Roseville— Archbishop Allen Vigneron joined current and former members and clergy of Sacred Heart Parish to celebrate its 150th anniversary Oct. 23.
“For 150 years, the people of this parish have stood with Jesus in the presence of His Father,” the archbishop told the capacity congregation gathered in the landmark church at Utica Road and Gratiot Avenue.
The roots of Sacred Heart Parish can be traced back even further than the century-and-a-half it is officially celebrating, however — to the pastoral visits Fr. Amandus VanDenDreissche had been making to the area’s farmers a couple of times each month for some years before.
But it was in 1861 that Fr. Van, as he was generally called, obtained the approval of the bishop to officially launch the mission that would become Sacred Heart Parish.
The area of Macomb County that is now Roseville was just the unincorporated village of Utica Junction in Erin Township in those days, and there were just 35 families on the rolls when Sacred Heart was founded.
Fr. VanDenDreissche continued to serve the congregation with twice monthly visits, in addition to his full-time duties as pastor of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (Grotto) Parish in what would become northeast Detroit.
The area’s Catholic population had grown large enough by the 1870s for Sacred Heart to have its first resident pastor — Fr. William Hendrickx in 1871 — and for it to be granted full parish status in 1872.
Fr. Hendrickx’ successor, Fr. Louis VanStraelen, started the first parish elementary school, although it lasted less than a decade. A new attempt to start a parish school was made following the First World War, and a high school was added later. The parish’s schools, operated by the Sisters, Servants of the
Immaculate Heart of Mary, closed in 1971.
The parish’s old frame church made it through two moves, but Fr. Dennis Tighe did not think the structure could survive a third re-location when Gratiot Avenue was widened in1928.
But only the basement had been dug before the onset of the Great Depression in October 1929 put most major construction projects on hold until after World War II. The basement was finished off, and served as the parish’s worship space until the building could be completed in 1949.
Just as Sacred Heart had begun as a mission of Assumption Grotto, St. Lawrence, Utica, and St. Gertrude, in what is now St. Clair Shores, were missions of Sacred Heart. Others would follow, so that 22 parishes would eventually be carved out of Sacred Heart’s original boundaries.
Over the years, Sacred Heart saw its area grow and develop into a burgeoning suburb full of young families, and eventually become an aging community. So, too, its membership. “Even though it is an older community, with their help we’ve done a tremendous amount of work here; we restored the interior of the church, and the people paid for it,” said Fr. Eugene Katcher, Sacred Heart’s pastor for the past seven years.
He also pointed to the paintings of the four Evangelists —Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — on the walls of the church as among the changes of recent years.
Another change, Fr. Katcher said, is that the parish is seeing more young families coming toMass.
Kathryn Sanchez, who was at the Mass with her 3-year-old grandson, Xavier, said she had grown up in the parish and that it had been a beautiful parish to belong to.
“The people here are very sweet, very nice, as have been the priests, and it’s a lovely building,” Sanchez said.
Tony Girten, a member for 14 years, said the parish had “really helped me spiritually.”
“This parish has been here for me in moments of need, and also for my family,” he said.
Susan Rizzo, a cantor and wake minister at the parish, said she had been a member for longer than 20 years.
“Everybody here cares about everybody. I’m raising my grandchildren, and everybody has helped me,” Rizzo said.
Rita Gerstheimer said Sacred Heart is not the closest Catholic church to their home, but they choose to belong there.
“The people are extremely warm, open-hearted and welcoming — that’s why we stay here.”