Before it became the diocesan cathedral, Sacred Heart was a church and a parish.
By early 1910, Bishop Thomas F. Hickey could see that recent immigration from Ireland, Italy and Germany would require the addition of a new parish in northwest Rochester. He recruited Father George V. Burns to lead the new parish, which he did until 1952. Father Burns, later named monsignor, led the parish until 1952.
The original church building, which later became Sacred Heart School, opened in 1911 on the south side of Flower City Park. The second more expansive church was opened at 296 Flower City Park in 1927. During that same decade, the parish added a wing to the school (the former church) and built a new rectory and convent.
By 1931, Sacred Heart was one of the largest parishes in Rochester with nearly 1,200 families and 750 children in its school. The growth caught the eye of Bishop Thomas F. Hickey, who insisted that the new church include a bishop’s chapel in the west transept and a portable bishop’s throne. Sixteen angel statues, like those often found in Norman Gothic churches, sit atop ceiling trusses on either side of the building; altogether there are more than 100 angel figures in the building.
When the downtown St. Patrick’s Cathedral, choked by rings of commercial development, was suppressed and demolished, Sacred Heart was named pro-cathedral (temporary) in 1937 — and St. Patrick’s marble altar, cathedra and other furnishings were installed in its sanctuary. Sacred Heart was officially designated the diocesan cathedral in 1952., after all church debt was eliminated
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the parish continued to grow. A new altar replaced the altar from St. Patrick’s, and several other sanctuary improvements were made. A new convent was built, and the school — with 1,360 students by 1960 — was renovated. Though the parish school later closed, in the fall of 2017 its building became the new home of Nazareth Elementary School, operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph.
In 2002, Bishop Matthew H. Clark announced renovation plans to bring the cathedral into compliance with liturgical standards consistent with the Second Vatican Council. The interior was completely refurbished, including new seating, a new altar and brighter lighting. A eucharistic chapel was built, and its ceiling was painted to depict the night sky on the evening of March 3, 1868, the day the Diocese of Rochester was formed. The renovation also included new reconciliation rooms, new pipe organ, a narthex (gathering space) and a new office wing.
In recent years, The Cathedral Community Church, 100 years ago the spiritual home to the families of recent European immigrants, has come full circle, welcoming scores of new immigrants — refugees fleeing war and persecution in places such as Burma, Somalia and Congo. In addition to such traditional ministries as choir, RCIA, and young-adult and youth ministries, the parish now offers Mary’s Place, with classes and services to refugees; and Joseph’s Place, which offers food and hospitality to the poor of northwest Rochester.