A history of adapting to the times - Catholic Courier

A history of adapting to the times

The renovation of Sacred Heart Cathedral is another chapter in the living history of the Mother Church of the Diocese of Rochester.
 
Sacred Heart Cathedral was first Sacred Heart Church, founded in 1911 by Msgr. George Burns, who took up residence on Flower City Park to oversee construction and to begin knocking on the doors of his future parishioners.
 
Msgr. Burns wedged a church into the nascent streets beginning to shape northwest Rochester. But he built a parish one parishioner at a time, visiting homes and seeking out the Catholics who would be the living cornerstones of this new parish. At one door, he was greeted by a woman. “Are you Catholic?” he asked. “No,” she replied, “but I have been waiting to talk to a priest for 20 years.” She later became Catholic.
 
The original church occupied the first floor of what is now Sacred Heart School on the south side of Flower City Park. The new parish school was just above the sanctuary, and in the basement was a church hall and auditorium. The cornerstone was laid in July 1911, and the new Sacred Heart Church was dedicated in November of that year.
 
Like all parishes, Sacred Heart was built chiefly from living stones — the people who raised their children in the faith nurtured inside its walls. Msgr. Burns carefully tended his young flock, keeping track of the newcomers, the old and the infirm, visiting every home at least every three years. The parish family weathered hard times, the First World War and the 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak that struck 60 parishioners, killing seven — one of them Sister Francis Xavier Byrnes, the school principal.
 
By 1920, the Sacred Heart congregation had grown from 900 to 3,200 — and already the trustees were looking to expand. The parish purchased several lots on the north side of Flower City, at the corner of Primrose Street. The new neo-gothic church was opened in 1927, but not until four houses were removed from the site and relocated.
 
By the early 1930s, St. Patrick Cathedral on Plymouth Avenue, had become isolated amid rapid downtown commercial and industrial development. When Eastman Kodak expressed an interest in acquiring the property, Archbishop Edward Mooney agreed and designated Sacred Heart as the temporary cathedral until the Vatican officially designated a successor to St. Patrick’s. In order to preserve the history of St. Patrick’s, its organ, white marble altar, two bells (the 6,000-pound “St. Patrick” and the 2,350-pound “St. Louis”) and bishop’s throne were moved to Sacred Heart.
 
To succeed Archbishop Mooney, who went on to become cardinal-archbishop of Detroit, the Vatican named the Most Rev. James E. Kearney, bishop of Salt Lake City, to lead the Rochester Diocese. Bishop Kearney was installed on Nov. 11, 1937 — in the newly named Pro-Cathedral (temporary). As the parish continued to grow, along with the demands placed on Sacred Heart as the Mother Church and exemplar for the diocese, the cathedral’s rector, Msgr. (and later Bishop) Lawrence B. Casey announced plans for renovation and expansion in the early 1950s — coinciding with the formal designation of Sacred Heart as the cathedral church in 1952. Parishioners contributed $414,039 toward a multipurpose fund that made possible the building of McQuaid and the former St. Agnes high schools as well as construction of a new brick convent at the cathedral parish, and interior renovation of the cathedral. The modifications included a red velvet drape that was mounted as an altar dossal, the relocation of the bishop’s throne and the doubling in length of the Communion rail. At the same time, the Tellers Organ, retrieved from St. Patrick’s, was rebuilt for $34,000. In March 1957, a new altar was dedicated to replace the white marble altar from St. Patrick’s. More changes followed the Second Vatican Council, which issued its Constitution on the Liturgy in 1963. Within a few years, a temporary altar was constructed near the front of the sanctuary so the celebrant could face the people; it was later replaced with a permanent marble altar. The oak Communion rail was removed.
 
By 1966, the 1901 Tellers Organ was replaced with an instrument built by Wicks Organ Co. of Highland, Ill.
 
Over the decades, Sacred Heart has been adapted repeatedly to accommodate changing liturgical norms, and to facilitate the celebration of the Eucharist and other sacred liturgies. The changes now completed were discussed for several years, since formation of a joint parish/diocesan committee in 1985. That committee recommended renovation of the sanctuary, a new baptismal font, a chapel for Eucharistic adoration and a large new gathering space or narthex.
 
Those changes were not begun at that time due to a lack of funds, but similar changes were undertaken already by many of the 161 parish churches in the Diocese of Rochester.
 
This latest renovation renews the life of the cathedral, makes it a model for the entire diocese and will trigger a series of major commitments to the surrounding urban neighborhood — as a model for carrying the Gospel message from the eucharistic celebration into the world.

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