About Us

The roots of Sacred Heart Church go back to 1947, when the Most Rev. Aloysius J. Willinger, aware of the growing population in what was then the “northeast” district of Fresno, realized that a new parish would be needed.

background

Sacred Heart was established as a parish in the fall of 1947, with a membership of approximately 200 families. Rev. Harry Clinch, who would later become Bishop of the Diocese of Monterrey, was appointed as the first pastor by Bishop Willinger. Since there was as yet no church building, parishioners first gathered for Mass in the library of San Joaquin Memorial High School on October 5. Mass was soon moved to, and celebrated in, the newly completed gymnasium.

Until Bishop Willinger decided on the canonical establishment of a new parish, Catholics in this area belonged to St. John’s Cathedral. Since the Cathedral was quite a distance away, however, the establishment of a new parish was imperative. The first step, once parish boundaries were announced, would be a house-to-house census to determine the number of Catholic families in the new Parish.

Sacred Heart School began in the fall of 1949, with an initial enrollment of 140 students. Located on the Sacred Heart Parish property adjoining San Joaquin Memorial High School, the new school consisted of two buildings. One contained the administrative offices, nurses room, kindergarten and first grade classroom. In another unit were the second and third grade classrooms. A third and matching building, designed as classroom space for the school, served initially as the Parish church.

history3The Principal and third grade teacher was Sister M. Margaret of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, who conducted the girls dormitory at San Joaquin Memorial. Others on that first faculty were Sister M. Bernadette, Mrs. Richard Macedo and Miss Jean Waterman.

The celebration of Mass and services, in what was also being used for classroom space, began to impose hardships on the parishioners. Every week desks had to be removed and an altar erected. After Mass the room had to be rearranged for classes the next day.

Consequently… a Sacred Heart Chapel, with seating for 300, was built. It was also intended as a future unit for the growing school after a permanent church could be built. Pews were built by members of the Parish, assisted by Pastor Francis E. Walsh and assistant Rev. Anthony Herdegen. Altar linens, sanctuary hangings and vestments were supplied by members of the church Altar Society. Individual parishioners donated a statue of Our Lady of Providence, Stations of the Cross, tabernacle, crucifix, monstrance and other sacred vessels. Mass was first offered there on June 5, 1949, but by 1952 it was already too small for the fast-growing Sacred Heart Parish.

history2Consequently… a Sacred Heart Chapel, with seating for 300, was built. It was also intended as a future unit for the growing school after a permanent church could be built. Pews were built by members of the Parish, assisted by Pastor Francis E. Walsh and assistant Rev. Anthony Herdegen. Altar linens, sanctuary hangings and vestments were supplied by members of the church Altar Society. Individual parishioners donated a statue of Our Lady of Providence, Stations of the Cross, tabernacle, crucifix, monstrance and other sacred vessels. Mass was first offered there on June 5, 1949, but by 1952 it was already too small for the fast-growing Sacred Heart Parish.

In March of 1951, property was purchased at the present site on Cedar Avenue. Classrooms from Friant were brought down and a temporary church was established. This building would later be used as a social hall once the new Church was built and before its demolition in 1966. In February of 1952, parishioners planned an open house and shower in the new Sacred Heart Rectory. It was a three-bedroom house and also had two rooms suitable for offices. A special feature was a large basement room that would serve as a Parish work room and provide meeting space for small groups. Rev. James A. Murphy, Pastor, and his assistant, Rev. Declan Murphy, moved there in March of 1952. Until this Rectory was completed, the clergy had resided in the seminary quarters at Ryan Preparatory College.

history1In March of 1951, property was purchased at the present site on Cedar Avenue. Classrooms from Friant were brought down and a temporary church was established. This building would later be used as a social hall once the new Church was built and before its demolition in 1966. In February of 1952, parishioners planned an open house and shower in the new Sacred Heart Rectory. It was a three-bedroom house and also had two rooms suitable for offices. A special feature was a large basement room that would serve as a Parish work room and provide meeting space for small groups. Rev. James A. Murphy, Pastor, and his assistant, Rev. Declan Murphy, moved there in March of 1952. Until this Rectory was completed, the clergy had resided in the seminary quarters at Ryan Preparatory College.

Meetings were held in parishioners’ homes to discuss a $100,000 campaign to build a new church. One of these meetings was attended by Father Murphy, John Dalich, co-chairman of the campaign, Mr. & Mrs. Max Reinhart, Mr. & Mrs. Cicero Lotti, Louis Valente, Joseph Manning, Mrs. Robert Algio, William Rankin, Harold Barnes, Mrs. Robert Schleuter, Mrs. Ray Fimbres, Leonard Beneke and Rita Murphy, the Pastors sister. A newspaper account of this meeting states: “Those present seemed rather average Americans as to their economic status, a group representing small business and passable good jobs. They seemed pretty typical of those everywhere who are ‘the backbone of a community’, the core of every parish, the dependable hard-workers who will head up societies, take census, sing in choirs and run bazaars.”

