125th Anniversary Prior Posts

Before the Beginning . . .
there was St Thomas’ in Jamaica Plain and its pastor Father Thomas Magennis. As early as 1871, Father Magennis recognized the need for a new parish south of Jamaica Plain to care for the growing number of Catholics settling the once rural neighborhoods of West Roxbury and Roslindale. After some more or less successful attempts to establish a parish in West Roxbury, Father Magennis was approached by a group of laymen from Roslindale in 1885. They had raised enough money to buy a lot on Poplar Street and wanted to build a church. With his support they continued to raise money for a building.

But while the money accumulated so did the number of potential parishioners. By 1891, the building committee decided they needed a bigger lot and bought 40,000 square feet at the corner of Brown Avenue and Ashland Street. A January 1892 meeting raised a substantial sum for the larger church now planned. And in June 1892, Father Magennis presided over a meeting at which it was decided that the committee had raised enough money to begin building the new church in Roslindale.*

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage

Two Lots, One Tent, and Christmas . . .
The plan in June 1892 was to complete the basement of the new church at the corner of Brown Avenue and Ashland Street and enclose it so that Masses could be celebrated indoors when winter came. Autumn that year was exceptionally cold, however, and construction had to be halted early. You can imagine the disappointment of the people who had worked so hard and given so much for their new church.

Father Magennis made a suggestion that saved the day: a large tent--40 feet by 60 feet—was purchased and erected on the small lot on Poplar Street. And on Christmas Day, 1892, Father Magennis celebrated the first Mass held at the new parish of the Sacred Heart in the tent on Poplar Street. Like Abraham who dwelt in a tent before his descendants built the city of Jerusalem, like the Ark of the Covenant, which was sheltered in a tent before Solomon built the temple, Sacred Heart’s first home was a tent where services were held for a full year before the lower church on Brown Avenue was ready. According to legend, that entire year it did not rain on any Sunday when Mass was said at the tent church. And though the tent is long gone, the Poplar Street lot is still visible—a small park near the intersection of Poplar and Delano owned by the City of Boston since 1957.*

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage

We receive a name, boundaries . . . and a Priest

The new parish in Roslindale, still meeting in a tent, was officially established in 1893, one of 6 new parishes in the archdiocese that year of national economic recession. Named for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is one of 12 parishes with that name in the archdiocese. Most of them were established in the last 30 years of the 19th century—so we have a “trend name.” But our name also reflects the trust of the faithful in the pure and total love of Jesus who opened his heart to all.

The original parish boundaries were much larger than the ones we are familiar with today. The parish extended from Jamaica Plain to Dedham, encompassing all of West Roxbury and part of Mattapan, as well as Roslindale. If we use the Biblical verb “Begot,” it is possible say that Sacred Heart begat St. Theresa, Holy Name, and Str. John Chrysostum in West Roxbury, St. Andrew in Forest Hills, St. Angela in Mattapan, and St. Joseph in Hyde Park. All of those parishes were carved out of Sacred Heart’s original territory.

And along with a name and boundaries came the parish’s first priest, Rev. John F. Cummins, a well-educated, well-traveled, charismatic and creative man of 41 whose life became inextricably bound up with the story of Sacred Heart in Roslindale.*

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage and the archives of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Lawn Parties, Lectures, Fund-Raisers Galore . . .

With the arrival of Father Cummins (or Father John, as his parishioners soon called him), the sacramental life of Sacred Heart parish began in earnest. Shortly after celebrating his first Mass in the tent church in July 1893, Father Cummins baptized the first baby (Belinda) and officiated at several weddings. The first funeral came several months later, in November.

Father Cummins also took charge of funding and building the new church. On September 3, 1893, the cornerstone of the building was laid in a ceremony attended by a crowd of about 5,000 people. Archbishop Williams, twenty-five priests, and civic and religious leaders, including representatives of the Protestant community, were present. Under the cornerstone were placed a copy of The Sunday Globe and the names of the Pope (Leo XIII), the Archbishop (Williams), the priest (Father Cummins), the President (Grover Cleveland) and all 1,600 contributors to the church.

Building continued apace during the fall, and fund-raising moved to a whole new level. Only three weeks after the cornerstone was laid, the parish held a lawn party at the estate of Mr. Charles Belford; then in October, there was a Hallow Eve party, which was followed by a Christmas Fair that lasted for three weeks in November and December and drew 5,000 people. By Christmas, 1893, the lower church was ready and, one year after the first Mass in the tent church, Sacred Heart parish celebrated Christmas Day in its new building with its new pastor.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The Ultimate Fund-Raiser--the Ox Roast . . .

Actually, there were 10 ox roasts. Father Cummins began planning the first of these mammoth events shortly after his appointment as pastor in 1893, and on September 1, 1894, the first “Roast Ox Festival” took place. The Boston Pilot reported that the “ox,” actually “a Texas steer of huge proportions had been presented to Father Cummins by a friend,” (local alderman Lee) so there was no major expense to cover even for the centerpiece of the barbecue.

The event was held at the Apollo Gardens on Amory Street in Roxbury and, reportedly, attracted 10,000 people. There was a contest for ticket sales which included a prize of a first class round trip voyage to Ireland. Mr. D. J. Sullivan was the winner with 1,200 advance tickets sold. Proceeds from the first ox roast were dedicated to the rectory fund.

Over the next decade, the ox roasts gained fame throughout the archdiocese. Father Cummins estimated that a total of 100,000 people attended these events, which featured political speakers, musicians, a genuine barbecue chef brought from Virginia, a host of advertisements from local businesses in what must have been a very profitable program book, and tables hosted by local (e.g., the Hyde Park Avenue table) and parish (e.g., Sunday School table) organizations, selling everything from pincushions to home-cooked food.

And, most important, the barbecues raised not only the reputation of Sacred Heart Parish, they raised money to build it.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The Golf Tournament—Still Raising Funds . . .

The legendary “Roast Ox Festivals” raised enough money to build Sacred Heart church and rectory over the course of the parish’s first decade. Today, the ox roast has given way to “The Golf Tournament.” This year the Golf Tournament is the official event kicking off Sacred Heart’s 125th anniversary celebration.

The 21st Annual Golf Tournament takes place on Friday, September 14, 2018. The first tournament in 1997 saw 75 Golfers take to the links at George Wright Golf Course in Hyde Park. In 2017, we had more than 100 golfers and this year the goal is 125 (or more!) in honor of the parish’s 125th anniversary. Proceeds from the tournament have funded major work at both the church and Sacred Heart school, including restoring the stations of the cross, helping to repair the slate roof of the church, upgrading windows, and, providing “smart” boards for the school. This year’s golf tournament will help fund a major anniversary project for the parish.

If you are a golfer, the early bird registration deadline for individuals is August 14. If you are part of a foursome, the early bird registration deadline is August 14. If you don’t golf, the early bird deadline for your friends and colleagues to register is August 14.

And if neither you nor your friends are golfers, the committee can always use volunteers to help prepare for the event and to keep things running smoothly on the day of the event. If you can volunteer, please call the rectory (617-325-3322).

Father Cummins is a Popular Man . . .

Father Cummins had a wide and well-connected set of friends, and he called upon these friendships to help build Sacred Heart. We’ve already seen how the local alderman donated the Texas steer for the first Ox Roast. The panoply of orators who spoke at the festivals over the years (believe it or not, this was a popular feature of the event 100+ years ago) also reflected Father Cummins’ connections. How else did Sacred Heart come to host Congressmen, U.S. Senators, Tammany Hall’s greatest orator, Jacob A. Cantor, and even the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, William McAdoo?

