schools to create the St. Andrew and St. Rita Catholic Academy. The academy was subsequently also closed at the end of 2010 school year.