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History of Sacred Heart Church


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▶ A History of Sacred Heart Church

-from "Commemorating the Golden Jubilee of the Dedication of Sacred Heart Church, Wheeling, W. Va.," 1904-1954. Published by the parish, 1954.
 

The History of Sacred Heart Church


Shortly after the turn of the Nineteenth Century, the City of Wheeling suddenly found itself expanding in every direction. It was becoming increasingly evident that the Catholic Church in Wheeling would have to expand Her facilities also. Travel was still slow and difficult, much more so even than in our day. And it was much more desirous then even than now to build one's home or find one's lodging near one's work.

The "North End" of Wheeling especially was growing by leaps and bounds. Industry was moving northwards and, with it, a considerable segment of the population. The district northwards from Tenth Street was not only becoming a most desirable residential district, but was also becoming a center of industrial population. The old Wheeling Glass Bottle Company, located just south of the Wheeling Hospital was flourishing. The Wheeling Sanitary Manufacturing Company, the old pottery, was working full capacity. The Wilson Planing Mill, located on the site of the present Wilson Playground, was seeking to supply the great need for building materials for new home and businesses. The J. L. Stifel Textile Finishers Company was in process of moving northwards from its original location at Ninth and Main Streets to its present location on Main, between Third and Fourth. The old Top Mill, between North Wheeling and Warwood, was working full speed to supply a growing America's demand for steel. And the Wheeling Hospital, well established for over a half century, was employing many persons nearby.

This venerable Hospital had quietly developed into an important center of Catholic life as well as into a greatly respected refuge for the sick of all denominations. Under its sheltering influence, works of both corporal and spiritual mercy abounded. Of greater interest to us at the moment is the great debt which Sacred Heart Parish owes to Wheeling Hospital for its earliest beginnings. Into her Chapel were welcomed men, women, and children of the locality, as well as the Hospital personnel. Into the classrooms, situated over the old "Wash House" were welcomed the boys and girls of the neighborhood, as well as the orphan boys and girls who had somehow come under the sheltering care of the Sisters at the Hospital. Indeed, the beginning of Sacred Heart Parish was so closely intertwined with the development of Wheeling Hospital that the two were almost as one.

But such a condition could not go on indefinitely. It was becoming increasingly evident that another center of Catholic life, a new parish, would have to be established in North Wheeling. Everyone seemed to realize this. However, the Catholics in the community were neither especially numerous nor wealthy. Indeed, most of the established residents of this part of the city lived south of the area which was contemplated as a new parish. And so, all realized that, although a new church was greatly needed, it was going to be difficult to build one.

Hence, it seemed like an act of Divine Providence when a certain wealthy Catholic lady, a Miss Kate Andrews from New York City at this time made an astonishing offer to Bishop P. J. Donahue, to contribute the sum of ten thousand dollars toward the erection of a new church in North Wheeling on condition that it be called the Church of the Sacred Heart. The Bishop was overjoyed. It seemed the answer to his prayers. And he immediately accepted her most generous offer. This decision on the part of the Bishop marks the beginning of Sacred Heart Parish.

Father Francis P. Rossman was appointed the first pastor of the newly established Church of the Sacred Heart in North Wheeling. Father Rossman took over his duties in 1903 and immediately began the work of planning and organizing his new parish. The people responded enthusiastically to the guidance of this beloved priest. His happy disposition and Christ-like Charity toward all endeared him to everyone! His influence for good was so great and his love for all mankind was so all-embracing that even now, fifty years later, scarcely a day passes without some expression of affection passing the lips of some older parishioner. Father Rossman's thoughtfulness and gratitude is well illustrated by the commemorative stone, erected in the rear of the nave of the Church, in memory of Miss Kate Andrews, who did so much to make possible at this time the construction of the church. The decision to erect such a marker was Father Rossman's.

One of the first acts of the new pastor was the appointment of a building committee to advise him and assist him in planning the new church and carrying those plans to completion. The members of this first Church committee were: James Corcoran, V. J. Korn, Joseph Neihaus, Daniel O'Leary, Francis C. Riester, Henry Thalman and Jeremiah Myles.

First, a site for the new church was decided upon, and the present location, where once stood the Haberfield barn, was selected. Plans were drawn up and soon bids were being submitted. The bid for the stone work was awarded to T. W. Jackson, at the cost of $5,696. The contract for the brick work was given to N. C. Hamilton & Son, for $4,881. The carpenter work was given to John L. Giesey, for $8,500. The Wheeling Roof and Cornice Company received the contract for the slating, tin, and galvanizing work, at a cost of $980. The plastering was done by W. A. Stoetzer, for$1,061. The painting by D. C. Kurner, for $450. The

[a page is missing from the library's copy]

By August, 1904, the Church was almost complete. Mass was being offered in the basement even before the work was finished in the Church proper. The furnishings were being selected and donors were being sought. Many of these came forward and their help was greatly appreciated. One donor contributed the statue of the Sacred Heart, another, two adoring angels and two angels with lighted candles which were placed on the altar railing guarding the entrance to the sanctuary and which can even now be seen on the main altar. Still another donor contributed the lovely Pieta, the Sorrowful Mother holding in Her arms the body of her crucified Son, and another, the statue of Saint Ann; another the main altar, and many others.