As the building fund grew along with Sacred Heart’s reputation, so also did Father Cummins’ fame. He was in demand as a preacher and lecturer, even traveling as far as Portland, Oregon on a lecture tour in 1900. He also served as chaplain to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the state mental hospital in Mattapan, the small pox hospital, the Catholic Ladies Society, and the Spanish American War Veterans. Clearly he was endowed with enormous stamina and well as great spiritual and personal charisma.

The parishioners of Sacred Heart returned his devotion. When the local newspaper The Boston Traveller started a “Send Your Pastor to Europe” contest in to drum up readership, any pastor, Protestant or Catholic, was eligible to win. When the results were announced in February 1897, Father John F Cummins of Roslindale won with 574, 552 votes. From his departure on May 8 until his return on July 19, Father Cummins detailed his experiences—kissing the Blarney Stone, attending a session of Parliament, being entertained by Monsignor O’Connell in Rome—for The Traveller.

And when he arrived home, he was welcomed with a “grand reception.”

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Father Cummins Moves In . . .

Before he was assigned as pastor of Sacred Heart, Father Cummins had served in a number of parishes in the archdiocese: St. Mary of the Annunciation in Cambridgeport, Sts. Peter and Paul in South Boston, St. Thomas Aquinas in Jamaica Plain, St. Peter’s in Plymouth, and finally, St. John’s in Hopkinton. His first acquaintance with Roslindale came under dramatic circumstances when he was at St. Thomas in Jamaica Plain. He was called to assist the injured and dying at the Bussey Bridge railroad disaster 1887. When the other priest who had been called fainted at the horrific sight, Father Cummins was left to minister alone. This first, wrenching call to Roslindale was something the pastor never forgot.

Once he became pastor at Sacred Heart, Father Cummins lived in temporary lodgings while the rectory was built on Ashland Street near the church that was also under construction. In 1894 he lived at 4191 Washington Street and in 1895 he rented a house (which still exists today at 49-51 Brown Avenue) across from the church. Finally in 1896, the rectory was completed (remember, the proceeds from the first Roast Ox Festival in 1894 were devoted to the rectory fund) and Father Cummins moved into his permanent home, along with his assistant Father Thomas Norris.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage

and dedications . . .

When he became pastor of Sacred Heart, Father Cummins vowed that he would not have the new church building dedicated until it was paid for. Consequently the parish was always in full fund-raising mode for the first years of its existence. Their efforts were exciting, challenging, and successful, all characteristics that must have kept the men and women of Sacred Heart engaged and encouraged on the long road to financial success.

There were also smaller achievements as all of the pieces that would be part of the church of the Sacred Heart were assembled. And these were all celebrated with ceremonies, music, dignitaries and processions. The first, of course, was the laying of the cornerstone on September 3, 1893--almost exactly 125 years ago today! The anniversary of this event was solemnly celebrated each subsequent year. In February 1894 the parish saw the dedication of the Stations of the Cross in the lower church—great works of art in bas relief with an ivory finish. In 1895 the gatehouse of Calvary Cemetery was dedicated. In 1902, the upper church was completed, an occasion marked with a procession of 200 men, 200 women, 200 boys, and 200 girls representing parish organizations. Forty altar boys assisted Father Cummins and his curates, Fathers James and Norris in a High Mass which was followed by a open house so that as many parishioners as possible could visit the completed edifice. In 1906 new Stations of the Cross were dedicated at Calvary Cemetery.

And then finally, on June 5, 1910, the people of Sacred Heart and their priest Father Cummins saw the work of their hands and their faith—the church of the Sacred Heart—formally dedicated.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The Church Finished!

Father Cummins celebrated the inaugural High Mass in the newly completed upper church on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1902. The Irish-born architect Patrick W. Ford, who had designed or renovated over a dozen churches in the Boston area, is credited with the design of Sacred Heart church, one of his last project before his death in 1900. The building was constructed by a local contractor, James T. Sullivan. Its painting and decoration were carried out by the Boston firm of Messers. L. Haberstroh & Sons. The organ was by James Cole. The identity of the artist responsible for the windows is not quite certain (more about that later).

The opening of the church attracted public attention, as did many of the activities at the new parish. The Boston Globe commented on the attractiveness of the new church, which was “tastily decorated with bunting and potted plants.” The Boston Pilot went into greater detail, describing the Gothic style interior: “The general scheme is simply ivory white and gold, but the two mediums are handled so artistically and knowingly that the entire church presents a picture at once simple and rich. A subtle softening of the main color from the base to the top of the vaults, forms a practically indiscernible, but, nevertheless, appreciable gradation, which is felt rather than seen. The pure gold is applied with a master touch, bring out those details which are predominant to Gothic style . . .”

After the procession, the Mass (by Gounod), and the day-long open house, there was an evening concert—a fund-raiser, of course—since the new church completed was still a church in debt.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The Windows . . .

We know a lot about the people who designed and built the church for the parish of Sacred Heart, there is one feature of the building that is not clearly sourced: the stained glass windows. For many years (at least some of) the windows in the upper church have been attributed to Charles J. Connick, a well known turn of the century stained glass artist, but the paper trail supporting this assumption has some important gaps. The firm responsible for the windows was most likely Spence, Moakler and Bell; in an advertising flyer that company lists Sacred Heart’s windows as one of their projects. And Connick worked for this firm from 1900 to 1903, exactly the period when the windows would have been created. Connick’s published writings and his professional archives, however, do not mention Sacred Heart’s windows as one of his projects.

Given the lack of a definitive paper trail, is there other evidence that can tell us who created the Sacred Heart windows? Connick had been hired to design windows, paint glass, and draw “cartoons” (the detailed paper drawings used to create the finished glass panes). Given this job description, it seems probable that he designed our windows. Connick left Spence, Moakler and Bell in 1903 because he couldn’t adapt his artistry to the quick turn-around times that the manufacturing side of the business required. He also disliked the opalescent (Tiffany) glass which was extremely popular at the time and which was the glass the firm chose for the Sacred Heart windows. Connick never used this style of glass in any of his post-1903 projects, which may explain why he never listed Sacred Heart’s windows as his.

These suggestive details from Connick’s artistic biography cannot, of course, provide a final answer to the question of the windows’ provenance. What is beyond a doubt, however, is their beauty and the way they harmonize with the interior decoration of the church. The Gothic canopies that frame the figural windows above the altar echo the Gothic arches of the nave. And the gold colors of the non-figural aisle windows enhanced the ivory and gold color scheme so praised for its subtle elegance when the new church opened in 1903.

Take a moment today to look around at the windows that line the walls of the upper church. Look at the Christmas window and the Crucifixion that light the chancel. When you leave, look up at the rose window that illuminates the choir loft.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Integrated into the Fabric of Boston

The formal dedication of the church of the Sacred Heart took place on June 5, 1910. Archbishop William O’Connell (who had succeeded Archbishop Williams in 1907) presided as a procession of priests from the rectory around the outside of the building while the words of dedication were pronounced. Archbishop O’Connell reminded the parishioners that their church was the bride of Christ; its beauty, its ceremonies, its functions reflected this noble status. He also called upon the old Boston image of the “city on a hill;” the church built on a hill was sited to point the way to heaven and to be a visible sign on earth that here were to be found safety and rest from the dangers and cares of the world.

