What started out as a humble meeting place for 75 southeast side families who gathered in 1922 has grown into a thriving parish of 1,300 families which boasts a school of nearly 400 students. And while the building has changed many times over the years, the spirit of the people who worship there remains strong.
In 1921, Bishop Herman Alerding gave permission to Father John DeGroote to purchase 14 lots in the Oak Park addition, which was bounded by Dubail Street, Miami Street, Dayton and an alley. Although original plans called for a church on the first floor and a school on the second floor, those plans were abandoned because of the estimated cost of $35,000. The bishop suggested the parish build a temporary wooden church.
Rev. Theodore Hammes became the first pastor of the new church. Since there was no rectory at the time, he lived at St. Monica’s in Mishawaka. Without wealthy parishioners, he called for volunteers to help build the church. Twenty-two men answered the call and a small structure was built in May 1922 with $10,000 in construction costs and free labor. A basement was built underneath the church for social rooms. The new church was dedicated on August 13, 1922 with a high mass sung by Father Hammes.
The capacity of the new church was only 240 and within a short time two additions were approved and constructed. The new additions, dedicated on October of 1923, allowed for a capacity of 600 parishioners. By the end of 1923, the parish was growing rapidly. The number of parishioners had increased to 950 and on November 26, 1923, the First Holy Communion was administered to 16 boys and 24 girls. Because the financial situation of the church improved with the growth of the number of parishioners, more expansion took place in 1924 when the parish boundaries were expanded to include six lots to the west of the property, giving the parish the entire block from Miami to Dale streets.
School Built in 1929
Construction on a new school was begun on May 15, 1929 and was dedicated by Bishop John F. Noll on October 13, 1929 at a cost of $167,000. Six St. Joseph nuns arrived from Tipton to teach the first 5 grades at St. Matthew’s, and the first enrollment was 150 students. Every year thereafter, a grade was added until the school celebrated it’s first graduation on June 1, 1933.
The optimism of the parishioners prior to the Depression was short – lived. All avenues of financial resources were closed and the parish found itself overburdened with a large debt. The burden became too much for Father Hammes, the pastor for the past 11 years, who became ill and had to be replaced by Rev. Arnold J. Wibbert, who came to St. Matthew in 1933. Father Wibbert improved the financial situation of the parish greatly and by the time of his retirement some 36 years later the parish was free of debt.
Soon after his arrival, Rev. Wibbert lent a hand to the Brothers of the Holy Cross by making the second floor of the elementary school available to them as Central Catholic High School. The all boys high school opened in September of 1934 with 18 students and two brothers of the Holy Cross order as teachers. As more students enrolled in future years, more classrooms were added. During the next four years, the school evolved from just four classrooms to a school accredited by the state. The school team name became the “Miami Indians” with colors of green and gold. The faculty consisted of the six brothers and one lay teacher who taught biology and coached the football, basketball and wrestling teams. Father Wibbert was the acting chaplain for the school. Tuition was about $40 a year and boys could work off the tuition costs by doing maintenance work at the school. Priests and professors from the University of Notre Dame taught classes and lectured students.
The church social rooms were used as the high school cafeteria. Boys helped the kitchen supervisor with table setting, serving and dish washing. The first athletic teams eventually played area high school varsity teams as well as Catholic high schools in the Michiana area. When Central Catholic closed its doors in 1951, there were about 178 students enrolled there, the highest enrollment over the years being 237 students. The school name the “Indians” was given to the new St. Joseph High School, which was the result of the merging of three local Catholic high schools. By the time the high school closed, parishioners were more than anxious to use the space for the much needed expansion of the elementary school.
The Rev. Francis G. Kienly, the first of the parish’s associate pastors arrived in 1937. In 1945 the parish debt was liquidated, thanks to the hard work of Father Wibbert. The upper floor of the school was renovated after the high school closed in 1951. The grammar school was able to use the new space two years later.
Father Wibbert also oversaw the arrival of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Victory in 1942 who remained here until 1958, living in a house at 1009 E. Dayton Street. Eleven Catechists served the parish in many ways, including taking the parish census, teaching religion classes and preparing students not attending the school for First Holy Communion. These sisters also worked to bring Catholics back to the church and the sacraments.
The story of St. Matthew’s would not be complete without the story of Father Earl Harber, who came in 1953 and served for the next 14 years, coming to an untimely death in 1967. He was a well – loved priest who was known throughout the community as a champion of the poor, the disadvantaged, and the youth of our city. During the 14 years at St. Matthew’s, he was loved as few are loved for his spirit of compassion and his love for his fellow man.
Ground was broken for a new rectory in 1954. The small frame house on the corner of Dubail and Miami had become too small for both offices and a home for the priests. The new rectory had just been finished when ground was broken in 1955 for a new gymnasium and meeting room to the west of the school.
Cathedral of St. Matthew
In 1959, ground was broken for a new church. The old church, which served the parish well for 37 years, was demolished and a new brick church was constructed. The only part of the old church that was saved were the bells, which are still in place today. While the new church was being built, masses took place in the new gym. In 1959, Father Wibbert was elevated to the rank of Monsignor, and the following year, before construction of the new church was complete, it was made a Co-Cathedral along with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. Those parishioners who remember the tiny wood frame church felt much pride watching it grow into a place that became the seat of Bishops. Many credit the hard work and perseverance of Monsignor Wibbert for the transformation.
