St. Andrew’s Catholic Church a victim of time, change, expense — and, soon, the wrecking ball

A public meeting Sept. 14 will explain -- and seek financial support for -- the restoration of the former St. Andrew's Catholic Church on New Haven Avenue. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
St. Andrew hosted its last congregational mass in 2003. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
Former Bishop John D'Arcy in front of one of St. Andrew's stained glass windows. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
Father Mark Gurtner

Fifteen years after hosting its final congregational mass, the century-old St. Andrew Catholic Church is slated for demolition.

“It’s in need of repair, the bricks and steeples, and there are safety concerns. Repairs would cost about $2.1 million, and with no parish there, obviously, it makes no sense,” said the Rev. Mark Gurtner, vicar general for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Erected in 1911, then-Bishop John D’Arcy closed the 103-family parish in 2003 when it was led by the Rev. Phillip Widmann, who was also pastor at the nearby and much larger St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Declining membership and a priest shortage requiring some men to serve more than one congregation contributed to the decision, D’Arcy explained at the time.

The stately brick sanctuary didn’t stay vacant for long. In 2010 a group of about 10 Franciscans followed D’Arcy’s successor, Kevin Rhoades, to Fort Wayne from Pennsylvania and set up shop at St. Andrew’s, creating the Our Lady of the Angels Monestary. The Franciscans, whose disdain for worldy possessions reflects the philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th Century Italian who was born into a wealthy family but rejected riches, manifested that belief by dressing in simple robes, refusing to wear shoes and working in the neighborhood. Two years later, the Poor Sisters of Saint Claire moved into the former rectory next door.

Thanks to attrition and other factors, however, the Franciscans no longer need the old church building. Five are attending a seminary in Cincinnati, Gurtner said, and three are living near Decatur. “For some of them, it was experimental and they decided, ‘It’s not for me,’ ” said Gurtner. The sisters will remain in the rectory, which like the former St. Andrew convent will not be razed.

Although pews and other items may be salvaged for use elsewhere within the diocese, Gurtner said other items — including the pipe organ and stained glass windows — may be beyond saving or repair. Some original features, such as the reredos, were removed long ago.

“Bishop Rhoades wanted to save St. Andrew’s Church and looked at it from a myriad of different angles to figure out a way,” Gurtner said. “But in the end it just wasn’t financially possible.”

The last Fort Wayne Catholic Church to face the wrecker’s ball was St. Paul’s, which was torn down in 2004. Today the site is part of Trinity English Lutheran Church’s parking lot.


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