The following year, on June 25, 1911 another dedication took place at Sacred Heart. In pouring rain, an outdoor Mass was celebrated on the Feast of the Sacred Heart to dedicate the statue that currently stands facing Cummins Highway. The street was closed to traffic and an outdoor altar was erected for the ceremony. Erecting such a large statue of Christ on a public thoroughfare was a bold gesture on the art of Father Cummins and his parishioners; this was the first time such a thing had been done in Boston.

The statue itself stood twenty feet high and weighed 12,000 pounds. It was sculpted it from a single block of Tennessee marble and stood on a pedestal of Longmeadow brownstone. The artist, Hugh Cairns, was a well-known sculptor whose work can also be found locally in Trinity Church, the Museum of Fine Arts, and New England Conservatory, and a host of other churches in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. Father Cummins, instead of engraving an inscription on the base of the statue, included the names of his parishioners on a parchment scroll encased in a copper cylinder at the base of the statue.

Sacred Heart had arrived and announced its presence with style.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Out of Debt . . . What Next?

In 1893 Father Cummins had vowed that the new church would not be dedicated until it was paid. The dedication finally took place in 1910, after 17 years of fund-raising! And on November 29, 1915, Father Cummins was able to announce the removal of all of the church property “from every shadow of debt.”

Clearly what the church needed to do was to undertake another large building project: a school.

What did building a school entail? Land, a building, teachers (which in 1915 meant sisters), so another building, a convent. Father Cummins and his parishioners set to work and by December 1915 the priest had a proposal for Cardinal O’Connell: two properties along Brown Avenue were available for a total of $15,500. Sacred Heart had $7,000 in cash on hand and could assume the existing mortgages of $8,500 on the real estate with the cardinal’s approval, which was quickly given. In 1916, the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, NJ were engaged to send teachers to the new school, and the existing mansion on Brown Avenue at Allen Street was dedicated as their convent. Father Cummins negotiated a bank loan of $50,000 for construction of the school itself. Ground-breaking took place on May 30, 1916 and the three-story building at the corner of Brown and Ashland was finished by January 1917.

Father Cummins had been obliged to ask the Cardinal for an additional $10,000 to finish the school. His request cited increased cost of materials; the Cardinal’s assent attributed the additional expense to furnishings. The Cardinal’s reply made it clear that he was not happy with the cost overruns. Father Cummins arranged for a mortgage to cover the original $50,000 loan, rather than ask for an extension. He did have to request an extension for half of the additional $10,000.

He got his extension, but he didn’t get the Cardinal to preside at the school’s dedication. On April 2, 1917 the St. Francis Xavier Grammar School was dedicated with a crowd of about 6,000 in attendance. Named for Mother Xavier of the Sisters of Charity, the fully equipped and superbly sited school represented the fulfillment of the dreams of Father Cummins and the people of Sacred Heart to build the spiritual future of the parish through their children’s education.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The Cardinal and the Pastor . . .

As the experience of funding the construction of St. Francis Xavier School demonstrated, Father Cummins and Cardinal O’Connell did not always have a smooth working relationship. Their skirmishes continued through the First World War years and the 1920s. While most were of short duration, some—especially those dealing with finance—lasted longer.

As early as 1915, there was a disagreement about the assignment of a new curate at Sacred Heart. Father Cummins cited his age and uncertain health and eventually got the priest he wanted, Father Reardon, who stayed for 12 years. A 1922 request for curate Father Twomey’s brother to serve at Sacred Heart was simply denied.

During these years, Father Cummins made a number of requests for vacations due to ill health. Most were eventually and reluctantly approved, often with stipulations that the length of the leave be shortened or that the destination be within the United States, not in Europe. When, in 1918, the pastor asked for permission to celebrate Mass in the rectory due to ill health and excessive cold in the church, the Cardinal denied the request. Father Cummins felt the need to send it “upstairs,” writing directly to Rome.

In 1918, the boundaries of the parish began to shrink, as St. Andrews Parish was created from part of Sacred Heart and part of St. Thomas in Jamaica Plain. When Father Cummins suggested the dividing line between his parish and the new one in Forest Hills, his suggestion was challenged.

In 1915 Father Cummins was accused of allowing his curate to solicit funds for his 40th anniversary celebration outside the boundaries of his parish without diocesan permission; he responded with a tart request for citation of the rule forbidding this action. Some years later, in 1920, the Cardinal turned down Cummins’ request not to participate in a Hyde Park parish fund-raising bazaar.

Father Cummins has his own fund-raisers to manage. The “Tombola” had replaced the barbecue, but the programs for these events were just as ambitious as the earlier fund-raisers. In 1919, the Tombola celebrated the Allied victory in World War I, and the featured speaker was The Honorable Edward De Valera, fresh from his escape from an English prison. In 1920 the pastor wanted to finally retire the debt incurred to build the school with a grand fund-raising drive.

He also foresaw more construction at Sacred Heart, which would necessarily involve more loans and more financial skirmishes.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The End of the Road . . .

Father Cummins’ last years in the parish followed the patterns established over the preceding decades. There were funds to raise, building projects--a garage and the expansion of the rectory--to oversee, personnel matters to sort out, and, inevitably, skirmishes with Cardinal O’Connell over leaves of absence and finances. Sacred Heart’s parish boundaries shrank again, as Holy Name parish was created in 1927. An unauthorized Syrian church at the corner of Cedrus and Washington Street was a source of concern.

Through all these matters, Father Cummins remained the charismatic and optimistic person he had been when he came to Sacred Heart to build the new parish in 1893. He was a beloved figure in Boston, where on March 1, 1929 the city renamed Ashland Street; a crowd of 5,000 ranging from the children of St Francis Xavier school to the city’s political leaders processed from Roslindale Square to the church along the newly designated Cummins Highway. When he turned 80 in 1932, he received tributes from Mayor James Michael Curley, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and William Randolph Hearst. Father Cummins acknowledged the occasion with a statement that encapsulated his optimism: “The world is a better place to live in than it was when I was a boy. And it will even be better in the future.”

The next year, on March 20, 1933, Father Cummins died of a heart attack in the rectory. His health had been poor for a number of years and he had asked several times for permission to be buried in the church grounds, requests that the Cardinal denied emphatically. So Father Cummins was buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery just down the hill on Cummins Highway where the church he built raises its spire toward the heavens.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Transitions: New Priest, New Sisters, New Property . . .

With Father Cummins’ death, the parish of the Sacred Heart entered a new era of its existence. It had been associated with its founding priest for so long (40 years!) that it was hard to imagine the church without its beloved pastor. Nevertheless there were some who could imagine Sacred Heart with a new priest. In fact there was even a bit of rivalry among those seeking appointment to what was considered a “plum” parish. Bishop Spellman (later to be named Cardinal) actively sought the appointment, but Cardinal O’Connell bypassed him for Father Timothy Fahey, who was named pastor on April 12, 1933.

Father Fahey was already 67 years old when he came to Sacred Heart. He was apparently a stern man who scolded parishioners who arrived late at Mass. He was also obliged to deal with two unpleasant situations shortly after his arrival. He dismissed the New Jersey Sisters of Charity from their teaching duties at St Francis Xavier and arranged for the Boston-based order, the Sisters of St. Joseph, to take their place. The ostensible reason was money, but there was also a sense that the Cardinal wanted more control over the diocesan schools. Father Fahey also had to request that one of his assistants be transferred out of the parish, because he was not taking his responsibilities seriously.

