Shawe Memorial High School

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Shawe logo.JPG
"Spiritus, Mentis, et Corpus"
Spirit, Mind, and Body
201 West State Street
Madison, Indiana, (Jefferson County), 47250
United States
Coordinates 38°45′29″N 85°23′20″W / 38.75806°N 85.38889°W / 38.75806; -85.38889Coordinates: 38°45′29″N 85°23′20″W / 38.75806°N 85.38889°W / 38.75806; -85.38889
Type Private, Coeducational
Religious affiliation(s) Roman Catholic
Established 1952
Oversight Archdiocese of Indianapolis
Principal Steven Hesse
Pastor Fr.Chris Craig
Grades 712
Enrollment 149 (2010)
Campus Suburban
Campus size 20 acres (81,000 m2)
Color(s) Green and Gold         
Athletics conference Ohio River Valley
Team name Hilltoppers
Accreditation North Central Association of Colleges and Schools [1]
Newspaper 'The Topper Tribune'
Athletic Director Steve Sims

Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School is a private, Roman Catholic high school in Madison, Indiana. It is run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.


Bishop Simon Gabriel Bruté de Remur of the Vincennes, Indiana Diocese
Bruté's map of the Midwest diocese
St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, est. 1839

Founded in 1952, the first class of freshman students was taught in the former St. Michael's Elementary school building, until 1954 when the new facility on Madison's hilltop opened.

But in 1951, the dream of a Catholic high school in a town of less than 10,000 people seemed almost impossible. Back then the hilltop of Madison was mainly all farmland, some of which had been donated to the local Catholic Church (St. Patrick’s) years before, but had not been used for much of anything. That year, the Catholic priests in Madison and Jefferson County would realize exactly just what to do with the donated land.

History of the Church in Madison[edit]

Long before that, Catholics in Madison had gone through several changes and setbacks, all beginning in the very early years of the 19th century.

The town of Madison, Indiana was first settled by traveling hunters in the early 19th Century. In 1809, the town was officially mapped out by Col. John Paul. It wasn’t until 1815 that residents of the town witnessed a Catholic Mass. Catholicism was not highly respected among the other religions in the city during this time and much of the 19th Century. Many Catholics in the town were driven away from their faith due to the animosity towards the Church in the town, and much of America, during that time in the nation’s history (Walsh).

Bishop Simon Gabriel Bruté de Remur of the Vincennes, Indiana Diocese was determined to bring the faith to Madison permanently and serve to the ‘hidden’ Catholics of the town. Bruté sent missionary priests through town occasionally, but eventually called upon an Englishman by the name of Michael Edgar Shawe to serve to these Catholics as their first resident priest.

As a British officer, Shawe had fought Napoleon Bonaparte’s men at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium where he was wounded, then immigrated to the United States and was ordained the first Catholic priest in Indiana. Fr. Shawe would soon begin a community of faith that would grow and prosper throughout the next two-hundred years (Walsh).

Bishop Bruté wrote to Fr. Shawe at the beginning of Shawe’s time in Madison, telling him to “try with your usual, gentle and effective manner to make the best impression and beginning that you can in Madison” (Walsh).

Fr. Shawe practiced the Catholic faith to the few Catholics in the town’s old Masonic Hall and later at the Madison Hotel (now the site of the Ruler's Grocery Store parking lot). Masons were typically anti-Catholic in those days; however the wife of one of the town’s more prominent Masons, Mr. Caleb Schmidlapp, was accredited with the arrangement of the Masonic Hall location for mass. Mrs. Schmidlapp, a Catholic, moved to Madison from Cincinnati and attended Mass regularly while Fr. Shawe was in Madison (Walsh).

With the building of the Madison-Indianapolis Railroad (one of Indiana’s greatest public works projects in the 19th century), came a vast amount of Irish immigrants to build it. Some of these Irish-Catholics included such prominent figures as William Griffin, a railroad contractor; and Francis Costigan, the highly renowned Baltimore architect whose buildings include the famous J.F.D. Lanier Mansion. An Irish-Catholic immigrant also in Madison at the time was Henry Dreier, another railroad contractor who later built the Broadway Hotel and Tavern (currently Indiana’s oldest remaining Hotel and Tavern) (Walsh).

Bruté was very interested in the development of the Catholic Church in the town. In the spring of 1838, the Bishop called upon one of Fr. Shawe’s assistant pastors to travel throughout the country and even parts of Canada to solicit funds for the building of Madison’s first Catholic Church, St. Michael the Archangel. Fortunately, a vacant lot for the church was donated by one of Madison’s Presbyterians, a Mr. McIntyre (Craig).

With the building of the church taking place, Bruté visited Madison a few short weeks before his death. In May 1839, the Bishop came through Madison. While Bruté was in Madison, he administered three distant sick calls to dying Catholics (he was a doctor as well). It is said that he administered these to people who “were not as near death as himself” (Walsh).

The Irish-Catholics in Madison continued their work on the railroad, especially the Madison incline on the west side of town. It is said that the cuts from the incline were used to build the walls of St. Michael’s. The Madison Incline was cut to bring the railroad, and all its passengers and products to downtown Madison’s commercial district. Reuben Wells, the famed train engineer designed a locomotive specifically for the M-I Railroad to make the trip up this incline, the steepest in the United States. The locomotive, named for Wells, used 12 tons of power to push, rather than pull, cargo up the hill. The locomotive is currently on display at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Another interesting feature of the church is its ceiling, which is designed to resemble an open Bible (Walsh, Children’s Museum).

Costigan, the afore-mentioned renowned architect and Catholic, is believed to have been the architect of the church. Costigan was only recorded as being a member of the parish during the construction, but details of the church building mirror his other buildings in Madison (Walsh).

In December 1839 St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church was completed and due for its dedication, just in time for Christmas services.

The City grows and the Church follows[edit]

As the City of Madison grew, so did its Catholic population. German–Catholics had increased highly in numbers and had formed a separate congregation within St. Michael’s.

In 1850, the Germans built St. Mary’s Catholic Church two blocks south of St. Michael’s. Gold trimming, extravagant statues and a much larger structure made St. Mary’s the largest church in the city, of any faith, at the time (Walsh, Moore and Bilger).

In light of the new church being built downtown, Irish-Catholics living on the hill (North Madison) formed their own congregation adjacent to the John Steinberger farm, two years later. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was organized by Fr. Dupontavice, the Irish pastor of St. Michael’s at the time (Moore).

One of the probable reasons for the new hilltop congregation was the bands of Irish gangs who fought on several occasions throughout the Madison area during the mid-19th century. These two Irish gangs, the Corkonians and Connaught Men, as they called themselves, often fought whenever they met. Some nights, women and children of the town would sleep in fear that one of the two gangs would charge through the town. Thus, Fr. Dupontovice’s reasons for helping with the new parish are understandable (Walsh).

Along with ‘the fighting Irish,’ during the years of 1852 through 1856, Catholics all over the nation (including Madison) were abused and tormented by a political group of anti-Catholics called the Know-Nothings. While no deaths took place in Madison (as so happened in several other cities), the Know-Nothings did invade the homes of several Madison Catholics, and even boasted about their goal of tearing down St. Michael’s, which never took place (Walsh).

Madison becomes desolate[edit]

Adding to the city’s downfall of the 1850s, new railroad companies were formed throughout the Midwest, competing with the Madison-Indianapolis Railroad. Eventually fewer and fewer people were visiting Madison, as stated in the following citizen’s journal (Walsh). “Everyday, families are leaving, and every day Madison is growing quieter. You cannot imagine what excitement it causes in our house now if guest comes, for now no travelers pass through Madison any longer. Madison is daily growing more monotonous and quiet and soon not a soul, except of course ourselves, will be left here” (Walsh).

University of Notre Dame and Fr. Shawe[edit]

Father Shawe left St. Michael’s in 1842 to become the Professor of Rhetoric at a new university in the growing Northern Indiana town of South Bend. Fr. Shawe laid the cornerstone of the University of Notre Dame on August 26, 1843. It is obvious that his teachings were very successful; in the Golden Jubilee History of Notre Dame it states, “soon came the eloquent and polished Father Michael E. Shawe, the promoter of Rhetoric and English Literature and the founder of the literary societies at Notre Dame … Here his memory is preserved with enthusiasm as one who gave to the university its first tendency towards that high literacy excellence to which it has attained” (Walsh).

Fr. Shawe’s dedication to Catholic education was the foundation to Madison’s own Catholic education system. With his dismissal from St. Michael’s came the founding of Madison’s first parochial schools (Walsh).

The Church in Madison today[edit]

Prince of Peace Catholic Church

The storyline of the Catholic Church in Madison seems to resemble a bell curve, as the history of the Church in Madison began with the building of St. Michael’s, and then eventually grew into four separate churches. Since then, the Catholic Community of Jefferson County, Indiana has returned to one church building and parish yet again.

In 1992, the parishes of St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s became one community of faith, with one priest, Father John Meyer, and two church buildings. Saturday night mass was held at St. Michael’s for St. Michael’s ‘parishioners,’ and on Sunday morning, mass was held at St. Mary’s. In 1993, the area’s two other Catholic Churches (St. Patrick’s and St. Anthony’s) were merged with St. Mary’s-St. Michael’s as well (Craig).

The four parishes, and their members, were moved to one church building (the former St. Mary’s) and a new consolidated parish named Prince of Peace. St. Michael’s had extensive roof damage and was no longer able to be used for mass. The building was donated by the archdiocese to Historic Madison, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to saving Madison’s 19th Century buildings. St. Patrick’s remained open as a chapel, and St. Anthony’s, in China, is currently only used on special occasions.

The new parish was guided through the transition by Fr. Meyer, who came to Madison from Aurora, Indiana in 1990 as assistant pastor of St. Michael’s.

