For the second consecutive year, the Church of the Holy Cross has made the 10 Most Endangered list from Indiana Landmarks. Located on the near east side of Indianapolis, the church is steeped in Irish Catholic history that dates all the way back to the late 19th Century. But now, the iconic church sits empty and faces an uncertain future.
“In Ireland, Irish Catholics couldn’t even have a church,” said attorney and preservationist Kevin Charles Murray. “This was very much an Irish Catholic conclave. We just grew it as part of the heart of the Irish community.”
Irish immigrants found their way to Indianapolis looking for opportunity and a place to worship. But like the homeland they left, they faced a new set of challenges.
“At the time this was built, the Ku Klux Klan had taken over Indiana,” said Murray. “They had elected a mayor. They had elected a governor. They were marching around in sheets. There were Irish Americans that had given their sons from the Civil War, World War I – everybody had fought for this country and then in the 20s, here comes the Ku Klux Klan to tell Irish Americans they weren’t American.”
In spite of that hate, this new Irish community answered with hard work and the Church of the Holy Cross opened its doors in 1921, serving as a beacon of pride for decades to come.
“That’s how this got built was all these families came together and bought different pieces and put it together and that’s why when you went in there, ti was a celebration of the Irish community’s success and the ability to raise a building and celebrate their faith, which was incredibly important to them because they had been persecuted for so long,” says Murray.
White boards on the church’s exterior once contained the original 120-year-old stained glass windows, removed just last year by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis when Holy Cross closed its doors. Now the once-sacred sanctuary sits in darkness.
“So the reality is the windows are gone, but look to the future and come up with something better that serves the adaptive re-use,” said Murray.
And Holy Cross is just one of many historic churches across the country that are being forced to close their doors due to decreased attendance, a trend that continues to grow.
“That is a serious sign of the future that these congregations that sustain these historic buildings are declining,” said Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks. “So the end result is that we can anticipate many closed or vacant church buildings, many of which are historic and sometimes great landmarks in their community as is the Holy Cross church. What do we do with these buildings once they are vacated?”
With an uncertain future, residents of the Holy Cross neighborhood are hoping they can find a way to save a landmark that defines their community.
“Come up with an adaptive re-use that enhances this community of Holy Cross, which is named after this church,” said Murray. “I mean that spire, that tower, that Italian Renaissance iconic figure for this side of town is not going to go away, hopefully; it’s going to be enhanced.”