The Cardinal continued to play an active role in the life of the parish. Early on he delineated the parish boundaries for Father Fahey. His permission was sought when the school wished to publish a student paper. And, of course, he granted permission --or not—for expenditures for everything from a “Victor talking picture machine” to repairing leaking roofs to the purchase of the Queen Anne house adjacent to the church on Brown Avenue.

Father Fahey’s tenure at Sacred Heart was short. He fell ill in the fall of 1936 and died on December 28 of that year. Again the church faced a major transition.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

St. Theresa House . . .
The Queen Anne-style house that Father Fahey purchased in 1936 had been built between 1874 and 1884 as part of the suburban expansion of Boston in the last years of the 19th century. After some bargaining over the price, Father Fahey finally paid $9,500 for the house and property and half of the real estate taxes for the year-$114. In 1957 the parish rented the house to Mr. Frederick Muir and his wife Mabel. The Muirs, with their three children, lived in the house at 50 Brown Avenue until 1956.

In 1956 Monsignor Edward Murray, the then pastor of Sacred Heart, invited Mother Ester Ciotola and a small community of sisters of the Little Missionaries of the Eucharist to live in the house on Brown Avenue, which he named St. Theresa House. Mother Esther, as she was widely known, had been born and educated in Naples, Italy. After the Second World War, she first came to the United States to raise funds for an orphanage. She came to stay in Boston in 1953; living the Franciscan rule, she and her five sisters faced initial hardships, which were greatly alleviated when they were offered a permanent home at Sacred Heart.

The Little Missionaries of the Eucharist played an active role in the community and the parish. Their apostolate of spiritual care encompassed home visits, , hospitals, nursing homes, law offices, court rooms, and welfare offices. In the parish, the sisters participated in the religious education programs and organized days of prayer and retreats for small groups. Following Mother Esther’s death in 1967, the sisters returned to their motherhouse in Naples.

Sister Mary Melaragni was the last permanent resident at St. Theresa House. A health professional, she continued the work of spiritual care that parishioners had long associated with the house on Brown Avenue. Now St. Theresa House hosts meetings of parish groups—Boy Scouts, Spanish youth—Sunday morning coffee, and AA. As Sister Mary said, “God is all around us!” and His work is still done at St. Theresa House.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Father McGarry . . .

Sacred Heart’s third pastor was Father John McGarry. Fifty-eight when he was named pastor in January 1937, he was a scholarly and highly educated man. After graduating from Boston Latin School, he studied at Laurente Colege in Montreal, Canada and St. John’s Seminary in Brighton before being selected to continue his studies in theology at the North American College in Rome. He received his doctorate in canon law and was ordained at St. John Lateran in 1904.

Father McGarry’s first assignments in Boston involved him in with youth movements, most notably when he sponsored activities for medical students at Tufts through the Louis Pasteur Club, and the needs of the wider community, when one of his assignments included the chaplaincy of the Concord Reformatory. These two areas continued to be of special interest to Father McGarry throughout his career. But his arrival at Sacred Heart brought him face to face with something completely different: repairs and maintenance.

Leaking roofs, windows in need of repair, boilers, coal storage, stokers, hot water heaters required attention and money. The purchase of tubular chimes for the belfry must have provided a bit of relief from the nitty gritty cares of parish upkeep. All of Father McGarry’s work received a serious setback when the hurricane of September 1938 dealt considerable damage to the church, school, and convent. In arranging for repairs, the pastor did not forget his sense of social justice or the needs of the working man during the Great Depression. When bids came in to repair and modernize the boiler, Father McGarry was able to persuade the Chancery to award the job not to the lowest bidder who was non-union, but to the second lowest, who was a union man.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The Italian Society of Sacred Heart . . .

In 1938, a year after Father McGarry became pastor at Sacred Heart, two new curates (associates) came to the parish: Father Joseph Burke and Father George Carrozza. The arrival of Father Carrozza was particularly significant, as the number of Italian families moving to Roslindale had been growing for some time. A leader of the Italian community, Mr. Rocco Zoppo, had asked Father McGarry in 1938 to request the appointment of an Italian-speaking priest. Father Carrozza was the response to that request.

In providing a priest to serve the Italian-speaking members of Sacred Heart (rather than creating a separate parish for them as had been done for Polish-speaking Catholics, of example, with the establishment of Our Lady of Czestochowa in South Boston), the Archdiocese was taking a new approach to serving the immigrant populations of Boston. Father Carrozza would provide the services of the church to the Italian community without separating them from the parish as a whole.

The Italians of Roslindale quickly became a lively part of Sacred Heart. In January 1939 Mr. Zoppo and other parishioners founded the Italian Society of Sacred Heart, an organization unique in the Boston Archdiocese. In February 1939 the group celebrated “Carnevale Night” in the school hall; that was the beginning of a tradition that lasted for more than half a century. In addition to its religious and social functions, the Society was noted for its charity. It provided generous support to the Italian Home for Children, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, sick and bereaved members, and every priest in the parish from Father McGarry to Father Kelley.

After Father Carrozza left, a series of Italian priests followed until in 1975 Father Donal Finn, a native Gaelic speaker became the spiritual director of the Italian Society. He personified the welcoming diversity that, over time, had opened the Italian Society to members of all ethnic origins, much as Sacred Heart had embodied the welcoming diversity that incorporated the newly arrived Italians into the parish.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Sacred Heart at War. . .

Sacred Heart had hardly recovered from the damage of the hurricane of 1938, when world events began to have an immediate effect on life in Boston. As Europe was engulfed in World War II, life at Sacred Heart went on with a difference. As early as April 1941 (before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), one of the curates, Father Keenan, asked the Cardinal’s permission to become a chaplain in the Naval Reserve. While the Navy replied that it did not need additional chaplains at that time, Father Keenan persisted and finally received orders to report in November 1942. Nine months earlier, in February 1942, Father Joseph Burke was granted a leave of absence from the diocese so that he could serve as chaplain in the 26th Division, 101st Infantry of the U.S. Army.

Parishioners too served, both in the military and on the home front, working in defense industries. A 5:30 AM Mass was established so that defense workers could meet their Sunday obligation and get to their shifts on time. Men in uniform were seen at Mass, and many funerals (some without the bodies of the deceased) were held. Italian prisoners of war, held at Columbia Point, also attended Mass, brought there each week by members of the Italian Society. The fiftieth anniversary of Sacred Heart’s establishment in 1943 was remembered without a major celebration, which was deemed inappropriate during wartime.

Father McGarry and his associates became active in the broader community’s war effort. Father John Hart intervened in the case of a young sailor who had gone AWOL, pleading for a reduced term of imprisonment. Father McGarry led a campaign against the establishment of a veteran’s cemetery in Boston. He was also invited to serve on the Roslindale Committee for the Third World Loan and delivered the invocation for the Board of Trade when the flagpole in Roslindale Square was raised.

Can we doubt that just as Sacred Heart participated in all aspects of the war, the parish also fully joined in the celebration of its end in 1945?

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

A New Archbishop, A New Era, New Problems . . .

Before the war ended, in April 1944, Cardinal O’Connell died and a man of a very different personality was appointed to lead the Boston archdiocese—Richard J. Cushing. In November 1944, he invited Father McGarry to join the group of 23 consultors who advised the archbishop on diocesan matters. And in December 1945, Archbishop Cushing raised Father McGarry to the rank of Monsignor, an appointment the parish celebrated with a reception for the new Monsignor on March 1.

