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A Brief History of Sacred Heart Parish

Sacred Heart parish, New Haven, was taken from the territory of St. John the Evangelist, whose pastor was Father Hugh Carmody. On October 24, 1874, he bought a former Congregational church on Columbus Avenue, a building that dated as a house of worship from 1852. The refurbished edifice first opened for Catholic Mass on December 20, 1874. Assisted by Patrick Maher, Father Carmody had hoisted a cross above the church tower just two days before the first Mass. On the day of the Mass, the altar of the new Catholic center of devotion was carefully adorned by the St. John Children of Mary led by Celia Carroll, Maria Hatch, and Catherine Donnelly. The last would eventually see four of her eight children enter religious life.

On February 14, 1875, Father Stephen P. Sheffrey was named first pastor of the newly created Sacred Heart parish, which at the time encompassed about 1,000 people. Serving as first trustees were Bernard P. Smith and Patrick Creegan. On February 21, 1875, Philip Thomas Leddy became the first infant to be baptized. Initially residing at the church, the pastor later rented a house at 195 Columbus Avenue.

The Scapular Society, the first parochial association, was organized in May 1875. By 1880, other groups followed, such as the Sacred Heart Temperance Society, St. Vincent de Paul Society, and Land League. A debating society called the Institute was extremely active in discussing the heated issues of the time. Because of Father Sheffrey's illness, Father Thomas Coleman became administrator in 1879.

On November 1, 1881, Father John A. Mulcahy became second pastor. He substantially reduced debts, installed a permanent altar in the church, and purchased Columbus Avenue acreage for a future school and convent. In 1882 Father Mulcahy invited the Jesuits to preach the first parish mission.

Succeeding to the pastorate on January 1, 1886, was Father Michael McKeon. Under his "safe and able" direction, Sacred Heart advanced spiritually and materially. Bishop Lawrence S. McMahon blessed the cornerstone of an addition to the church in May 1888. He also presided at impressive consecration ceremonies on September 27, 1889, marking the liquidation of all church debt.

In 1890, Father McKeon built a rectory on land he purchased on Liberty Street. His next project was to build a school. As his first public act in New Haven, Bishop Michael A. Tierney blessed the cornerstone of Sacred Heart School on April 29, 1894. Dedicated on September 1, 1895, the new school opened to 675 pupils and was staffed by the Sisters of Mercy under the direction of Mother Bernard.

At first, a Columbus Avenue house served as a convent. After living for a time on the school's third floor, in 1897 the sisters occupied a new brick convent at 204 Columbus Avenue. Only two years later, a tragic convent fire claimed the life of Sister Mary Aloysius, who suffocated while trying to save other sisters who, unknown to the heroine, were already out of the building.

During the lengthy McKeon pastorate, plentiful activity enlivened the parish of nearly 5,000 people. Activities included the Holy Name Society, Catholic Club, Men's League of the Sacred Heart, Children of Mary, basketball, missions, novenas, and triduums. In 1917 parish boys erected a grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes, carrying the stones themselves to the convent garden. Father McKeon was a familiar figure during this time, walking about the parish with a blackthorn stick or riding on his faithful horse, Nellie.

On August 24, 1922, Father William H. Redding was named fourth pastor following Father McKeon's death. The new pastor redecorated the church for the parish's golden jubilee in 1925. The "Playhouse Assembly" was formed to furnish entertainment for the entire parish. Beginning in November 1931, Father James McCormick administered the parish. After the pastor's death on December 14, the administrator remained until the pastoral appointment of Father Francis E. May early in 1932.

The fifth pastor oversaw repairs to the church after a fire in 1939. Bishop Maurice F. McAuliffe presided at the rededication of Sacred Heart on December 10, 1939. The prelate congratulated the determined congregation of mostly railroad employees and their families and called them a "fountainhead" of vocations, rich in faith rather than material goods. Also during this era, parish
women accomplished prodigious feats of charity through membership in the Council of Catholic Women. In 1940, a vigorous parish study club called "Sacordia" was instituted to stir interest in religious discussions within Catholic homes. Stephen Ahern was elected first president.

Father William J. Collins was appointed pastor on June 2, 1946, and was succeeded shortly thereafter, on July 28, 1946, by Father John W. Walsh, who commenced monumental restoration of the parish plant. Appointed pastor on September 6, 1947, Father James E. Dargan completed
the challenging task and later led the parish in its diamond jubilee on October 1, 1950, at which then Bishop Henry J. O'Brien officiated. Parishioners marveled during these years at their "one big family" of neighborly harmony and spiritual progress. In 1964 Sacred Heart marked the 75th anniversary of the formal consecration of the church.

In 1967, Father Edward B. Conlan became parish administrator. He was followed in 1971 by the pastoral team of Fathers Richard J. Neumann and Richard Embler. Father Neumann remained as sole administrator from early 1975 to September 1976, when Father Robert W. Ladish was named pastor. In March 1989, Father Lawrence Symolon became administrator.

In June Father James H. Smith was appointed pastor. Father Robert V. Newman, S.C., was named pastor in December 1990. That year the Sisters of Mercy left the parish and were succeeded by the Apostles of the Sacred Heart. For years the parish dedicated the convent building to the services of Columbus House, a homeless shelter and food pantry to which the parishioners were actively committed.

In the early years of the new millennium, the financial burdens of Sacred Heart increased dramatically. Sacred Heart/St. Peter School closed and was reopened in 2007 as St. Martin De Porres Academy, a project of the Nativity School system, recently received by the Archdiocese. Columbus House moved to a new locale leaving the convent building in virtual disuse. Fr. Robert Newman was relocated to South America by his congregation and the parish became the sole responsibility of Fr. James Richardson, S.C. who was ordained at Sacred Heart in1990 and served as parochial vicar.

The prohibitive costs of renovating and maintaining the large and aging campus of Sacred Heart on Columbus Avenue forced the church to close in September, 2009, and relocate to St. Anthony Parish, just a few blocks away on Washington Avenue. Fr. Francis Snell replaced Fr. Jim Richardson as administrator of the largely Hispanic parish community. Fr. Richardson was reassigned to Holy Trinity Parish in Wallingford.

Since the move to St. Anthony, Sacred Heart has once again begun to flourish and grow, consisting now of a vibrant community of some 420 families. Fr. Snell is, at present, pastor of both Sacred Heart and St. Anthony parishes.

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