Submitted by: Robert Newport, McGowan Hall Executive Director
One of the most common questions we get down at McGowan Hall after we lure people into our mysterious building with a haunted tour, jazz jam, or any number of community assemblies is, “soooo, what is this place?”
“Is it a Church?” Wellll, not really.
“Was it a school at one time?” No.
“Are there ghosts?” Definitely.
“I’ve driven by here a thousand times,” they say. It’s always a treat when folks stop in and we’re able to tell them a little bit more about us whether they asked for it or not…and only partially clear up the mystery. After all, a little mystique is a good thing.
It all goes back to the first Knights of Columbus council in Indiana, the Mater Dei (Mother of God-hence the statue of Mary in the garden) Council 437, founded in 1899. The original charter hangs over the McGowan Hall lounge fireplace. The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic charitable fraternity formed to assist widows and orphans in the event of a member’s sickness or death. The organization has evolved over time and today the charitable beneficiaries of the K of C are too numerous to list.
As membership continued to expand in Indianapolis, McGowan Hall was built by the Indianapolis Knights in 1922 at a time when the K of C carried the proud reputation of being one of the KKK’s “most spirited opponents.” However, I don’t want to give the false impression that the Knights were always a bunch of squeaky-clean choirboys. No doubt an untold number of prohibition-era cocktails and secretive but spirited parties were enjoyed within these walls.
While McGowan Hall is still home to the Mater Dei Knights, in the last several years leadership has emphasized the need to connect and unite with the neighborhood in our common goal to build community. What a wonderful asset we have to share! Neighborhood meetings? No problem! Need a 25-foot pirate ship for Plunder in the Park? Aye aye. 500-person capacity ballroom for some good ol’ community theater or a Stevie Wonder tribute band? We can do that. Top-notch jazz on Friday nights (whenever there’s not a global pandemic)? You know where to find us. Need your goosebump fix around Halloween? Stop by for a creepy haunted tour. Oh, did I mention we have two full bars open during our public events?
Times change, but fundamental human needs do not. One of the best compliments someone ever gave me was, “here’s a young man who understands the beauty of the way things used to be in the old days.” While everything from the past wasn’t roses and sunshine, I think we need community and genuine, wholesome human connection now more than ever. We will continue to work hard at McGowan Hall alongside the ONS to offer enriching programming in a welcoming, family-friendly community center where we hope EVERYONE can feel at home. Thanks for sticking with us. We’ll all make it through this thing together.
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