While ambling through the sanctuaries of most Catholic churches, one seldom ponders their beginnings and the rich stories that often accompany the founding of a parish. Most Precious Blood Catholic Church is one such parish, with a fascinating history dating back to 1897 when the Society of the Precious Blood purchased a parcel of land between Fourth and Barthold streets in Fort Wayne. At the time the area was considered a prime location for growth in population and business development, which fueled the congregation’s zeal to spread God’s word through education.
Father Joseph Gaughan noted that the history of Most Precious Blood is a large reason why its parishioners are so dedicated to caring for the grounds and the surrounding community. “Many of our families have been part of the parish generationally,” said Father Gaughan, “so they know the history of the parish well. If you can believe it, I am actually the first diocesan priest who has pastored this church.”
Father Gaughan has been pastor of Most Precious Blood for 12 years. Before that, the Society of the Precious Blood ran the church and the school with secularized missionary priests, brothers and sisters. “These priests have an incredible devotion to Jesus’ precious blood and his passion,” added Father Gaughan. “Every week we pray the Litany of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ when we have eucharistic adoration. We’ve maintained the beautiful tradition of focusing on how much Jesus loves us.”
The Society of the Precious Blood is a community of priests, brothers and sisters founded by St. Gaspar del Bufalo in 1815 at the request of Pope Pius VII. They live according to the “Society of Apostolic Life,” which essentially means they are secularized religious who do not take official vows but instead make promises. They live in community and go through an extensive period of spiritual formation that takes several years.
Some men are discerned to formally enter seminary and become priests of the order. In this case, they leave the congregation for a time and eventually take formal vows of ordination. The original motto of the society is: “Christ’s shedding his Blood was for St. Gaspar and is for us the sign of God’s great love for all people. The spirituality of the Blood continues to impel us to build community through the inclusion of the marginalized, to walk in solidarity with those who suffer, and to seek reconciliation in a divided world.”
Father Gaughan said that same spirit has carried on throughout the many generations of faithful laity who have comprised Most Precious Blood. “Our church is in a poorer neighborhood, so it is truly a beacon of hope for many marginalized people in our community.”
The modest-sized school includes around 270 students up to eighth grade, and adds to the longing for hope that many people in the geographical area share. “Non-Catholics in the area have a lot of respect for our church,” Father Gaughan added, “because they see how well-kept the parish is and how welcoming parishioners are to the families and children in the area.”
Father Gaughan believes the greatest strength of Most Precious Blood Parish is that “everyone is really down-to-earth, very warm-hearted and kind.” Many parishioners reside in homes surrounding the neighborhood, and they often chip in to volunteer taking care of the grounds by mowing the lawn, weeding and maintaining the landscape.
Another interesting aspect of the school is that it boasts a full-size bowling alley, which Father Gaughan said is rarely used by the students. “We mostly rent out the bowling alley for parties and men’s and women’s bowling leagues. The proceeds we earn are returned directly to the needs of the parish.”
Pastoral Associate Jessie Bloom has been a member of Most Precious Blood for most of her life. She attended the grade school, was married in the church, and taught first grade in the school for 22 years. “It’s a joy to work here,” she said. “Living in the ‘shadow of the steeple’ is a constant reminder for me to live my faith. The people of the parish and school not only call me to live my faith, but also assist me in that calling.”
Bloom has noticed an increase in weddings and baptisms, as well as enrollment in the school — which she finds to be a “rich mixture of new families and generational families” that strengthens the Most Precious Blood community.
A beautifully preserved souvenir book that showcases Most Precious Blood’s history from 1897 to 1929 elaborates on the hidden treasure of details that make this parish so dedicated to keeping the church and school alive. An excerpt from a poem by an unknown poet succinctly sums up the slow-but-steady growth of Most Precious Blood:
“Great things from small beginnings flow;
Tall oaks from tiny acorns grow;
Small leaves make up the massive trees;
Many tiny drops of water blending make the mighty seas.”
Most Precious Blood
1515 Barthold St.
Fort Wayne, IN 46808
Saturday: 5 p.m.
Sunday: 8, 10:15 a.m.
Holy Day: as announced
Weekday: M-F 8:15 a.m.
Reconciliation: Sat. 4-4:30 p.m.; daily after 8:15 a.m. Mass and by appointment.
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