The past-war years brought new challenges to Sacred Heart. A number of parishioners requested permission to transfer to Holy Name parish, which they deemed more convenient or more familiar. While the archbishop wished for more loyalty to the official parish assignment, Father McGarry felt that receiving the sacraments was more important than where they were received. For this, the archbishop commended his kindness and understanding.

Post-war growth had led to serious overcrowding at the parish school. In 1949, state inspectors found a number of code violations at St. Francis Xavier school, mainly connected to safe egress. A repair cost of $2,400 was quickly approved by the archdiocese and work was completed over Christmas vacation so that school could open on time in January. By July 1950, Father McGarry had commissioned a survey of the land owned by the parish, trying to find a suitable lot for expansion. One outcome of the survey was the transfer of the original lot on Poplar Street (location of the 1892-93 tent church) to the City of Boston in December 1950.

Father McGarry dealt with some old problems as well—there were ongoing repairs and never-ending maintenance issues—broken sewer pipes on Ashland Terrace, organ repairs, repointing the church tower, a request to expand the garage behind the rectory.

And then, on April 4, 1951, Father McGarry died unexpectedly of a heart attack. His colleagues and former curates gathered for his funeral, remembering him for his modesty, humility, and “a strong and an almost severe sense of justice. The rights of the humblest and the lowest were safe in his hands.”

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Is the Murray Room Named For . . .

The Right Reverend Edward G. Murray, Doctor of Divinity, who became the fourth pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in April 1951. Born in Back Bay in 1906, a graduate of Boston Latin School and the College of the Holy Cross, Murray received a doctorate in sacred theology from the North American College in Rome and was ordained at St. John Lateran in 1930.

Young Murray’s star rose quickly upon his return to Boston. He began teaching at St. John’s Seminary in1930; in 1933 he was appointed Vice Chancellor of the Archdiocese, and in 1938 be became the Rector of St. John’s. Only 32, he was the youngest head of a major seminary in the history of the Church in the United States. The following year he was elevated to the rank of Monsignor.

Murray was, as The Boston Globe described him, an “urbane man” with a wide range of interests and involvements. Deeply committed to the idea that the church should never be isolated, Murray developed deep contacts with Boston’s leaders and its cultural community. He served as President of the Boarof Trustees of the Boston Public Library, trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Symphony, and members of the board of directors of the World Affairs Council, the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, and the Home for Italian Children.

His contemporaries credited him with being “one of the few Roman Catholic leaders who would really reach out to Protestants.” As such he played an important behind-the-scenes role as advisor to Cardinal Cushing during the Second Vatican Council. Harvard theologian James Luther Adams and Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum later praised Monsignor Murray both for “being an effective guide for non-Catholic observers” at the Council and for “the quiet, patient, influential role he played at Cardinal Cushing’s side.” It was this ecumenical spirit that Monsignor Murray brought to Sacred Heart when e arrived as its new pastor in 1951.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Murray’s To-Do List . . .

Monsignor Murray’s first months at Sacred Heart were a whirlwind of activity. He discovered two old and forgotten bank accounts—one opened by Father Cummins that still contained more than $1,400! He reported on the number of school children who had been taken to the Forsyth Dental Infirmary. And he inventoried all of the maintenance and renovation projects that his predecessor had initiated and added new projects to the list.

The list that Monsignor Murray submitted to the Archdiocese on June 30, 1951 was long. It included an engineering survey of the church building and a review of all the repairs made to the school building by Monsignor McGarry. Clearly both structures were showing their age, and the school was inadequate for the wave of children coming into the parish after the Second World War.

  • The church tower (pictured in the historic photo to the left) had recently been taken down because it posed a hazard to people passing by. It needed to be replaced.

  • The masonry of most of the church building required repointing, at a cost of $18,000-$20,000.

  • The granite in the stairs and the concrete platform in front of the doors to the upper church needed to be removed and repaired.

  • A new entrance in the granite facade of lower church was requested.

  • New ceiling lights to replace the “glaring” ones in the upper church were needed.

  • The rectory needed to be rewired.

  • A parishioner had offered to build a second parking lot—probably the current “lower lot”--at no cost to the parish.

And most important and difficult of all, something had to be done about the overcrowded St. Francis Xavier School.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

At Last – the New School . . .

Sacred Heart needed a new school. Before his death, Father McGarry had begun surveying the properties owned by the church, hoping to find a plot suitable for expansion of the overcrowded St. Francis Xavier school. Monsignor Murray continued to work on this problem when he became pastor in 1951. In late summer 1951, he was given permission to purchase property at 200 Cummins Highway, adjacent to the existing school. That property was not, however, destined to become the site of the new elementary school; instead in 1955 title was turned over to the archdiocese, which built St Clare’s High School for Girls on the site.

Another solution to the school problem was to purchase an existing school from the Boston School Committee. Washington Irving Junior High was rumored to be Monsignor Murray’s preferred candidate; to support his case, he had noted that enrollment there had dropped 40% in recent years. The School Committee responded that 750 students were enrolled at the Irving and it was scheduled to open as usual in September. At a public meeting more than 500 people came out to protest the sale to the church. The Parkway Transcript’s account of the meeting then quotes Father Sammon, a curate at Sacred Heart, pulling the rug out from under Monsignor Murray be announcing that the Archbishop had no intention of purchasing the Irving “and even if offered to him, he would refuse it.”

So the search went on. In September 1952 Murray received permission to purchase a large property at the corner of Canterbury and Poplar Streets—the former Snowden Farm, popularly known as Soden’s Bowl. He felt confident enough of this site that he announced that the new school would open in September 1954. He had the encouragement of Archbishop Cushing. Fund-raising began in earnest in early March 1953 with a kick-off dinner. The following week 600 parishioners canvassed the parish for donations and pledges; their goal was $400,000. On March 14, Monsignor Murray reported to the archdiocese that they had exceeded the goal, raising $460,000 in cash and pledges.

Title to the property had to be cleared through the Land Court. The sale was finalized in August 1953. That left one year for construction to fulfill Monsignor’s Murray’s promise of a new school in 1954. And the school did open on September 9, 1954—even before its cornerstone was laid. Enrollment was 520 students (78 more than at the old building); average class size decreased from 41 to 32.

On October 23, the Archbishop laid the cornerstone and went through the building, blessing its 18 classrooms, library, cafeteria, and gymnasium/assembly hall.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Renovating the Church . . .

In addition to finding land and building the new school, Monsignor Murray at the same time had to complete urgent repairs to Sacred Heart church. In addition to the new tower, the wiring, and the pointing, he also undertook renovations of the interior.

In 1952, the old organ in the upper church was replaced with a “truly ecumenical” instrument. The new organ was made up of parts of three older instruments—one from St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Boston, a second from the Middletown (CT) Unitarian Church, a third from the Sears estate in Brookline, and some new pipes from the Netherlands. The new organ contained five divisions, three keyboards, and 60 ranks of pipes (3,400 pipes in total!). It had been designed by Paul St. George, who had also helped design the organ at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. The word was that Monsignor Murray had purchased it with his own personal funds.

The interior walls of the upper church were decorated with symbols and inscriptions painted by the artist Roman Prybot under the direction of the architectural firm Maginnis and Walsh. In the apse above the altar, the inscription read: “Come Unto Me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart.” Above the arches on each side of the central nave, symbols of the principal mysteries and feasts of the church were depicted. The windows were not changed; only minor repairs were made. 

