Built by faith and diverse in its expression, Sacred Heart Parish stands as a celebration of God’s love providence among His people, reflected in our church building, its surroundings, and most of all, its members. This is what gives Sacred Heart Parish its richness, its flavor and its beauty.
Our beginning was in mid-1884, when 2 ˝ acres of land were donated to Bishop Moore of the Diocese of St. Augustine, by Captain Tole and Mary Ellen Fogarty, to be the site of a Catholic Church. Its location was at 1st Avenue and 31st Street West, just two blocks from the water.
By mid-1888, a 40x22 foot wooden chapel had been completed and dedicated to the Sacred Heart. On July 18th of that year, Father Henry Peter Clavreul celebrated the first Mass with sixteen people present. Soon afterward, the Jesuit Fathers from Tampa began to care for the Mission.
With Bradenton’s rapid growth, a second Mission Chapel was built at 6th Avenue and 8th Street West on land donated by Mrs. Ada Hubbell. The Mission Church of St. Joseph celebrated its first Mass for fifteen families on Christmas day, 1915.
From 1922-27, before Diocesan Priests were assigned to the Church of Bradenton, Father Charles Elslander visited churches in Manatee and Sarasota counties. In 1926, the St. Joseph Mission was moved to 12th Avenue and 15th Street West, a more central location and the present site of Sacred Heart Church. The two Missions, St. Joseph’s in Bradenton, and St. Martha’s in Sarasota, became official parish churches on October 1st, 1927, with Father Elslander temporarily assigned to both. By the end of 1927, Father Patrick Halligan was assigned as the first resident pastor of St. Joseph’s in Bradenton, while Father Elslander remained at St. Martha’s Church in Sarasota.
In 1942, as World Was ll revived the military stations in and around Bradenton, Mass was offered on the lawn to accommodate the increased congregation. In 1945, the small Church was split and separated and a new middle section added to provide seating for the now doubled congregation.
Even with the addition of parishes in Palmetto, Holmes Beach and the Whitfield area, the small church on 12th Avenue became overcrowded as the parish census grew to 194 registered families. In 1958, a new church was built on 26th Street West and the old church on 12th Avenue West was maintained as a chapel. In late 1996, the old chapel was demolished so a new one could be built. Some of the lumber from the old chapel was used under the roof of the new structure and can still be seen today. The statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which stood in the sanctuary of the chapel, as well as the statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph were hand carved in Ortisei, Italy.
The Diocese of St. Petersburg was established in 1968 and St. Joseph’s in Bradenton was divided. The new building became the mission of St. Joseph, known as Sacred Heart Chapel. In 1969, the Chapel of the Sacred Heart became a parish, with Father Timothy Cronin, IC, as its first pastor. This is the church location as you see it today.
As our numbers continued to grow, there was a need for a gathering place, a parish hall. The lower level of our Parish Center was constructed in 1972. In 1974, the beautifully faceted stained glass windows containing the beatitudes replaced the plain glass windows in the church. The growth we were experiencing showed us a need to provide religious education. Thus, the classrooms upstairs were constructed in 1981 under Father James Nugent.
The Administration building and rectory were built in 1986. Also in 1986 with the help of Miguel and Alicia Aponte, Father Bruce King, IC, established the Hispanic Apostolate. Sermons were translated because there was no Spanish-speaking priest available at the time. A guitar player and soloist accompanied the priest at Mass. Since then, the Hispanic community has grown steadily and become a large, spirited celebration of God’s love.
With the increase of residents during the winter months, the church was remodeled to provide additional seating. Father Rick Pilger, IC, completed the remodeling in 1990 and installed above the main entrance, the stained glass logo of the pelican, which is the symbol of the Rosminian Fathers.
The faceted glass windows at the rear of the church were created and installed in 1996 under Father Michael Mullen, IC. In 2001, Father Joseph G. Clifford added the stained glass windows in the doors that bear the Celtic cross. Under the leadership of Father Julio B. Rivero, TOR, a shrine was built in 2003 and dedicated in early 2004 as the Grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Also, a small Creole community which had formed at Holy Cross in Palmetto, after various moves, settled here during the pastorate of Father Rivero.
In 2008, Father Salvator M. Stefula, TOR, became our pastor and spent the first eighteen months of his pastorate overseeing a major renovation of the church which resulted in the reconfiguration of the space behind the altar to create more storage, a choir room and created a more esthetically pleasing worship environment. When the renovation was complete, the church was rededicated by Bishop Frank Dewane on December 20, 2009 in a joyful celebration where together; Hispanics, Haitians and Anglos celebrated the goodness of God.
Father Sal remains with us today as a guide, an example and an approachable mentor as he proclaims the Word, teaches us to share the mission and celebrates with us the presence of God alive in His people.
Blessed by the Spirit of God and the presence of its people, the Sacred Heart Parish community continues to grow and proclaim God’s Kingdom in the world.