Sunday, August 28, 1904 was decided upon as the day of Dedication. Plans were made several weeks in advance. Once more a gala parade was to precede the actual dedication. We read in the local press of the times that the parade, which formed in front of the Episcopal residence on Thirteenth and Byron Streets was most impressive. John Kemple was Chief Marshal of the parade, and he was assisted by F. Miller. City police headed the parade and various societies and organizations followed: The Ancient Order of Hibernians of Wheeling, Benwood and McMechen; Knights of St. George from Wheeling, Benwood, Bridgeport and Martins Ferry, and the various societies of Saint Ladislaus Polish Church in South Wheeling. Three bands were in the parade, and it is reported, a "battalion" of police. The local clergy, the Bishop, and the civic officials followed in carriages.

The first Mass celebrated in the Sacred Heart Church, the Mass of the Dedication, was offered by the pastor, Father Rossman. It was a Solemn Mass at which Father Raphael of Saint Alphonsus Church was Deacon, Father Galway of Saint Joseph's Cathedral, was sub-Deacon, and Father O. H. Moye was master of ceremonies. Also present in the sanctuary were Fathers Fitzpatrick of Mount de Chantal, and Gormley of Saint Joseph's Cathedral as honorary attendants to Bishop Donahue. Jerry O'Leary and John Jepson, then Seminarians, were acolytes at this Mass.

Bishop Donahue, assisted by the local clergy, dedicated the Church. He also delivered the sermon. He congratulated the pastor and the members of the congregation on their splendid work together. He urged the congregation to be regular in their attendance at the Church, and to make the fullest use of its facilities. He reminded them of the sacredness of the Church, and of the importance of their good example. The services concluded with the whole assembly singing, "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name". The occasion was truly a glorious one. The Altar Society had decked the altars with flowers. The Church was brilliantly lighted by a huge chandelier hanging from the center (since removed because of unsafe condition). Indeed, the new Church, "the Church with five hundred lights", seemed to be to the congregation of that day, the eighth wonder of the world. The organ, played by Miss Mamie Daily pealed forth its glorious tones, and the choir, newly organized and augmented by the Saint Joseph's Cathedral choir was directed by Thomas Miller. The crowd was so great that many could not be accommodated. After the services dinner was served in the basement of the church by the ladies of the congregation. And "about four hundred were served at noon and like number in the evening."

With the dedication of the new Church, Catholicity in North Wheeling surged forward. The initial spiritual impetus was provided by a Mission preached by one Father John J. Swint, now our honored Archbishop, aided by a Father Hogan.

The school was transferred to its new location in the church basement. Movable partitions were added for this purpose. Mother Dominic was the first principal of the new school, and she and her successors of the Sisters of Saint Joseph: Sister Mercedes, Sister Patricia, Sister Cecilia, Mother Perpetua, Sister Alice, Sister Placide and Sister Margaret Mary conducted the Sacred Heart School in the basement of the Church until 1924, when the property across the street was purchased and converted into the present school. The Church basement was also used during these years for card parties, socials, and school plays, each time the men removing the movable partitions for the evening's affair and then replacing them for the morrow's school day.

After the dedication of the new Church, Father Rossman, the pastor, moved into the two rooms over the sacristies of the Church. This, however, proved inadequate, and he once more rented quarters across the street from the Wheeling Hospital.

In 1906, a beautiful one thousand pound church bell was installed in the belfry, through the generosity of one of the parishioners. This same bell still summons the congregation to the Church, although now it is electrified, and rings the Angelus three times a day by a time clock.

In 1911 the present rectory was built. It was completed the following year. And its present substantial condition is said to be due in no small degree to the fact that paving bricks were used in its construction, which were given to Father Rossman by a non-Catholic friend in the brick making business.

In 1918 Father Rossman was transferred from the Sacred Heart Church to Nitro, to establish a new parish there. His departure from Sacred Heart was indeed a sad one. But a little later he was to return again.

In 1918 Father John H. Corcoran was appointed second pastor of Sacred Heart Church. His administration lasted but three years, but Father Corcoran is still remembered as a great, large man, whose eloquent sermons attracted many from all parts of the city.