The floor of the main aisle was tiled with rubber tiles. Images symbolic of the sacraments were depicted on them: a shell for Baptism, five crosses for Extreme Unction, crossed keys for Penance, and a dove for Confirmation. In the cross aisle in front of the altar were wheat and grapes for the Eucharist, rings for Marriage, and a chalice, unleavened bread and bitter herbs for Ordination.

The altar was made of pearl colored marble, supported by two twisted columns of the same material. The steps leading up to the altar were of green marble. A canopy, or baldachin, made of linden wood covered the entire altar according to the practice of the time. In the pillars of the canopy were statues of twenty-eight saints noted for their devotion to the Sacred Heart. A statue of the Sacred Heart itself stood in the pediment of the canopy above the altar, flanked by symbols of the Passion.

On September 25, 1953, Archbishop Cushing celebrated a Pontifical Mass of the Sacred Heart to commemorate the founding of the parish sixty years prior and to dedicate the newly renovated upper church.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Sixties: Growth and Changes . . .

With the extensive church renovations and the construction of the new school, Sacred Heart found itself once again in debt. Although more than $400,000 had been raised for the school, Monsignor Murray had also been obliged to borrow from the Archdiocese. Now he was told “No more projects until you have paid down your debt.” This didn’t keep him from requesting and receiving a new loan of more than $70,000 for repairs to the rectory in 1957. But this loan too came with a reminder about the necessity of prioritizing repayment.

The refurbished rectory—new roof, new clapboard siding, new paint—was soon to be populated with the largest number of priests—seven!--that Sacred Heart had had in it history. The decade of the sixties marked the high point of growth in the parish. Already in 1956, the parish numbered 2,978 families comprising a total of 9,864 souls. The school added classrooms to accommodate the growing number of students in a separate building: St. Tarcisius (formerly the Weld School). In 1967 the confirmation class numbered 275; The Boston Pilot reported that this was “the first time in the United States that a confirmation class received communion [under both species] and the first time that such a large number were given consecrated wine.”

The pastors of Catholic churches in Forest Hills, Roslindale, and Hyde Park were deeply concerned by the plans for the Southeast Expressway developed during the sixties. The proposed highway would have cut through the heart of their parishes. Sacred Heart did actually lose St. Tarcisius school, which was taken by eminent domain in 1967, before the expressway project was abandoned.

In 1958 Archbishop Cushing was named Cardinal and, thus, became a participant in the Second Vatican Council at which Monsignor Murray served as one of his advisors. One of the outgrowths of Vatican II was the concept of the Parish Council, and Monsignor Murray returned from Rome to establish the first such council in the archdiocese at Sacred Heart. Embodying the idea that the church is “the people of God” and that laymen and laywomen should have a role in the management of parish affairs, Sacred Heart’s parish council remains one of Monsignor Murray’s most valuable legacies for the parish.

1968 saw a week-long celebration of Sacred Heart’s 75th anniversary. Beginning with a High Mass and continuing with a banquet at Moseley’s on the Charles, musical performances, entertainments, a teen social, and children’s movies and games, the week culminated with a procession from the church to the school where Cardinal Cushing presided over an outdoor Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving. Following the Mass, a general reception concluded the celebration.

Three years later, in September 1971, Monsignor Murray was appointed pastor of St. Paul’s Parish in Cambridge, after 20 years of service to Sacred Heart.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The New Pastor: Francis J. Lally. . .

The fifth pastor of Sacred Heart was a distinguished clergyman with a highly respected record of public service. Monsignor Francis Lally, who preferred to be called Father Lally, was editor of The Pilot from 1952 to 1972. He was the widely admired writer of sparkling, courageous and liberal editorials. Under his leadership The Pilot was a consistent winner in Catholic Press Association competition.

He was also deeply involved in Boston’s urban renewal efforts, serving for almost 10 years as chairman of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. When Lally resigned from the BRA in 1970, The Boston Globe noted, "His rule in every case has been to ignore special interest and selfish considerations and to insist that what must always be served is the greatest number. The bricks and the mortar are not his main concern. People are his concern, people and their needs."

With his focus on people, Father Lally took his pastoral duties as seriously as his public ones. Parish Council Records show that he missed only one meeting during his tenure at Sacred, despite all his other commitments. Concerned about decreasing Mass attendance, he arranged to have Mass said at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Roslindale Square to make participation more convenient for the west side of the parish.

Lally’s talents were also called into service during the desegregation era of the seventies. He was deeply committed to racial justice and served as the first chaplain of the Catholic Interracial Council of Boston, a member of the board of directors of the Urban League, vice chairman of Action for Boston Community Development, and a member of the Religion and Race Commission.

Father Lally served as pastor of Sacred Heart for only three years and four months, from October 1971 to February, 1975. In 1975 he went to Washington to become secretary of the Department of Social Development and World Peace of the US Catholic Conference, the service and program agency of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage and The Boston Globe.

The Sixth Pastor: William R. Coen. . .

Father Coen was appointed pastor at Sacred Heart on April 1, 1975 and was formally installed on Sunday, April 13, 1975. In addition to his previous service as curate, associate pastor, and administrator in various parishes in the archdiocese, Father Coen had also worked in Ecuador for two years with the Society of St. James the Apostle.

Father Coen remembered that he approached his assignment with a little apprehension. In addition to the symbols of his pastoral office, he had received a warning from the Chancery that the church needed repairs, and needed them urgently to avert a collapse of the roof. So he did what so many had done before—he borrowed $130,000 from the Archdiocese. That loan was repaid in five years, but further repairs followed—a new roof at the school, “liturgical renovations” in the upper and lower churches, air conditioning in the parish hall.

Sacred Heart was an active and engaged faith community in the late seventies. On his first weekend at Sacred Heart, Father Coen celebrated 22 Masses: 12 regular weekend Masses, 6 Saturday anniversaries, 2 weddings, and 2 funerals. He was assisted by between four and six priests at any given time and a deacon, Paul Sullivan. In 1975, he initiated the ministry of Eucharistic Ministers. He also oversaw the first Parish Council discussions of raising school tuition in order to raise the teachers’ salaries

The school was large—640 students and 100 parishioners on the waiting list. Parish organizations and their happy celebrations abounded: the parish carnival that ran for six nights, the Italian Society, the PTA, Irish Night, the St. John the Baptist Society.

When Father Coen left Sacred Heart in 1982, he remembered particularly its people—the many volunteers who had supported the church with their time and monies, and love. He wrote, “Once you have lived in Sacred Heart Parish and breathed the love, concern, and joy of the people—young and old—and walked with them a while in their sorrows and seen them reaching out to others . . . you say to yourself, it was good to have been there when.”

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Two Pastors, In Quick Succession . . .

After almost 100 years of pastors who served or at least came expecting to serve Sacred Heart parish for a long and stable period of time, the parish in the 1980s saw its seventh and eighth come and go in less than 2 years. Father Charles R. McGahey, the seventh pastor, had been in residence at Holy Name for ten years before he came to Sacred Heart in January, 1983. He left in May 1983, shortly before the parish celebrated its 90th anniversary with a dinner dance.

The eighth pastor, Robert Banks, arrived in June, 1983 and remained until November 1984, when he left following his appointment as Vicar for Administration for the Archdiocese. Father Banks went on to become an Auxiliary Bishop in Boston and, in 1990, was installed as the tenth Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Banks described three aspects of his short tenure at Sacred Heart. First, he marveled at the people of the parish. “Before I had unpacked, the June Festival was underway. Despite the fact that there had been no pastor for a while, the parishioners ran the whole show without any problem. That typified Sacred Heart for me: the people could and would do anything for the good of the parish.” This experience repeated itself as he involved the young people in the diocesan inter-parish games, as he acted as chaplain to the Italian Society, as he visited the school. “No work on my part was required . . . I just had to be present.”