The campaign had been inaugurated on Mothers Day of 1952, and no time limit had been set. There was to be an annual campaign conducted until enough money had been raised to warrant the onset of construction. It was “simply hoped that $100,000 could be reached as quickly as possible”. A news article stated: “A spot check of the average family wage indicated that each might be able to afford an average contribution of $1.95 a week to the Building Fund, over and above Sunday plate collections. By May 15th the first 179 pledges totaled $10,054. This meant that less than one-fourth of the 650 Catholic families in the Parish had turned in their pledges. Father Murphy remained optimistic, as it was the beginning of warm weather and vacations….and no one disputed him.

history6By 1955, more than one thousand people were frequently in attendance at Sunday Masses. Religious Education (CCD) classes had begun in the homes of the parishioners. Church organizations had developed and a choir was formed. In May of that year Rev. Paul Redmond, the pastor, launched a new $200,000 fund-raising effort to finance and build a new church which was to seat 630 adults – 660 in the Nave and another 70 in Our Lady’s Chapel. At that time the Parish was completely out of debt and owned ten acres of land and a Rectory.

Father Redmond’s appeal letter included the following: “….we must realize that WITHOUT SACRIFICE, there can be no true religion. Giving, therefore, which causes us to make a sacrifice, a gift of our hands and our hearts, belongs to the very essence of religion.” The church building committee enlisted architect James J. Nargis and the plans called for a “modified contemporary” style of architecture. The building would cover more than 9,000 square feet.

Ground breaking ceremonies for the new church were held in August of 1956, before the final afternoon Mass for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fathers Redmond, Tejerina and Brzezinski officiated. Vincent Bocchini served as the Parish building program chairman,. Estimated cost was projected at $188,000, of which $70,000 in cash had been raised before construction was begun by Louis Nelson & Sons of Selma.

In June of 1960, a 192 square foot mosaic, consisting of at least 20,000 pieces of tile, was added to the front entrance of the Church. Designed and constructed at a cost of $6,000, the mosaic history7was given by “friends of the church”. The scene is based on the story found in Matthew 8 and Luke 7, and depicts a nine and one-half foot Christ meeting the Roman Centurion. Father Redmond stated that he wanted this story to be “a tribute to those who have served our country in the armed forces.” Father Redmond was a chaplain with the Marine Corps in WWII. The Latin inscription across the mosaic “Domine, Non Sum Dignus”, is translated “Lord, I am not worthy.” Father Redmond explained: “The words….are said by the priest in each Mass. In this way the faith of the Roman Centurion is remembered throughout the world each day”. The artwork was designed by John De Rose of Washington DC, who also created mosaic work for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The mosaic pieces were produced in Italy and assembled in Los Angeles.

The first units of the new Sacred Heart School were begun in July 1960, at the corner of Rowell and Union. Scheduled for construction were four upper grade classrooms plus an all-purpose building, two kindergartens and a convent, so that all classes could be transferred to this site from the school rooms still located on the grounds of San Joaquin Memorial High School. These existing buildings were moved from the SJM grounds to the Church property in 1962-63. Landscaping and lawns were put in by the parents of the school children.

history4The Sisters of the Love of God, who taught at Sacred Heart School for 36 years, arrived in September of 1969. That first community included Mother Invencion, Sister Luz, Sister Monserrat, Sister Eleanor, Sister Joaquina, Sister Rocio and Sister Conception.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Park was developed by the Parish Guadalupe Society in the mid-1970’s. It features tables and benches under a protective shell, rest rooms, BBQ pit and, of course, the shrine and statue of the Virgin.

In 1976, a Bicentennial window was installed above the church’s main entrance and dedicated. It was designed and installed by church members. It features Our Lady, Patroness of the United States, Blessed Junipero Serra, famous California missionary and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, first American-born canonized saint.

As the Parish continued to grow, need for more office, catechetical and meeting space became apparent. In December of 1984, a 7,500 square foot building became available with built-in offices and meeting rooms. Pledges were made by the parishioners and permission was given by the Bishop to make the $60,000 purchase. Moved from its location on North Orchard Street, the “Activity Center” was ready for occupancy in December of 1985.

While further building, facility and improvement needs continue here at Sacred Heart, we must not overlook the “building” of God’s People, the church family, that has steadily taken place over these fifty plus years. From 1947, to the present, parishioners, priests and staff have given generously of their time, talent and money to make Sacred Heart Church and School the wonderful community that exists today.

Year in and year out wonderful programs of Religious Formation continue for all age levels. Sacramental church_old2and liturgical celebrations continue to draw parishioners, young and old, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Social gatherings, sponsored by our church and school organizations, continue to bring people together for fellowship and to share the beauty of church and parish life.

Sacred Heart pastors, through the years, have been the Reverends Harry Clinch (1947-48), Francis Walsh (1948-51), James Murphy (1951-54), Paul Redmond (1954-60), Maurice Lahey (1960-72), Charles Dorn (1972-73), John O’Friel (1973-78), John Moreton (1978-93), Charles Smith (1993 – 2001), Leslie Shenoy (2002-2006), Alex C. Ignacio (2007-2016), and Hilary Silva currently.

Throughout history the people of Sacred Heart Church have focused on the Lord Jesus Himself, who continues to say: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

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