Our Parish History
Saint Rita Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is locate 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
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’s gymnasium was used throughout
the fifties, sixties, and seventies to house weekly dances which, at their prime, attracted
between 500 and 800 youths each week. Throughout this period the church and school
continued to be actively involved in community programming.
St. Rita’s 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’s also involved itself with a neighborhood beautification
project that same year.
By 1950, 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 a 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.
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’s begins 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 which threatened
the neighborhood. Both St. Rita’s 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’s Catholic Church joins 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.