Located at 2905 Carson Avenue on Indianapolis’ southside, the parish of Good Shepherd is the direct result of a massive overhaul of the Indianapolis Archdiocese that took years to implement.

Nativity Scene at the Good Shepherd Church, 1942
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

In 1991 under the direction of the Most. Rev. Edward T. O’Meara, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis administered a committee report to determine the sustainability of Marion County parishes in the 21st century (see catholics). The tasks force O’Meara assembled determined that too many of the parishes on the southside of the city sat unfilled as urban living parishioners moved to the county’s periphery. It proposed that the archdiocese close parishes and redistribute staff and available priests throughout the archdiocese to adjust to the population decline in the city and growth in the suburbs.

The southside parishes of Saint Catherine of Siena and St. James Catholic Church already had made plans to combine their parishes. The two parishes were less than a mile apart and had been sharing their priests and communal spaces for over 10 years. In 1974, both parishes, along with the southside parishes of St. Patrick, Sacred Heart, and Holy Rosary also had consolidated their schools to form one education complex, Central Catholic School at St. Catherine. Dwindling school enrollments and the cost of renovations left both St. Catherine and St. James in dire financial straits. The South Deanery Pastoral Council realized the unsustainability of both church communities amid the rapidly changing demographics of the southside community. Because the two existing parishes already were working together, it made sense to consolidate them and form one thriving Catholic community under a new name

The unexpected death of O’Meara in January 1992 delayed approval of the consolidation. In September 1992, Most Rev. Daniel M. Buechlein was appointed archbishop. He understood the emotional impact the church closures would inflict upon the Catholic community. In fact, tensions flared in the surrounding Garfield Park Neighborhood, a community that largely had built itself around the St. Catherine parish. To ease anxieties over the pending church closures, Archbishop Buechlein addressed a crowd of 800 Catholic leaders in downtown Indianapolis. At the meeting, he vowed, “We will not abandon communities or neighborhoods simply because the majority of the Catholic population has moved away.”

Rev. Thomas Clegg supervised the parish consolidation. The newly unified parish, named Good Shepherd debuted in May 1993. A year-long feasibility study established whether the new parish should renovate existing buildings, construct new structures, or use a combination of both methods.

The study revealed that the almost 100-year-old St. Catherine building failed to meet existing building codes. Retrofitting it along with updating and expanding the school threatened to cripple the archdiocese’s budget. The facilities at St. James, constructed in 1952, had more workable structures, particularly a football field that Central Catholic School already used. Instead of refurbishing one of the existing church buildings, the archdiocese concluded that the construction of a new modern building would better serve the community. ADA compliance in a smaller structure would ensure sustainability in the community while also serving students.

During the three-year fundraising and construction phases, the parish of Good Shepherd celebrated mass at either the Chapel of St. Catherine or the Chapel of St. James. The archbishop dedicated the new church in November 1996. The old church of St. James was converted to a gym for Central Catholic School’s use.

In 1997, Archbishop Buechlein ceremoniously decreed the St. Catherine church building to “profane but not sordid use,” allowing for its demotion in September. Unused contents within the church were sold at auction and the land was sold to investors.

Central Catholic School officially moved to the new Good Shepherd in August 1996, where it continued to serve students in 2020. 

Revised July 2021
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