NEW ALBANY — One of the first projects Greg Sekula took on as director of the Historic Landmarks of Indiana Southern Office was to purchase and help save Cardinal Joseph Ritter’s birthplace at 1218 E. Oak St. in New Albany.
It was a tall order indeed.
The house, which was bought for $25,000 by Historic Landmarks, was unstable and in shambles. But thanks to Sekula, David Hock and others dedicated to preserving the home and turning it into a place where those in need could receive services or gather as a community, the journey is nearly complete. Like Ritter, this group didn’t let a few bumps in the road deter their mission.
“It’s been a very rewarding endeavor,” Sekula said. “It’s been a long road and exceeded my own expectations.”
The front section of the house is occupied by four nonprofits — Home of the Innocents, New Directions, Elder Serve Home Care and Information Link of Southern Indiana — and the community room in the rear of the structure is used for meetings or special events. The only incomplete portion is the middle area, which is being turned into a museum and will soon have photos and artifacts to help tell the story of Ritter, the only Indiana native to ever be elevated to a cardinal in the Catholic Church.
“It’s kind of like a dream come true in slow motion,” said Hock, president of the Ritter Birthplace Foundation, who has been instrumental in the house’s rebirth. “People have been so committed to this project. We’re just now starting to talk about how any of us can get off the board. This group has been determined to see this through.”
While buying the shell of the house cost only $25,000 in 2002, Hock estimates that to date, $750,000 has been spent through cash donations and in-kind services to rehabilitate the structure. It will take a few more thousand to finish the museum, although the walls and floor have been rehabilitated in the area and are awaiting photos and other memorabilia. A lot of the museum work will be done in-house.