It’s Indiana’s 200th birthday!
In the months ahead we will celebrate our state’s rich history, its famous personalities, its contributions to science, agriculture, sports, and the performing arts. We will be reminded so many times and in so many ways why it is that we are proud of our Hoosier heritage. I would like to add to the festivities by lifting up the contributions of a few Hoosier faith leaders. These are men and women who, over the past 200 years, have shaped our state, and beyond, in especially profound and meaningful ways:
Robert Owen (1771-1858)
Robert Owen was a Welsh industrialist and social reformer, who created a utopian community he called New Harmony on 20,000 acres in Posey County in 1825. While his social experiment was an economic failure within two years, the community made many important contributions to American society. New Harmony became known as a center for advances in education and scientific research. Its residents established the first free public library, a civic drama club, and a public school system open to men and women. Among the residents were his sons, Indiana congressman and social reformer, Robert Dale Owen, who sponsored legislation to create the Smithsonian Institution; David Dale Owen, noted state and federal geologist; and Richard Owen, Indiana University professor and the first president of Purdue University.
Mother Théodore Guérin (1798–1856)
Sister Saint Théodore, was a French-American and founder of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, a congregation of Catholic nuns. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1998 and canonized in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI. In 1840, Sister Théodore departed from France to America. After a treacherous journey to the US, she traveled by steamboat and stagecoach to the dense forest of the Indiana territory. Sister Théodore eventually arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, a small village in Vigo County a few miles northwest of Terre Haute. For several months, she lived packed into the small frontier farmhouse of the local Thralls family along with a few postulants who had been waiting for them. Mother Theodore is particularly known for her advancement of education, founding numerous schools in the Indiana frontier wilderness.
The Rev. Andrew J. Brown (1921-1996)
Rev. Brown was a longtime pastor at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis. In 1962 he organized black citizens in Indianapolis to show their voting strength — and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Selma to Montgomery March (Alabama) in 1965. Rev. Brown most notably founded the Indiana Black Expo. After attending an expo in Chicago, he and a few other religious and civic leaders decided to establish an Indiana based Black Expo. They understood the need to create an event to celebrate positive African-American ideas; and so, founded the Indiana Black Expo in 1970. IBE continues to be a popular summer gathering in Indianapolis that annually attracts prominent religious leaders, entertainers, entrepreneurs, athletes and politicians.
Rabbi Sandy Sasso (1947- )
Sandy Sasso was the first woman ordained as a rabbi in Judaism’s Reconstructionist movement and the second women ordained a rabbi in the US. Until her 2013 retirement, Rabbi Sasso and her husband, Rabbi Dennis Sasso, were the senior rabbis at Congregation Beth El Zedeck in Indianapolis. They were the first practicing rabbinical couple in Jewish history. Not only is Rabbi Sasso a talented and accomplished writer, but she has also given freely of her time and creativity to initiatives connecting the arts, humanities and religion. She is a gifted speaker and storyteller, who consistently models civility and respect for others. She often reflects on the larger meaning of life, diversity, and excellence.
Each of these servant leaders personifies what it means to live in and for community. During the Indiana Bicentennial Celebration, please take the time to read more about these important Indiana faith leaders. I would love to hear who you think should be added to the list and why. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org