At this time, in 1921, Father Rossman returned to Sacred Heart as pastor. This second administration of Father Rossman was marked, in 1924, by the purchase of the Rogers property across the street from the Church, and the conversion of this building into a school. This present building still serves as the Sacred Heart School, although it has undergone many changes and improvements since the time of its purchase in 1924. Sister Columba was the first principal of this school after its transfer to the new quarters, and she was assisted by Sister M. Pauline.

On June 6, 1924, Father Rossman celebrated his Silver Jubilee in Sacred Heart Church. At the Solemn Mass he was assisted by Father Gleason and Father Lawrence (Jerry) O'Leary. And in the afternoon, the beloved founder of the parish was tendered a reception in the school hall.

On December 30, 1926, Father Rossman was transferred from Sacred Heart, Wheeling, to Saint Francis Xavier Church, Parkersburg, West Virginia. From this time on this beloved priest was to live in Sacred Heart only in the memory of his host of friends and parishioners. The present pastor remembers Father Rossman as he visited him in Parkersburg shortly before his death in 1946. And he will always remember the warm intensity which Father Rossman still had in his great love of his life - Sacred Heart Church, Wheeling.

Father Dennis Dwyer succeeded Father Rossman as the second pastor of Sacred Heart, and was installed as pastor on January 9, 1927. Father Dwyer remained here just five years.

On January 21, 1932 Father Dwyer was succeeded by Father Jeremiah O'Connell. Father O'Connell had just concluded a term of seven years at Saint Joan of Arc Parish, Wheeling, where he had founded that parish.

At the time of Father O'Connell's coming to Sacred Heart, the country was in the depth of the depression which followed the financial collapse of 1929. The Church, like most churches as well as most individuals, was in considerable debt. Unemployment was widespread. There were indeed "the seven lean years." However, Father O'Connell was man of deep faith in God and great confidence in the power of the intercession of our Lady. And so, with Her help, he undertook the burdensome task which lay ahead.

Among Father O'Connell's first acts was the reorganization of the Holy Name Society, the Confraternity of Christian Mothers, the Parent-Teacher Association and the Sodality of the Blessed Mother. These organizations rallied around their pastor, and, under his direction inaugurated a series of card parties and other social affairs with the purpose of reducing the financial debt of the parish. It should always be remembered by all of us that it was due to the zeal of Father O'Connell as well as to the energetic work of the members of the congregation that the debt of the parish was cleared for the first time in history during the administration of this zealous third pastor of the Church. It is a tragic commentary on the shortness of life that the Church debt was finally cleared in 1945 and this happy fact was to be announced to the parish in the financial report of January, 1946, but the man who worked so hard toward this end never had the satisfaction of announcing it. Father O'Connell was stricken with a heart attack on January 14, 1946, and he died the following day in the Wheeling Hospital next door.

Although Father O'Connell's great ambition while at Sacred Heart was the clearance of the debt, and although his administration paralleled the depression years, he did make a number of improvements. At this time, the large chandelier in the center of the Church, a source of great pride in the day of dedication, had, because of the ravages of time, become unsafe. It had to go. And so, at the same time, Father O'Connell took the opportunity of endeavoring to raise funds to re-wire the Church. The wiring had become unsafe because of the great load upon it of the many arch lights throughout the nave of the Church. And thanks to the generosity of Mr. Joseph Kase, the entire lighting and wiring of the Church was renewed. At this time, the Church interior was repainted and the large oil painting over the altar was retouched. This beautiful work of art was originally painted by a Mr. Kaufman, and the work of retouching was most capably done by Mr. Patrick Sullivan, then a member of the parish.

Father O'Connell was never a man to neglect the spiritual welfare of a parish for the material. He knew that the material interests of a parish can prosper only in a healthy spiritual atmosphere. And so he sought the aid of the Blessed Mother. On October 21, 1934, Father O'Connell inaugurated the weekly Novena in honor of our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. This popular Novena now is the most widespread novena devotion in the Diocese. But it was not always so. Indeed the first novena in honor of our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in the Diocese of Wheeling was held in Sacred Heart Church, Wheeling, by Father O'Connell. And after its inauguration, until it spread to many other parishes, this Church was overflowing with the devotees of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. It should be said in tribute to Our Lady, that the material welfare as well as the spiritual welfare of the parish has never waned since Our Lady's Novena was begun.

Father O'Connell also had great devotion to the Passionist Saints: Saint Paul of the Cross, Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, and Saint Gemma, as a lovely shrine in the rear of the Church, on the Epistle side, attests. He also replaced the large original statues in the Church with those now in the Church.