A new Catholic High School[edit]

News article

In 1951 after the priests of the area were told at a meeting in North Vernon that the Mother Superior of the Ursuline Sisters in Louisville, Kentucky was willing to staff a Catholic High School in Madison. The catch: the two parochial grade schools would have to combine into one. This was a great step in uniting the two churches (Meny).

At the beginning of the academic year in the Fall of 1952, students from both parishes who were in grades one through four were taught in the St. Mary’s school building, while students in grades five through eight were at St. Michael’s school building (Stucker).

That same year, the first freshman class of Madison Central Catholic High School (the temporary name) began lessons ranging from Calculus to Biology in the St. Michael’s school building. The high school building, which was planned to be built on the hilltop of Madison, was not yet built. They had just started raising the money (Class of 1956).

Endless hours of fundraising persisted from 1952 until two years later. From dinners and dances to wrestling matches, fundraisers and donations from the parishes made the new school come alive in those beginning years (Schulte, Class of 1956).

New school building[edit]

The first graduating class (1956)
Spirit button

In the fall of 1954, the school building was ready for its first classes. The little red-brick Catholic High School was fully loaded with a gymnasium, biology lab, chapel and cafeteria; all at a cost of $250,000. Archbishop Schulte suggested the name for the new school: Fr. Michael Edgar Shawe Memorial High School. The Madison Central Catholic athletes would also change their name from the Tigers to the current, Hilltoppers (for obvious reasons).

In 1967, the grade school students who were taught in the two grade schools downtown were welcomed into their new school adjacent to the high school on the hilltop. Pope John XXIII Elementary opened with the same fundraising tactics as used in the opening of Shawe Memorial (Craig).

Fundraising was the main reason both schools opened, and remained opened, for the past fifty-plus years. Auction dinners, golf tournaments, festivals and many more creative events have been held in the past, and most continue today.

Many argue that prayer has been the ultimate reason for the school’s success. School-sponsored prayer, long since banned from the public schools, is a recurring event at the school, right before the daily Pledge of Allegiance (God included, of course).

Fundraising support[edit]

Class of 2005 and Fr. John Meyer, Fr. C. Ryan McCarthy and Archbishop Daniel Buechline
Friends for the Future $2.5 Million campaign
2005 Alumnus Jacob M. Laskowski wrote "Looking Back: The Story of the Hilltopper" to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the parochial school. Proceeds of the book benefited the student newspaper, The Topper Tribune.

While prayer and fundraising were both good at keeping the schools open, supporters of the Catholic school system realized they needed something else to ensure the future of the schools, which weren’t always financially stable.

The Prince of Peace Catholic Schools (Pope John XXIII Elementary and Shawe Memorial) are the only Catholic school system in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that is funded solely by one parish. In July 1986, (Truax) a group of supporters of the schools came together, at the request of the parish schools' committee, to explore ways to preserve the Catholic elementary and secondary education that was offered to the Madison, Indiana community. Afterwards an endowment fund resulted, guaranteeing that the Prince of Peace Catholic Schools would be available to the Madison community, and the communities surrounding it, for many years to come (Belt).

The group, now known as Friends of Shawe and Pope John XXIII Schools, Inc. has grown to become the only privately managed endowment fund in the archdiocese. In 1996, the fund hit the one million dollar mark. In an effort to push the number even further, the group finished a $2.5 million campaign for the schools in 2006, entitled Friends for the Future (Belt).

More than thirteen-hundred students have graduated from Shawe Memorial since 1956. While many of them are still located in Madison, several have spread their wings to do various things. From a former governor’s chief of staff to an Emmy-winning advertising executive, the alumni of this school have highly benefited from their time as students there, where the motto has always been, “Spiritus, Mentis et Corpus,” or otherwise known as “Spirit, Mind and Body.”

Notes and references[edit]

Belt, Marta Frank. Personal Interview. June 10, 2005

Bilger, Reverend Charles. History of St. Mary’s Parish. Madison, Indiana: St. Mary’s Catholic Church. 1915.

Class of 1956. Group Interview. March 2005.

Craig, Reverend Christopher. St. Michael’s Catholic Church Sesquicentennial.Madison, Indiana: St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. 1987

Laskowski, Jacob. Looking Back: the Story of the Hilltopper. 2006

Meny, Reverend Hilary G. “Foreword.” Looking Back: The Story of the Hilltopper. Madison, Indiana: Digital Printing, Inc. 2006.

Moore, Michael. History of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Madison, Indiana: St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. 1992.

Schulte, Most Reverend Paul C. “High School Drive Launched.” Campaign News. Madison, Indiana: Shawe Memorial High School. November 9, 1952.

Stucker, Dr. William E. “Introduction.” Looking Back: The Story of the Hilltopper. Madison, Indiana: Digital Printing, Inc. 2006.

Truax, G. Lawrence. Personal Interview. October 29, 2010.

Walsh, Reverend Charles F. St. Michael’s Church 1817-1937. Madison, Indiana: St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. 1937 “All Aboard.” No author given. Indianapolis, Indiana. March 27, 2006.

External links[edit]