WASHINGTON, D.C. — An Indianapolis parish is in line for a challenge grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places.
If St. Rita Parish, a majority-Black parish on the city’s east side, can raise $300,000 on its own, it will receive $150,000 from the fund.
Some of the money will be used to repair the church’s bell tower. Sister Gail Trippett, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet who was the parish life coordinator when the grant application was submitted, said bricks have been falling from the tower. Some bricks have fallen through the church and others have fallen on the parking lot, making it unsafe to use.
St. Rita is one of 16 Christian churches to receive grants in the new funding cycle. One other awardee is a Catholic parish: St. Francis of Assisi Parish in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Now in its seventh year, the National Fund for Sacred Places has awarded or pledged over $18 million to 97 community-serving congregations throughout the United States. It is the only initiative of its kind in the country.
The organization is a project of Partners for Sacred Places, which helps congregations and others with a stake in older religious properties make the most of them as civic assets that serve the broader community.
Trippett told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 20 phone interview that she and a parishioner represented St. Rita for a series of workshops that extended over the course of a year. “It was a very intensive program, but it covered many of the aspects that help communities to thrive instead of just surviving,” she said.
Every two or three months there would be a different topic due for a deep dive. One example was just to “look at our buildings. What’s our long-term plan to restore the mission of the congregation to a higher purpose?” Trippett said.
“We had to come back to report on our congregation, our survey of people in the community,” she added. The survey asked for respondents’ perspectives of the parish in terms of “what are the strengths that you bring forward now, and where do you want to be in the future?” according to Trippett.
Part of the community outreach was “a listening session with partners in our neighborhood. We invited a lot,” she recalled saying organizers asked participants what they knew about St. Rita’s and about the needs in the community. These conversations could lead to deeper partnerships between the parish and other community organizations, she said.
“We have been doing a facilities assessment, and working with the community to determine what direction we want to go. We’re also working with various committees, a ‘This is what we want to do, and this is who we want to partner with'” scenario, said Trippett, who has since become congregational religious director for her religious order, talking with its novices.
Trippett and a parishioner who attended the workshop series became a two-member grant-writing committee. They were joined soon after by another parishioner with a background in architecture and facilities development.
The Sacred Places grant is just one grant they’ve won, but there was a requirement: “We had to apply with the archdiocese (of Indianapolis) for permission to do a capital campaign, and had to do a feasibility study to justify it,” Trippett told CNS.
“We just received word that Indiana Landmark — has been a significant partnership for us — we were able to get a planning grant from them, which forms the feasibility study. We’ve also applied for the Preservation for Black Churches grant,” she added.
With other needs for edifice-rebuilding and community building are factored in, Trippett expects the total bill to come to about $1.1 million. But does the $300,000 match seem a daunting figure? The parish has raised funds before, she replied, “but not on this large a scale.”