Among East Sacramento’s most renowned architectural structures is the Sacred Heart Church at 3860 J St., where for eight decades, many local residents have come to gain spiritual guidance, while making many lifelong friends along the way.
Geremia expressed her gratitude for the local Catholic church, its parish school and the many people, including Granucci, who she has made longtime friends with through her membership in the church.
“I’ve definitely made a lot of friendships over the years and our family has made a lot of friendships (through the church),” Geremia said. “Many of my children’s best friends are from their days at Sacred Heart School and through the church. It’s just that kind of a place.”
Granucci echoed Geremia’s words and added that although many of her closest childhood friends from Sacred Heart School, as well as the church, moved away from Sacramento many years ago, various reunions have proven that these friendships remain extremely strong.
“We can go many years without seeing each other and then when we get together, we pick up right where we left off, like we were never apart,” said Granucci, a lifelong member of the church who attended Sacred Heart School from 1944 to 1953.
The many stories of close friendships and spiritual ties among the church’s parishioners date back to the establishment of the church in 1931.
In 1922, noting that there was a need for a permanent parish church in East Sacramento, Bishop Patrick Keane, who served as the third Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento from 1922 to 1928, purchased the property where the church would later be built.
The following year, Lyons, who decided that the time was right for the construction of permanent parish buildings in East Sacramento, consulted Armstrong, who recommended that a church and priest offices be constructed on the 39th and J streets property that Keane had purchased.
Although the topic of constructing a parish school in East Sacramento was also discussed around this time, the idea was temporarily abandoned due to the inability to secure teachers.
The parish was fortunate to have the talented architect Harry J. Devine, among its members during its early years.
Devine, who had previously designed other churches in Northern California, was commissioned to create the plans for the new church and the offices and residence of the priests.
By November 1930, the plans were completed and William C. Keating was selected as the project’s general contractor.
Despite their quality, fine craftsmanship and many details, the new, $139,000 church buildings were constructed in a considerably short period of time.
Within a month after the plans were completed, work began at the 39th and J streets site, which had previously been home to the two-story East Sacramento Public School building, which was later briefly used by Christian Brothers High School students and faculty during the construction of the high school’s new campus at 21st and Y (now Broadway) streets.
Expanding the faith
The cornerstone of the church was laid on Sunday, March 15, 1930 and about four months later, the priests’ residence and offices were completed and being utilized by the priests, who had been living in a rented residence at 3801 H St.
During this special, dedication day, Bishop Armstrong blessed the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which had been known as St. Stephen’s Church at its original site.
The name, St. Stephen’s Church, was used by the parish for its temporary church structure on the 39th and I streets property that had been purchased by Brady, who had believed it would be too expensive to have parish buildings constructed at the 39th and J streets site.
This name change resulted through a petition requesting that the church be dedicated to the “Sacred Heart.”
The petition was signed by about 500 parishioners and presented by the Women of the Altar Society of St. Stephen’s.
Permission to change the church’s name was later granted by Bishop Armstrong.
The small, square, temporary church building, which held its first Mass on Feb. 7, 1926, had received its name upon the request of Ellen Bowden, who provided funds for the development of the church and whose father and brother were both named Stephen.
The Sacred Heart Church, which was designed in the fashion of a church in Ireland, is known for its brick architecture, decorative terra cotta, high, domed ceiling and many other details, which include 22 stained glass windows, 16 paintings, which include a series depicting the crucifixion of Christ, five large statues and 12 chandeliers.
The church also includes a pair of altars, 72 wooden pews and 10 large marble pillars, which support a dozen archways on the south end of the church.
Early events in the church included the first wedding – the marriage of Mary O’Brien to Adam Charles Goetz – on Sept. 18, 1931 and the first confirmation on March 30, 1932.
In 1934, with the assistance of the Sisters of Mercy, Lyons helped develop the parish’s Sacred Heart School, which initially served first through fourth grade students. By the fall of 1936, the school included eight grades.
The school, which is located at 3933 I St., began with 60 students, who met in four temporary classrooms within the old St. Stephens Church building.
A “permanent” school was built in 1945 and has since lost its “permanent” status, as a new Sacred Heart School is being constructed across the street from the current school. The new school is scheduled to open in September.
The church’s current pastor, Monsignor Robert P. Walton, said that the church’s elementary school is an integral part of the parish’s history.
“It’s difficult to separate the church’s history from the school’s history,” Walton said. “Sacred Heart Church is synonymous with the parish school.”
Jeanne Winnick Brennan, a spokesperson for Sacred Heart Church, said that the opening of the new school is a great accomplishment in today’s world.
The forthcoming school opening will undoubtedly begin one more important chapter in the parish’s extensive history, which began 84 years ago.
This history includes the celebration of the Sacred Heart Church’s 75th anniversary in 2006.
During this celebration’s Feast of Sacred Heart Mass, Monsignor Walton summarized the church’s importance to many people in the community in a very fitting fashion.
“This sacred space is so much more than great architectural beauty, magnificent, stained glass windows, inspiring space and liturgical appointments. It is filled with living memories of people…who have called Sacred Heart Church their spiritual home, and for many of you, for most of your lives.”
E-mail Lance Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.