Brief History of Sacred Heart Church in Erie, PA
Sacred Heart Church in Erie, Pennsylvania was dedicated in the year 1894. The diocese proposed that a church be established on the west side of Erie to meet the spiritual needs of the growing Erie Catholic population in the late 19th century. The name first proposed for the church was St. Joachim, spouse of St. Ann. A vibrant parish on the city’s eastside was already dedicated in her honor. In a re-dedication of the church’s cornerstone in 1898, the title Sacred Heart Church became the official name of the parish in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
For over 120 years Sacred Heart has remained one of Erie’s most vibrant parishes. The church began on the rim of a rural setting within the city limits. The population of Erie at the time was just over 37,500. The first pastor of Sacred Heart was Rev. Francis Bender who was called by Bishop Mullen of Erie four days after his ordination to oversee this new church. Fr. Bender moved to his new location and remained at the parish for nearly 40 years. During his tenure as pastor many changes took place, not only at Sacred Heart, but within the city of Erie. The original church, a small wood framed building would soon be replaced in the early 20th century for a larger church to meet the growing population of the parishioners who were primarily German immigrants. By 1913, Sacred Heart Parish with over 350 families grew into a very substantial parish with a church, rectory, and school. This was accomplished by the dedication, generosity, and hard work of the parishioners who made many personal and financial sacrifices for their parish.
Succeeding Fr. Bender as pastor, Fr. Vitus Reiser was named the new pastor of Sacred Heart. Ironically, he served as an altar boy in the 1894 dedication of the Sacred Heart as a parish in the Erie Diocese. He was also elevated to a Monsignor in 1954. His task was enormous as the church population continued to grow. With assistant, Fr. Hebert Gloekler, Monsignor Reiser oversaw the expansion of the new school building, new church, and auditorium which we still use today. Once more, the ultimate goal of Sacred Heart: “meeting the spiritual needs of the parish and community”, the new church was dedicated on May 24, 1953. Sacred Heart now had well over 1,000 families of many nationalities, spreading the Catholic faith and traditions in the city of Erie.
In 1967, Fr. Joseph Grode followed Msgr. Reiser as pastor of Sacred Heart. The parish had grown to 1,600 families and the school had a population of 800 students. Fr. Grode petitioned the bishop to send assistants to meet the spiritual needs of the parishioners as the parish had grown so large. In 1971, Bishop Whealon conceived the idea of a Team Ministry which would work together in fostering the growth and activities of the parishioners of Sacred Heart. Fr. Casmir Bogniak, Fr. Gerald Ritchie, and Fr. Tom Fialkowski began the task of working with the parish families in a multitude of ways. Parish and outreach organizations fostered in the 1970’s and continue to serve the parish now well into the 21st century. Fr. Robert Smith joined the Team Ministry in 1976 and in addition, Sacred Heart was granted many wonderful assistants to help facilitate the ongoing work of the parish.
Subsequent pastors have included Monsignor Vincent Enright, Fr. David Findlay, Fr. John Detisch, and our current pastor Fr. Mark O’Hern. The city of Erie has changed over the past 120 plus years yet Sacred Heart remains a viable parish and community resource for both its parishioners and for the people of Erie. Our many outreach organizations and parish functions foster spiritual development and we take great pride in welcoming all who wish to be a part of our family. When you enter Sacred Heart Church you will sense the spirituality rooted in a history that began well over a century ago.
If you are looking for a place to worship or simply seeking the peace of God which is beyond all understanding, then please look to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Our motto: “Your Heart, with Our Heart, is Sacred Heart” will provide you ongoing spiritual development as it has for our parishioners since 1894.