Father Banks did have to deal with the perennial issues of maintenance. He decided that the priests’ private offices on the first floor of the rectory should become offices and parlors for anyone’s use. To his chagrin, he noted, “The worst moments of my stay at Sacred Heart were spent choosing furniture and wallpaper for the offices.” He also undertook major landscaping work on the property, trimming the bushes that obscured the door of the rectory and repainting the building.

The pastor felt his greatest contribution to the parish had been attracting the priests who would provide stability and continuity to the church. Father Cuffe and Father Maguire had been in residence since the 70s. Father George Carlson, Father Dennis Twomey, and Father Ron Coyne, whom Banks described as “three of the finest priests in the Archdiocese,” came to Sacred Heart during Father Banks’ tenure in 1983 and 1984.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The Eighties: A Busy Parish . . .

As Father Banks noted during his short tenure at Sacred Heart, the parish abounded in activities and the parishioners were highly capable of “running the whole show.” The list of parish organizations active during the seventies and eighties is a long one. Some of these groups had been in existence from the time of Father Cummins and made essential contributions to Sacred Heart’s worship: the choir and the ushers. Other Cummins-era organizations reflected the parish’s work in the community: the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Knights of Columbus, and the Ladies Sodality.

The Parish Council, the post-Vatican II body created to involve lay parishioners more deeply in the work of the parish, met for the first time in 1965. Father Coen and Father Banks established several new groups that provided ways to involve parishioners in the liturgy. In the mid-70s, Father Coen organized the Eucharistic Ministers. And in 1983 Father Banks established the Altar Guild.

The Italian Society and the CYO, established in the 30s, continued their social and charitable activities through the war years and the burst of growth in the 50s and 60s to the end of the century. In the post-war years, they were joined by Scout (Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, Sea Scouts, Cub Scouts), the Color Guard, the Drill Team, Bingo, and the Dramatic Club.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, the Parish Variety Shows brought out the talents of parishioners young and old. They even brought a future mayor to Sacred Heart Parish. Mayor Martin Walsh recounts that in 1985, a year after Sacred Heart “stole” Father Coyne from his Dorchester parish, the boys of Sacred Heart “refused” to appear in the parish show. So Father Coyne put in an emergency call to his former parish and arranged for the boys from Dorchester, including Martin Walsh, to perform at Sacred Heart’s parish show.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage and the account by Mayor Martin Walsh at the Sacred Heart School Centennial Dinner in April 2018.

Father Vartzelis, The First Administrator, The Ninth Pastor . . .

When Father Banks left Sacred Heart in November 1984, he was immediately replaced, not with a new pastor, but with an “administrator.” The role of administrator was not new, but the term was new, having come into preferred use after the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. That administrator was Father George Vartzelis, who was appointed the ninth pastor of Sacred Heart after two short months in January 1985.

Father Vartzelis counted his tenure at Sacred Heart in maintenance and improvement projects, as had many of his predecessors. He noted that the parish had installed a carillon, a new organ in the lower church, new interior doors in the upper church; replaced the carpeting in the upper church; repainted the interior of the rectory; refinished the Murray Room; and repainted the auditorium and replaced its drapes. He also remembered the many accouterments of worship provided during his tenure: flags in the main church, drapes in the sanctuary, hard-cover hymnals in the upper church, candlesticks, a silver censor, covers for the Lectionary and the Gospel Book, and concelebrated vestments.

Under his leadership, Heart Beats, the parish newspaper began publication in 1989, under the direction of Carole Anne Scott. Father Vartzelis also initiated the monthly meeting of community leaders, continuing the parish’s outreach to the greater Roslindale community. The first Pastoral Associate, Sister Carol Ann Kane, joined the staff in 1987.

Father Vartzelis remembered the “wonderful celebrations and Christmas and Easter with special music and the wonderful Children’s Masses of Fr. Coyne.” The parish organizations, especially the Sodality and the “great celebrations of the Italian Society,” were vivid representations of the vitality of the parish. And, like his predecessors, Father Vartzelis credited the parishioners, active, generous, willing to be involved with making Sacred Heart a special place.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

The Hispanic Ministry . . .

Another demographic change that affected Roslindale also had an impact on Sacred Heart during the decade of the 80s. The Hispanic population of the neighborhood grew by 225% over the course of the decade. Father Vartzelis recognized the need to create a welcoming home for this new population at Sacred Heart, and began to work toward that end in the late 80s. On Christmas Day in 1989 the first Mass in Spanish was celebrated by Father Timothy Gallagher, an Oblate of Saint Mary, living on Brown Avenue.

And in 1990, Father Terrence Moran, newly ordained, fluent in Spanish, and newly assigned to Sacred Heart, was given the responsibility to organize the Hispanic community at Sacred Heart. He began by holding a meeting with some of the most active members of the community: Mrs. America Velasquez from Guatemala, Mr. Jesus Quiles, deacon at Blessed Sacrament in Jamaica Plain, Mr. Francisco Quiles, his brother, Mr. Alfredo Torrejon, then director of the Spanish language Cursillo program for the Archdiocese, and the Quiles and Torrejon families. This group, in consultation with the pastor and the representatives of the Archdiocese, studied the needs of the community and ways to address them.

The first response was to offer a Spanish language Sunday Mass. Music was organized, lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, and altar boys appointed and trained, flyers were posted around the neighborhood, and on October 11, 1990, Sacred Heart’s Hispanic Community celebrated their first regular weekly Mass. A small song sheet and bulletin were published each week, and a coffee hour in the Murray Room after Mass was established so that individuals could get to know each other.

Other activities soon followed. In addition to multiplying requests for marriages, baptisms, and religious education in their own language, the Hispanic community organized Posadas at Christmas, re=enacting Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem beginning in 1990. They celebrated their first anniversary in 1991 with a fiesta at the school and their second anniversary with a procession of flags from all of the countries represented by the community. They joined neighboring parishes in the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Holliston and hosted field days in Hopkinton. And on November 5, 1991, they organized the charismatic prayer group which has been meeting on Tuesday nights ever since.

As Father Moran said, “As it was for the Irish, as it was for the Italians, so Sacred Heart continues to be an open and welcoming community to God’s People regardless of their language, color or nationality. May Sacred Heart ever remain faithful to this mission she received from the Lord.”

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

Father Robert Maguire, S.J. . . .

Sacred Heart Parish has only had ten! (10) pastors in its 125-year history. So clearly many of those priests have had a long tenure in Roslindale. But there was a fifteen-or-so-year period from 1975 to the early 90s when the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and finally 10th pastors arrived in quick succession. During that period a Jesuit priest in residence provided important continuity for Sacred Heart: Father Bob Maguire.

Father Maguire came to Sacred Heart in 1979 during Father Coen’s pastorship and remained in residence until his death in 1996. A beloved figure, shaped somewhat “like Santa Claus,” according to Mary O’Hara, Father Maguire left traces of himself throughout the parish.

Father Maguire first envisioned a youth choir “Jamboree,” which brought together youth choirs from neighboring (and more distant) parishes, an event which continued after his death for a number of years. Father Maguire’s garden still grows atop and around the grotto that faces Cummins Highway along the driveway from the upper parking lot.

And every week our bulletin features the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that Father Maguire created, based on the statue mounted in the lower church.  Can you find it in the bulletin today?

