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Cardinal Joseph Elmer Ritter

Courtesy of Archdiocese of Indianapolis Cardinal Joseph Elmer Ritter was born in New Albany, IN on July 20, 1892.

As a boy, he attended St. Mary’s Church and school and decided he wanted to be a priest.

He was ordained in 1917.

At age 42, he became the youngest head bishop in the United States; ten years later in 1944, Ritter became the first Archbishop of Indianapolis.

He was appointed Archbishop of St. Louis in 1946 and later was named Cardinal Priest in 1961.

It was in St. Louis that Ritter served the remainder of life. He died in 1967.

Cardinal Ritter is perhaps best known for his work in civil rights.

He desegregated parochial schools in Indianapolis and St. Louis, as early as 16 years before the landmark case Brown versus Board of Education.

Cardinal Ritter Birthplace In addition, Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter was the first bishop to send priests to Latin America as missionaries; the first to celebrate Mass in English in the U-S; and dedicated the only hospital in the country that was operated by an archdiocese.

Today, a park bearing Cardinal Ritter’s name stands across the street from his boyhood home in New Albany; his birthplace at 1218 East Oak Street is under restoration.

The front part of the Cardinal Ritter Birthplace includes a community meeting room and several offices occupied by local non-profits.

There are plans for a museum; and the community center had its grand opening on April 29, 2011.


  • Cardinal Ritter decided he wanted to be a priest when he was in the seventh grade. To date, he has been the only Roman Catholic Cardinal from Indiana.
  • Cardinal Ritter stood up against the KKK in Indiana.
  • In 1947 Cardinal Ritter desegregated parochial high schools in St. Louis and threatened excommunication to those Catholics who attempted legal action to stop the process.
  • He dedicated the only hospital in the U.S. that was operated by an archdiocese, Cardinal Glennon Memorial Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.
  • The Cardinal Ritter Birthplace is now the headquarters for Home of the Innocents in southern Indiana.
  • The Cardinal Ritter Birthplace was saved from demolition in 2002.

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