Bishop Joseph Crowley
Monsignor Wibbert, who guided the church from its humble beginnings to its days as a Cathedral, retired in 1969 and died just a few months later. Parishioners note that he served with a strong, but compassionate hand. Upon the death of Monsignor Wibbert, Monsignor Joseph R. Crowley was assigned to us, coming from St. Joseph’s parish in Fort Wayne. Monsignor Crowley had been at St. Matthew’s for a little more than two years when on August 24, 1971 he was elevated and ordained as Auxiliary Bishop of Fort Wayne – South Bend. Soon after his ordination, he was appointed director of religious education in the Diocese. Two years later, Bishop Crowley returned to St. Matthew’s as rector.
Termed a “priest of the people” by the South Bend Tribune upon his retirement in 1990, Bishop Crowley certainly embodied the spirit of giving that others had demonstrated during their years at St. Matthew’s. But Bishop Crowley added certain qualities that were unique: compassion without condescension; an ability to deliver sermons which one parishioner called “spellbinding,” a desire to keep track and remember the thousands of people he met over the years, whether they be Catholic or not, from St. Matthew’s or not, and an excellent business sense. He was still active in the diocese well into his retirement, filling in at the masses when needed and helping out whenever possible at weddings, funerals and confirmations. Bishop Crowley died February 4, 2003 at the age of 88.
In 1989, the St. Matthew Choir was invited to the Vatican to sing, directed by Dr. Edward Kline, who Bishop Crowley credited with building up the group, which started out in a small loft on the northeast corner of the old wooden church. The Vatican performance was a source of great pride for all members of St. Matthew Parish. Bishop Crowley praised the job done by organist, Helen Bodine, who had served the church faithfully for many years.
Bishop John Sheets
On June 25, 1991, Auxiliary Bishop John R. Sheets was ordained in our cathedral. He came to St. Matthew from Creighton and Marquette Universities where he served as a professor of theology. Parishioners came to know Bishop Sheets as a humble priest of God whose life of piety and love of the families in and around St. Matthew Parish was a hallmark of his pastorate. Bishop Sheets passed away on April 16, 2003.
The Cathedral Center opened in 1992. The former sister’s convent was used as a day care for children and in 1994, the commercial building on the southwest corner of Dayton and Miami streets was purchased as an additional day care facility called Kindercove.
Other changes included a 1993 fund drive to repair the tunnel between the power house and the school. Also, the roof structure in the school building was repaired. During the summer of 1996, the upper parapet of the school was renovated with new mortar in the bricks and the gymnasium roof was replaced during the 1997 school year.
Bishop Daniel Jenky
In October 1997, Bishop Sheets retired to be replaced by Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C. Bishop Jenky came from the University of Notre Dame where he served as Rector of Sacred Heart Basilica for many years. Along with then associate pastor Fr. Michael Heintz, Bishop Jenky led the parish through 2 important capital campaign drives. The first of these expanded the Cathedral campus to the south, providing ample parking and lawn area for the school children. The second campaign replaced the boiler, heating and ventilation system for the church and school, as well as significant interior upgrades in the school. In April 2002, the parish bid farewell to Bishop Jenky who was appointed to be bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.
Bishop John D’Arcy
In May 1985, Bishop John M. D’Arcy became the eighth Bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese. He is the son of Irish immigrants and a former auxiliary bishop in the Boston Archdiocese. Among his many accomplishments, he established the Chancery office in South Bend to help make the church more visible in the downtown area and also added a Spiritual Development office and Family Life office. He instituted televised Sunday masses for the homebound and the Annual Bishop’s Appeal, which has fiscally strengthened the diocese and provided support for our schools and various Catholic charities in our community. Bishop D’Arcy retired in 2009, and remained active in our diocese until he passed away on February 3, 2013.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend
Bishop Rhoades was appointed the Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend on November 14, 2009, by Pope Benedict XVI, and installed on January 13, 2010, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.
He was ordained a Bishop on December 9, 2004, by Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia. On that date, he began his ministry as Bishop of Harrisburg, a diocese which encompasses 15 counties of south-central Pennsylvania and which includes more the 250,000 Catholics.
Bishop Rhoades serves as President of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, as Co-chair of the Pennsylvania Conference on Interchurch Cooperation, Chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Task Force on Health Care, and as Episcopal Moderator of the National Catholic Office for the Deaf. He is a member of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catechism, the Board of Trustees of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Board of Trustees of Mount Saint Maryâ€™s University, the Board of Trustees of Saint Charles Seminary, the Board of Regents of Saint Vincent Seminary, the Episcopal Advisory Board of the Theology of the Body Institute, and the Episcopal Cabinet for Catholic Charities USA.
The past reminds us of the hard work of the clergy and parishioners who toiled to make St. Matthew’s what it is today. While the structure of St. Matthew’s, its boundaries, its functions and its financial status have changed many times over the years, a spirit of cooperation and determination to do what is necessary to keep the parish strong and always growing has remained constant. Through God’s help, may we always remain a parish committed to the needs of its people.
If you would like additional information about the history of our parish, see this History of St Matthew Cathedral Parish written by parishioner Bob Garrow.