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage, and remarks of Mary O’Hara, Darlene Webb, and Father Kelley.

The Tenth Pastor Arrives . . .

Father Vartzelis, the ninth pastor, left Sacred Heart in February 1991. His associates, along with Father Maguire and Father Schoenhofen in residence, carried on until June, when Father Francis H. Kelley was installed as the tenth pastor at Sacred Heart. Most Reverend Lawrence Riley, Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, presided over the liturgy. Bob Newman presided over the music for the service. And members of the Parish Council gave Father Kelley the signs of the pastor’s office.

Father Kelley continued the church’s tradition of involvement in both the local and greater Boston community. He continued to host the monthly meeting of community leaders initiated by Father Vartzelis. He blessed streets, dedicated bridges, and presided over the naming of squares honoring community residents. Under his leadership, Sacred Heart began a program of regular charitable donations, giving a percentage of the weekly collection to community, archdiocesan, and national groups serving as the hands of Christ. He brought Sacred Heart into the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). And he worked tirelessly for the homeless of Boston through the Pine Street Inn, where he currently serves as Chairman.

Like his predecessors, Father Kelley faced a continual list of maintenance projects and the need to raise funds to pay for them. Parishioners organized the annual parish Golf Tournament in 1997 as a regular fund-raising activity. A major campaign in 2006-2007 raised $700,000 for Project Slate to repair the church’s failing slate roof, repoint, and redecorate the church building. And Sacred Heart School raised more than $1,000,000 during its centennial campaign in 2017-2018.

Just two years after becoming its pastor, in 1993, Father Kelley celebrated the centennial of Sacred Heart’s founding. In his reflection on the future of the parish, he emphasized the strengths that had carried the parish through its first 100 years: the faithfulness of Sacred had been shaped by “a love of worship, an enjoyment of life, a desire to learn, and a tolerance for one another.” All of these traits were highlighted during the centennial celebrations, from the opening Mass to the Barbecue that harked back to the original Ox Roast, from the history of the parish commissioned from local historian Neil Savage to the inclusion of a nascent African community that had begun to join the Italian, the Hispanic, and the Haitian communities that had already found a home at Sacred Heart.

*Based on The Centennial History of Sacred Heart Parish by Neil J. Savage.

New Growth: Sister Virginia, St. Andrews

When Sister Carol Ann left Sacred Heart to accept a mission in Kenya in 1992, a new Pastoral Associate joined the staff: Sister Virginia Bobrowski. Father Jack Graham remembers arriving at the rectory for the first time when he was assigned to Sacred Heart. The first person he met was Sister Virginia, and many others would say the same thing. Sister Virginia seemed to be everywhere and was always keeping a series of mental lists, matching skills and talents with the needs of the parish. She recruited altar servers, recruited and trained lectors and eucharistic ministers, helped develop the Christmas pageant and the Passion Players for Holy Week, organized the March Madness tournament brackets, the list goes on . . . It was impossible to refuse one of her requests, delivered with a quiet smile.

When St Andrew’s church in Forest Hills closed in 2000, its parishioners chose to merge with Sacred Heart parish. As Father Richard Mehm, then pastor at St. Andrew’s, remembered, Sister Virginia was instrumental in welcoming the new parishioners, many of whom were traumatized by the loss of their home church, to Sacred Heart. Masses were celebrated at St. Andrew’s as long as attendance justified, but in 2008 the Archdiocese sold the Forest Hills building complex. St. Andrew’s lives on as part of Sacred Heart, where the priests pray for the intercession of the “Apostles, martyrs, St. Andrew and all the saints” during the Eucharistic prayer. Sister Virginia’s work with the merger of Sacred Heart and St. Andrew’s was recognized within the Archdiocese when Cardinal O’Malley named her to the Central Committee for Reconfiguration in 2004 as the archdiocese considered a broad-based program of parish closures and mergers.

*Based on remembrances of Father Jack Graham, Father Richard Mehm’s notes in the bulletin of Immaculate Conception Parish in Malden, and the Jamaica Plain Gazette.

The Shadow . . .

In 2002 the shadow of the clergy sex abuse scandal fell across the Archdiocese of Boston. Sacred Heart Parish was first affected emotionally. Parishioners were upset, fearful, angry, betrayed. Father Kelley spoke for himself (and, it turned out, for many others) in a homily he delivered as the revelations continued week after week. Father Kelley said that a colleague had asked him if he had lost hope. “No, I told him. I haven’t lost hope, but I am angry.” Our leaders have let us down. Later, in 2011, the shadow darkened over Sacred Heart, as an accusation was made against one of our priests. The accusation, which referred to a period thirty years in the past, was not substantiated, and in 2012 our priest retired as a Senior Priest in the Archdiocese. This blow, which hit so close to home, reopened the initial wounds. Sacred Heart, like all the churches in the archdiocese, saw parishioners simply walk away. Even Father Kelley confessed that he too was tempted to just walk away. But he did not lose hope, and he led Sacred Heart through the shadow.

The exodus of parishioners from churches across the archdiocese, forced Cardinal O’Malley to consider restructuring. His 2004 program of parish closures and mergers, on whose committee Sister Virginia served, did not affect Sacred Heart. Our church was already in the midst of the merger with St. Andrews and could take heart in seeing it proceed much more smoothly than some of the other mergers taking place in the region.

In 2012, the Disciples in Mission program envisioned forming a series of collaboratives among parishes in the Archdiocese. Sacred Heart began discussions with Holy Name. As the discussions proceeded, the size and complexity of each parish led the Archdiocese to reconsider the proposed collaborative. Holy Name and Sacred Heart are ‘stand-alone’ collaboratives. As well, we work towards a cooperative relationship between our two parishes. Sacred Heart continues on its way out from under the shadow as it grows into a diverse parish in the archdiocese of Boston.

*Based on the homilies of Father Francis Kelley, reports in the Boston Globe, and reports of the collaborative steering committee of Sacred Heart and Holy Name.

Sacred Heart Welcomes New Bostonians . . .from Africa and the Caribbean . . .

Sacred Heart’s first African priest in residence was from Kenya, Father Otieno Ndongo, S.J., who arrived in 1993. He was followed by Father Peter Ayorogo who was studying in the Ph.D. program at Boston College. Although Father Peter finished his Ph.D. thesis entitled “Openness to God: A Comparative Study of African and Western Philosophy Concerning the Problem of Evil” in 1999 and was subsequently called back to Ghana to teach at the seminary, he remains a presence at Sacred Heart, returning every summer to live and minister among us.

Father Peter also sent a number of students to live at Sacred Heart; we remember Father Sylvester and Father Bernard (who came to use after surviving Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans!). In addition, Sacred Heart welcomed Father Chrys from Uganda early in the new millennium. And now Father Elias from Nigeria is studying in Boston and in residence at Sacred Heart.

Parishioners from the Caribbean and from Africa came to Sacred Heart during the 1990s and 2000s as well. The largest group of these new Bostonians comes from Haiti; Cape Verdeans, whose island country has a long connection with Massachusetts, are the second-largest group. Both nations are represented at Sacred Heart. Africans in Boston hail primarily from Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. At Sacred Heart, people also come from Togo, Liberia, and Cameroon.

Sacred Heart, which was founded 125 years ago, with a primarily Irish population has over the years welcomed Italians and Spanish speaking communities. Now it opens its arms to the world, welcoming the faithful from almost 50 countries across the globe as a truly international parish.

*Based on reports in the Boston Globe, and the international maps in the church.



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