Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Important Historical Jesuit Parish In Tampa, Sacred Heart Catholic Church

In The Heart Of The City
The Tampa Tribune
December 25, 2007
Downtown Tampa is on the cusp of a building boom, with high-rise condos coming out of the ground, retail shops in the planning stages and museums on the drawing board. Yet in a city often criticized for neglecting its historic structures, Sacred Heart Catholic Church stands as tall today as it did more than 100 years ago. It's a building known for its stunning architecture and awe-inspiring stained-glass windows. And it's a church known for offering a sanctuary of refuge from a hectic world. "When things happen, from a policeman being shot to the end of World War II to the Kennedy assassination to 9/11, people are drawn here," said Elaine Carbonneau, church historian. "It's because of its size and magnificence, as well as its location. "It's a magnet." Sacred Heart Catholic Church is the oldest Catholic church in Tampa. More than 90 weddings are held there annually, with brides posing for pictures on the front steps of the church as their limos wait on Florida Avenue. Funerals, too, are particularly emotional in a church so tied to Tampa. "It's an important place," said Rodney Kite-Powell, history curator for the Tampa Bay History Center. "It's one of the most significant landmarks we still have in downtown Tampa." The Jesuits ran the church until a couple of years ago, when the transition was made to the Franciscan order. As the church looks to its future, including the celebration of the sesquicentennial of Sacred Heart Parish, its past is always in mind. In the early 1850s, Hillsborough County commissioners deeded property at Ashley Drive and Twiggs Street for a Catholic church. The property later was exchanged for land at Florida Avenue and Twiggs. A church was built there and dedicated in 1859.
The parish was established a year later. It was called Saint Louis Church, in honor of French King Louis IX and in honor of the Rev. Luis Cancer, a Dominican priest who came to Florida's west coast to convert the Indians.
By the 1890s, Henry Plant had brought the railroad to Tampa and the area was booming. The Rev. William Tyrrell decided Saint Louis Church was too small to adequately serve the growing city. In 1897, he announced plans to build a new church. A groundbreaking was held Feb. 16, 1898, the day after the battleship Maine was blown up, starting the Spanish-American War.
The Jesuits built the church - at a cost of $300,000 - and named it Sacred Heart. Today the building looks strikingly similar to the original, which opened in 1905. The Romanesque architecture remains. The exterior is a combination of granite and white marble. Inside, most of the design is just as it was a century ago.
The stained-glass windows were designed for the church and manufactured by a German company. They depict scenes from the life of Christ and some saints: Jesus saving Peter from drowning, the death of St. Joseph, St. Patrick preaching in Ireland, Jesus giving Peter the keys to the kingdom. Over the years, the church has had about 30 pastors and spawned new institutions. What is now Jesuit High School (here) on Himes Avenue started at Sacred Heart. So did the Academy of the Holy Names, now on Bayshore Boulevard. Sacred Heart Academy was established as the parish school in 1931 and is a few miles north of the church, on Florida Avenue.
Longtime Sacred Heart parishioner Sandra Polo, a graduate of Sacred Heart Academy, finds herself contemplating biblical stories while gazing at the windows during services. "Beauty opens you up to the love of God, and it's a beautiful place," Polo said. "The old Renaissance windows tell the story." Polo took her first communion at Sacred Heart when she was 6. Her family regularly attended Mass, a tradition she continues today.
All four of her children were baptized at the church, and two of her children were married there. "It's like my second home," Polo said. "Both of the orders have given to us great spiritual guidance." Carbonneau, too, notes that some have been attending services for decades at Sacred Heart. "There are families that are now going back four or five generations that may not belong to the parish, but their roots are here," Carbonneau said. In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, the church was affected by the exodus to the suburbs. Sacred Heart, once a focal point in a residential downtown, was no longer surrounded by many homes. As the church's population declined, the church cut the number of Masses each week. Today, as the residential market rebounds downtown, 30 new families join the parish a month, Father Andrew Reitz said. The church and its three pastors serve about 1,500 families. More Masses may soon be added.
"We keep growing," Reitz said. "As Tampa gets more families, a lot of them end up here." Parking is a growing problem. Northern Trust Bank and the Grandoff Building allow churchgoers to park free during weekend Masses. The church also rents a lot across the street on weekends. But more spaces are needed, and the church is hoping the Diocese of St. Petersburg can buy a parking lot for Sacred Heart. The cost is easily $4 million, Reitz said. The church serves a variety of people. Take a recent Tuesday afternoon, for example. During a lunchtime Mass, several dozen people sat in the pews: retirees, young professionals, a postal worker, downtown workers, city employees. The Mass starts at 12:10 p.m. and ends well before 1, giving downtown professionals a chance to grab a sandwich on the way back to the office. The downtown location also attracts plenty of conventioneers. "It's in the heart of downtown Tampa," Reitz said. "The name Sacred Heart is a fitting name for it. People can be nourished, find some time for solitude and celebrate Mass with us." Looking ahead, the church has its challenges. Officials are trying to figure out how to best help the homeless. About 18 months ago, about 10 homeless men started sleeping on the church's front steps. Church officials didn't mind: The men were well-behaved and cleaned up after themselves. But the crowd swelled to about 70 at times, and the cursing, trash and fights became too much. Several weeks ago, the church asked the homeless to leave. The church also continues to try to find ways to get more people involved in its outreach programs. In the past 15 years or so, the church has undergone a few renovations. The Moeller pipe organ was restored in 1991. The church completed a major, multimillion-dollar restoration project a few years ago. Church officials want to light the rose window in front of the church at night. Now, Reitz said, no one truly appreciates the beauty of that stained-glass window because no one can see it. The church also is planning a restoration program in 2009. The work is scheduled for completion in 2010, just in time for the church to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Sacred Heart Parish.
Information from "Reflections: Celebrating the Centennial of Sacred Heart Church" and Tribune archives was used in this report.

Link to Tampa Tribune article (here)
More on Sacred Heart Catholic Church (here) , (here) , (here) , (here) and (here)
More importantly, what is the Sacred Heart Of Jesus (here) , (here) , (here) and (here)


Anonymous said...

There's an error here: the Academy of the Holy Names started several years before Sacred Heart.

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