Toward the latter years of Father O'Connell's administration, Sacred Heart parish once more experienced the clouds of war, and saw her young men once again trekking off to the Armed Forces. Three of these young men never returned: John Elmer Dezio, Stanley Novak, and James Merge. These were, therefore, years of worry as well as years of prayer for our nation and its men. 1945 saw many returning to civilian life and, it was hoped, to a new era of peace. But all of the men whom Father O'Connell had bidden Godspeed were not greeted by their old pastor on their return. For on January 15, 1946, he passed to his reward from a bed in the Wheeling Hospital, after having been sealed with the Holy Oils of Extreme Unction by his old friend, Father William Hall.

For several weeks after Father O'Connell's passing, Sacred Heart was without a permanent pastor. The interim was in charge of Father Daniel Kirwin, the Diocesan Superintendent of Schools, and Father Edwin Hamlin, just returned from the Army and not yet permanently assigned. There was, therefore, much conjecture as to who the new pastor would be.

These rumors were finally settled on May 12, 1946, when Father John J. Mueller appeared before the congregation and announced that he was the new pastor. Father Mueller had just returned from the South Pacific theatre of war where he had served thirty months. He seemed as happy to be back, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a real Church, as the other boys were happy to be back in the pews.

Father Mueller is a native of Wheeling and one of our own. He received his schooling in Saint Michael's School and, just before his departure to study for the priesthood, had served the first Mass in the new Saint Joan of Arc Parish which was offered by his predecessor, Father O'Connell. Indeed the life of Father Mueller seems strangely and closely associated with that of Father O'Connell. Father O'Connell was his pastor when began his studies for the priesthood. Father O'Connell died on his birthday, and Father O'Connell was his predecessor as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish.

On his advent to the parish, Father Mueller found a happy situation. His predecessor had accomplished the clearance of the parish debt. The people were nearly all gainfully employed, and all seemed imbued with a splendid enthusiasm for the tasks which lay ahead. The Church properties were in bad repair and much work was needed. The years before had been difficult years financially and repairs had to wait until better times and the dissolution of the debt.

Necessary improvements were, therefore, almost immediately begun on the school. A new wall was erected behind the school building to replace the old broken down fence which was the only protection for the children against fall into the school yard fifteen feet below. The interior of the school was painted. At the same time, the installation of a completely new heating system had to be begun. Formerly the parish had purchased its heat from the Hospital whose boilers had an adequate supply of steam for both the Hospital needs and the parish needs. However, a new home for the Wheeling Hospital School of Nursing was under construction, and it was thought that when that new building was completed, there would not be sufficient steam for both the Nurses Home and the Sacred Heart Parish buildings. Hence, it was imperative that Sacred Heart begin immediately the installation of its own heating system. This was begun in 1946 and completed in 1947.

Also in 1947 was begun the remodeling of the church basement. Nothing had been done there since the construction of the Church building. Although the hall had served the parish well for forty-three years, being used as a school, for card parties, for socials and as a club room for the well-remembered men's "Consolation Club" of Father Rossman's day, it now was greatly in need of repair. The old floor, weakened by time and use, was a fire hazard, and needed to be replaced. And so, with this need as the point of departure, the hall was remodeled. The old floor was taken up, the steam lines were sunk under the ground, a concrete floor was laid, the new stage was built, the rear rooms were converted into a modern kitchen and a meeting room, new rest rooms were installed, and the whole interior painted.

In the Spring of 1948 the work in the Church Hall was completed. An open house was held, to which members of the parish and their friends were invited. All were delighted with the results, and a new upsurge of parish activities was inaugurated: the annual parish minstrel, the annual turkey dinner, the annual parish card party, the Christmas school play, and various parish organizational meetings and socials.

The following year, 1949, the improvement of the Church was undertaken. With the help of several men of the parish, the pews were rebuilt and refinished in natural wood color. Then the entire floor area was covered with asphalt tile. Next the beautiful stained glass windows were repaired and renewed. Finally the entire interior was redecorated. The result is once more a sound, beautiful Church in which to worship the Living God.

Finally the rectory was repaired and redecorated. Little had been done since its construction in 1911. So an attempt was made to change its dark interior into a homelike rectory in which parishioners would feel welcome and at ease at any time.

The following year more improvements were made in the school. The old splintering floors, trodden upon by many feet for many years even before the building was converted into a school, were covered throughout by colorful asphalt tile. New desks were purchased for both the Sisters and the pupils. The rooms were all repainted in cheerful light tones. So that, now, we are as proud of the Sacred Heart School rooms as we are of the quality of the teaching down through the years of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

And so, a happy, spiritually profitable fifty years have come to a close. We face the future with the common experience and tradition of fifty golden years behind us and the healthy outlook of youth ahead. The Priests and the Sisters and the loyal, hardy pioneers of Sacred Heart Parish have given us the tools and the background with which to carry on. May God continue to bless, to inspire, and to guide us to our ultimate end:

The Glory of God and The Salvation of our Souls


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