In the beginning, more than 90 years ago, there were no streets, sidewalks or sewers.
The land near 14th Street and Bosart Avenue was either grazing territory or under cultivation. Nearby homes were densely clustered to the south of 10th Street. The nation’s economy was soaring to unprecedented heights under President Calvin Coolidge. They called this decade the “Roaring ’20s,” and the city of Indianapolis, led by Mayor Lew Shank, was feeling this incredible surge of wealth, too.
For some time, the Eastside had been seen as prime territory for home development. Real estate agents had hoped a new Catholic church and school would help sell slow-moving lots within platted subdivisions to the north of 10th Street. As Monsignor John J. Doyle would later recall, the Phoenix Investment Co., Security Trust Co., and Rosalia Realty went to Bishop Joseph Chartrand in 1921 with a proposal: They would turn land over to the Indianapolis diocese if Bishop Chartrand would agree to build both a church and school.
The bishop took title to the property for $1 and pledged to build, but he did not act for a while. Nonetheless, word spread swiftly that a new Catholic parish was in the works. Three years later, in 1924, the bishop quietly informed Father Charles T. Duffey that he would found this rumored parish, the first in the world named after the beatified Carmelite nun Therese Martin of Lisieux, France, whose canonization was rapidly approaching.
Bishop Chartrand announced the formation of Little Flower Catholic Church on March 13, 1925. The new parish, he said, would be carved from territory belonging to St. Philip Neri, St. Francis de Sales, and Our Lady of Lourdes. The bishop left to Father Duffey the negotiation of boundaries with pastors of these parishes.
Meanwhile, the parish rented a storeroom in a vacant grocery at 10th Street and Bancroft Avenue owned by parishioner Harry Phillips. It was a narrow room with bare walls and rows of folding chairs separated by an aisle. There, Father Duffey celebrated Mass on Sundays and Holy Days.
On Sept. 2, 1925, 15 bids for the new church and school were unsealed. The lowest price quoted was $108,392 – or, roughly $25,000 more than parishioners had wanted to spend. Adding insult, the low bid included neither plumbing nor wiring.
After some discussion, the parish let the contract and agreed to spend $130,000 to build and furnish the church and school. On Sept. 30, 1925, ground was broken, but heavy rains slowed the pace of construction.
In November 1926, Father Duffey moved from quarters in the old grocery to a new rectory on Wallace Street. Within weeks, electric streetlights sprouted along Bosart. By December, Bosart was freshly paved and the combined church and school was the first building under construction, replacing a farmhouse. Even so, very few houses were yet visible.
The following April, Bishop Chartrand came out — on a “dismal and disagreeable” day, those present recalled – to bless and lay the cornerstone. A history of the parish’s formation and the only known list of charter members were among items placed in a copper box that parishioners sealed within the cornerstone.
Nearly 1,000 people assembled for a dedication Mass inside the new church Sept. 12, 1926. The crowd exceeded the seating capacity of what is now the school gymnasium by 200.
Within a week of the dedication, six sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis arrived from Oldenburg, Ind. The school opened two days later under their direction with 85 children. The sisters lived on the third floor, and noise from parish meetings and dances often drifted up from below.
|First graduating class in 1927|
(Back row left to right) Joe Rice, Alice Prenatt, Father Duffey, Bernard Reilly, Robert Berlier.(Front left to right) Kathleen Cain, John Berlier, Kathryn Craig. Ruth Farmer, an eighth member of the class, was absent this day.
By 1933, the parish had increased in size to about 500 families, with 300 children enrolled in school. The school had expanded from four classrooms to seven.
That autumn, thousands of people filled Christian Park to watch an event signaling the rise of Little Flower’s youth sports program, fueled by the parish’s growth. On this cool fall afternoon, a Little Flower team coached by Father Richard Kavanagh took on St. Catherine for the first Catholic Youth Organization city football title.
Although Little Flower boasted the city’s leading scorer, halfback Joseph Tuohy, the team lost 14-6. Little Flower remained an athletic power for many years.
In 1945, World War II ended. That year, Father John set fire to the paid-off church mortgage in the auditorium during a celebration that included parish children performing a pantomime rendition of the parish history. By then, the parish had grown to 2,700 members, with 512 children in school. Little Flower became known as “the little melting pot” because of an influx of Lithuanian, Polish, and Latvian refugees to the area after World War II......
A complete parish and school history is available here