By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Good Shepherd Church will host a celebration this Sunday, Nov. 17, to mark 175 years of Catholic presence in the Portland neighborhood and in the West End of Louisville.
The parish on Rudd Avenue‚ just off Northwestern Parkway near 35th Street, was formerly the site of the Church of Our Lady, Portland’s first Catholic church and one of Louisville’s oldest parishes. Good Shepherd was formed in 2009 with the closing of Our Lady, which was established in 1839, and two other historic Portland parishes — St. Cecilia Church at 25th and Slevin Streets and St. Anthony Church in the 2200 block of West Market.
The Nov. 17 celebration is an opportunity to “give thanks with grateful hearts,” said Father John Burke, pastor of Good Shepherd.
“We need to recognize and be grateful for the religious orders who planted the seeds of religious faith in the West End,” he said during an interview in his office at the parish’s St. Cecilia campus. “That’s the purpose of the celebration. It’s in between All Souls’ Day and Thanksgiving Day. We’re remembering those who’ve gone before us and giving thanks with grateful hearts so we can move forward.”
Among those who planted seeds of religious faith in Portland were the Sisters of Loretto, who started Portland’s Cedar Grove Academy and taught at Our Lady from 1857 to 1909, Father Burke said. The Sisters of Mercy also taught at Our Lady from 1913 to 1971.
St. Cecilia Church was established in 1873 by Passionists and then was operated by the Resurrectionists from 1926 to 2002, said Father Burke, who is also one of the parish’s former pastors.
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth served at the school for nearly a century — from 1874-1971, he said. The school closed that year, along with several others, to form Community Catholic, a now-closed regional school. Sister of Charity of Nazareth Barbara Von Bokern was the principal there “for several years and she’s remembered as the one who really kept it going,” Father Burke said.
St. Anthony Church was founded by the Conventual Franciscans in 1867 and they operated the parish “from the very beginning to the end,” Father Burke said, noting that the parish was at one time the provincial headquarters of the Conventual Franciscans. Franciscan
Sisters taught at the school in its first three decades or so, he noted, then the Ursuline Sisters taught at St. Anthony from 1899 to 1971.
“What a heritage,” Father Burke added. “A lot of seeds were planted.”
He and his 300 or so Good Shepherd families have invited these religious communities to join in the Nov. 17 celebration. It will begin with Mass at 11 a.m. and a gathering will follow the liturgy in Lehman Hall at Good Shepherd. The religious communities also have been invited to share information about their ministries — both past and present.
Father Burke said the milestone anniversary also is an opportunity for Good Shepherd parishioners to take stock of their present and future. He noted that the parish closures were painful for members of St. Cecilia, St. Anthony and Our Lady. The last five years have been a time for healing and new life, he said.
“I think people have pulled together,” Father Burke said. “We lost some people. But for those who have come with us, there’s been a good spirit of working together.”
The parish’s first new ministry, established in 2010, is a monthly outreach to the Portland neighborhood called The Table of Plenty. On the last Wednesday of each month, The Table of Plenty volunteers turn Resurrection Hall at the St. Cecilia campus into a restaurant. It’s organized just as if it were a regular restaurant with servers and a maitre d’, Father Burke said. But there’s no charge for the fare.
The effort aims to build community relations in the neighborhood and alleviate the strain on those who run out of funds near the end of the month, said Janet McCauley, one of the volunteers who helps organize the ministry. About 400 people dine during each day-long event. Some are there because they need the meal while others come to meet people and visit with friends, she said.
The St. Cecilia campus also is home to Community Catholic Center, which helps students in West Louisville — where there are no longer any Catholic schools — get a Catholic education. And a church called Grace Community Covenant Church also meets in the church building. The old school on that campus has been turned into apartments for senior citizens. The campus also is a Dare to Care distribution site. Between The Table of Plenty, Grace church and Dare to Care, food is available at the campus during four weeks each month.
The St. Anthony campus is now home to Catholic Charities’ programs, including its Migration and Refugee Services. While the altar area has been preserved and is used for prayer by visitors to the Catholic Charities programs, the rest of the church and other buildings are used for offices, English classes, donation distribution and other services.
All of these things are good news for Good Shepherd, said Father Burke. “We’re trying to see, ‘How can we be a leaven for good with the facilities we have?’ ”
He said Good Shepherd also has a well-developed outreach to the sick and homebound. As it looks to the future, though, Good Shepherd would like to attract younger families.
Mary Jo McKinley, the parish secretary, said, “Our parish has a lot of older people in it. That’s a challenge it’s going face.”
“It’s a fun parish. They’re very welcoming,” she added. “People should check it out. I brought my daughter-in-law — she’s not even Catholic, but she asked to come with me. Everyone saw she was a new person and welcomed her before Mass even began.”