150 YEARS OLD AND STILL GOING STRONG
Florida generally is not too big on antiquity. There is, of course, the elusive fountain of youth allegedly found by Ponce de Leon and a few other major historical places but for the Church, antiquity is even more rare and more so on Florida’s West Coast. Thus it was stunning to me today to help Sacred Heart parish in downtown Tampa celebrate its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary. We just don’t have in this diocese or south of us too many Churches or structures which date to the turn of the last century must less the sixth decade of the nineteenth century (the Civil War had not yet begun). Sacred Heart, Tampa, however is a beautiful exception – majestic, inspiring, beautiful in so many ways. True the parish begun in 1860 for about forty Catholic families, the only Catholic families living in Hillsborough county at the time, began at a slightly different site (Twiggs and Ashley) and with a different initial title, “St. Louis parish” but soon land was donated at the present site, the name was changed with the coming of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) to Sacred Heart and by any name it remains the historical mother parish of the diocese. I will attach here some parts of my homily yesterday which relate to its history, present and future [please keep in mind that liturgically we were celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus]:
At the heart of its history, Sacred Heart has been baptizing for a century and a half. God alone probably knows the number of children and adults who have been baptized in this parish. The horrible Civil War in the colonies was not yet being fought when Bishop Verot sent Father C.S. Malley as first pastor of Saint Louis parish, the original name for Sacred Heart. There were only forty-one Catholic families in Tampa at that time.
Through the last century and a half with its wars, economic depression and countless recessions, the plague which practically obliterated Tampa and innumerable challenges those baptized here formed a strong community of faith, witnessing to the city and county that being Catholic meant imitating Christ, caring for one another, educating children. As you well know, most of the history of this parish is associated with the Society of Jesus. Only this week came the sad news of the death of a much loved and revered pastor, Father Michael Kennelly for whom we will celebrate a Memorial Mass at Tampa Jesuit High School which he founded this coming Thursday night.
Figuratively baptized in fire on many occasions, this great parish has been the spiritual home to the baptized now for a century and a half. The Franciscan Friars who now grace us with their ministry and presence witness to this area that being baptized does not mean being isolated from the environment in which the parish prays and worships, but makes Christ present in the core city of Tampa to those who live in the greatest dungeons of darkness and cold. Their life is one of humble witness and service.
Presently the Franciscans serve the parish, its school Sacred Heart Academy, Tampa General Hospital, the University of Tampa Campus Ministry program, and the convent of the Allegany Franciscan Sisters along the Hillsborough River. Active in serving the homeless, Sacred Heart has a significant outreach program into the downtown community and the daily Mass at 12:10 p.m. serves the business people of the center city as well as those working in the state and federal courts. Many of the priests and sisters serving at Sacred Heart during the 0utbreak of the Yellow Fever epidemic of the end of the 19th century died in service to the Tampa community but enough lived to courageously continue the ministry in this significant parish. The parish has a great past, a powerful present, and a glorious future.
Here, then, are some wonderful pictures of beautiful Sacred Heart Church as it exists today: