The rich heritage of faith in South Bend
The following is the homily that Bishop Rhoades delivered at the Mass on May 31, 2015, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the incorporation of the city of South Bend:
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. We contemplate the mystery of God in Himself: one God in Three Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the greatest mystery of our faith, a mystery we cannot fully comprehend, but which Jesus, the Son, revealed to us. He revealed to us that God is eternal and infinite love, a communion of three divine Persons. God is not infinite solitude, but an eternal communion of life and love. The Holy Trinity is a mystery that transcends us, yet the reality that is closest to us, the life that dwells in us and sustains us. We were all baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Through Baptism, we were introduced into the life of the Blessed Trinity: the love of God was poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We are reminded of this every time we make the sign of the cross in the name of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Faith in the Most Holy Trinity was proclaimed and lived here in this area of northern Indiana long before South Bend was incorporated as a city 150 years ago. The first Mass in this region was probably celebrated in the late 1600’s by French missionary priests. We know that in the 1680’s Jesuit missionaries formed Saint Joseph Mission for the Native Potawatomis, a mission located between present-day Niles, Michigan, and South Bend. This mission laid the foundation for the Christian faith in this region. In the latter part of the 1700’s, the mission was left without resident priests for six decades, but thanks to Potawatomi Chief Leopold Pokagon, the missionary priest Father Stephen Badin, and his lay catechist Angelique Campeau, the mission was revived in 1830. The Catholic faith was reactivated among the native Americans. Today’s celebration would not be complete without our remembrance of the first native Catholics of this region, the Potawatomis. Nor would it be complete without our remembering the holy missionaries: Father Stephen Badin, Father Louis Deseille, and Father Benjamin Petit, beloved and holy priests who stood by the side of the Potawatomi faithful during those difficult and tragic times. I especially remember the young Father Petit who accompanied the Potawatomis on the Trail of Death, when so many of our brothers and sisters were expelled from this region. Father Petit himself died while returning to Indiana, at the age of 28. Though he is not canonized, I think he is our first saint of northern Indiana.
It was just three years after Father Petit’s death that the young French priest, Father Edward Sorin, with six religious brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, arrived here. They moved into a log building and chapel on a 524 acre property given to Father Sorin by the Bishop of Vincennes. This was property that was originally bought by Father Stephen Badin in 1832 and named by him Notre Dame des Lacs. With the arrival of Father Sorin and the Holy Cross brothers in 1842, a new era in the history of Catholic life in this region began. They began the school that became the University of Notre Dame. Father Sorin and later, a succession of Holy Cross priests, brothers and sisters ministered to the Catholics living in this area and beyond.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne was established in 1857 and encompassed the whole northern half of the state of Indiana. There were probably about 20,000 Catholics in the whole diocese at that time. The Catholics in this area worshiped at Sacred Heart at Notre Dame until 1853 when Father Sorin and Holy Cross priests bought the land where we now stand and built a chapel in 1853 on the northeast corner of what is today Hill and LaSalle Streets. It was named Saint Alexis Chapel, in honor of the patron saint of South Bend’s founder, Alexis Coquillard. This became Saint Joseph Parish, the oldest Catholic parish of South Bend, though some debate this, since at that time, this property was part of Lowell, a town that was only annexed to South Bend in 1867. We can say, however, that it is the oldest parish in present-day South Bend. The first parishioners were mostly French, many from Canada, and a few German and Irish families. The first parish on the west side of the Saint Joseph River was founded in 1859 in honor of Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick’s was a multiethnic, but mostly Irish, parish. In 1865, when South Bend was incorporated as a city, Saint Patrick was the only Catholic parish within the city boundaries.
The Catholic population of South Bend grew steadily beyond the original Native-Americans, French, and French-Canadians with the arrival of not only Irish and German immigrants, but later more numerous Polish, Hungarian, Italian and Belgian immigrants. Many ethnic parishes, along with Catholic schools, were established in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Polish Catholic presence has been especially prominent in the history of the Church in South Bend. In 1927, a specific ministry to South Bend’s fifty African-American Catholic families began and became Saint Augustine Parish in 1941. The Hispanic Catholic presence in South Bend began in the 1950’s and has grown significantly in the past several decades. We see a beautiful, rich tapestry of ethnic Catholic communities throughout South Bend’s history, a unity in diversity that is still evident today.
I don’t have time to discuss all the rich history of the Church in South Bend these past 150 years, but I must mention the significant decree from the Vatican in 1960 changing the title of our diocese from the Diocese of Fort Wayne to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Bishop Leo Pursley asked for this change to honor South Bend and its religious heritage. With this re-naming of the diocese, Saint Matthew Church was promoted to the rank of the diocese’s co-cathedral.
Today it is good to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the rich heritage of faith here in South Bend, to remember our ancestors in the faith, and to be resolved to continue their beautiful legacy in the present and future. We pray for the city of South Bend during this 150th anniversary year, for all our brothers and sisters of different faiths. Together we are called to work together for the good of this city, especially mindful of those who are in need or struggling to make a living. We pray for the peace and prosperity of this city.
Finally, on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we praise God from whom all the blessings of our life flow. We praise the Father who is the origin of all life. We praise the Son who redeemed us by His death and resurrection. We praise the Holy Spirit who refreshes us and renews the face of the earth. We praise the One God who is love and who calls us to enter into the embrace of His love. May God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bless you and bless this city of South Bend!