Search  Advanced

Topics of Interest
Oral History/Audio Files
Branchville, CT
Redding Churches
Daily History Archives
Early Families of Redding
Early Settlement
Famous People
First Telephones
Georgetown, CT
History of Schools
Learning Center
Little Brick Schoolhouse
Early Manufacturers
Maps of Redding, CT
News 1966-1992
Parish History
Pictures of Redding
Huntington Park
Putnam Park
Hiking Trails in Redding
Summary of Land Use
Sponsors Page
Redding Businesses
Redding Real Estate
Redding Restaurants
Redding Organizations
Redding Links
Redding Town Site
Redding Pilot
Redding Elementary
John Read Middle School
Joel Barlow High School
Region 9 Schools
RBGC Web site
Redding Fire & EMS #1
Mark Twain Library
Georgetown, Ct
History of Redding Info
About the Designer
Contact Us

The Sacred Heart Church, 1881-1981. From "The First One Hundred Years" by Roma Gans with help from Mary Fox

The Great Pastors Who Led Sacred Heart Flock From the Church as a Mission Church to Today

With the completion of the Norwalk & Danbury R. R., Catholics began to move in and settle about the halfway mark known as Georgetown. The spiritual needs of these families were taken care of by priests from both St. Mary's Church, Norwalk, and St. Peter's Church, Danbury. Holy Mass was celebrated in private homes both in Georgetown and Branchville. In the 1860's and 1870's, Catholics of the Georgetown area walked, rode in crude carriages or on horseback, and even via oxen to St. Peter's in Danbury, a distance of ten miles.

By the late 1870's, the number of Catholics had increased considerably, so the use of Bennett's Hall, located over the Connery Brothers store(Current location of "Curves for Women"), was secured for services. The Rev. Thaddeus P. Walsh was appointed first pastor of Georgetown, with Ridgefield and Redding Ridge as missions. He took up his residence in Georgetown in 1880. He must have been a man of great dedication and energy. The accounts of his personal efforts and sacrifices, very humbly related in his reports, deserve a place in church history.

He lived in a house on Main Street in Georgetown and drove his horse to Ridgefield and to the Redding Ridge Church, now St. Patrick's, which was until 1971 a mission church. Later, he moved to Ridgefield but continued to tend his flock in Georgetown. The valiance of this good priest can be appreciated when one reads that he had to get a new horse, to carry him over the difficult roads, because his old horse got too lame. However, he added, he personally paid for the new horse, "because these people are too poor." Frequently, in reporting his progress of this ministry, he referred to the poverty of the people. To the Bishop he wrote, "please do not ask me for an Easter Collection or any special collection. My people are too poor." An annual contribution of $6.00 could not be met by some. One Sunday collection totaled sixty-five cents.

The Catholics of Georgetown had already made plans for a church and the present grounds were purchased and transferred to Father Walsh shortly after his coming. Catherine Miller, the wife of David H., supplied the construction mortgage for the church. James Corcoran, who built his house next door provided the land (The Pryor family later acquired the Corcoran homestead and would later donate it to the church). Father Walsh immediately began the erection of a church which was soon completed and solemnly dedicated in the late in the summer of 1881 by Rev. Lawrence S. McMahon, "under the protection of the Sacred Heart of Jesus". So important was this occasion that a special train was run from Danbury to Georgetown to accommodate all who wished to attend this big step in the progress of the Catholic Church in this area.

Father Walsh continued to minister to the needs of the Catholics of Georgetown until his death in 1886. Father Walsh was succeeded by Father Patrick Byrnes, then Father O'Keefe in 1893 and Father Shortell in 1893. Under the direction of Father Shortell, the original church building was greatly enlarged, the interior redecorated, the marble altar, the marble sanctuary and a new organ installed, making it one of the best mission churches in the diocese. Father Shortell continued as pastor of Sacred Heart Church until his death Oct. 4, 1934. All lived in rented places until the present rectory was built under the direction of Rev. Walter F. Kenny, who became the first resident pastor.

Father Kenny, who many present residents of this area remember, too, was a powerful spiritual leader. A book could and should be written about him. He worked side-by-side with those dedicated men who built the rectory. He welcomed all who came in his path. A humorous and revealing account deserves including: A man nightly crossed the church land, always in rather "tippled" condition. One evening, when his walking was more difficult than usual, Father Kenny suggested he give him a ride home. When Father Kenny, with difficulty, got him to the door of his home, he was met by the man's wife, who screamed at him, "So, you're the one who is getting him into this state night after night."

The rectory was built on a steep spot that required a great deal of land fill. Nightly, Father Kenny would stand outside the gate of the wire factory to solicit some of the church members who worked there to truck a few loads of earth.

In 1936, under Father Kenny's leadership, the first summer vacation school was sponsored. Senior High School and college students from St. Joseph's College in Hartford came to Georgetown. They lived with the local families. The students taught youngsters of school age, visited homes and the elderly, furthering the spirit of Christian love by social concern. Sister Mary deLoures, a sister of Father Kenny, had a hand in this innovative venture.

After the tremendous growth under Father Kenny's pastorship, Father William A. Gildea became the spiritual leader in 1940, but only for a brief time. He died in 1941. Father Charles Corcoran assumed the responsibility and in 1946 was succeeded by Father Myron Miller. He remained with Sacred Heart's fold for five years, then was transferred to Springdale.

In 1951, my first year in the parish, we were blessed with the spiritual leadership of Father Joseph F. Cleary, J.C. D. We were privileged to have him for twenty years. his sudden death of a massive heart attack in the rectory had a traumatic effect not only on every member of Sacred Heart, but on all of the entire region, who had come to know and love him.

He led us all from the Latin Mass into the English dialogue Mass. One little frail woman who had always prayed from her rosary quietly during the Mass, began to follow the prayers in the Misslaettes and enter vocally. One day, with pride, she said to me, "I now pray the Mass and can read English."

Men and women lectors were added to the lay participation. Today, we also have men and women extraordinary ministers, who share in the liturgy and also extend the sacramental visits to the sick and the shut-ins. Music, once with organ and a few voices, is now a wonderful offering to the Lord of voices of the whole congregation, all started by Father Cleary.

It is impossible to describe Father Cleary.  He had the gift of shedding his spirituality on all he met. One of his legacies is the collection of his writings, "Spiritual Thoughts of Father Cleary". He was a gifted pianist and also loved to sing a solo of some choice "oldie" at the annual church "Minstrel Show". His devotion to children was expressed, not only in sponsoring their education in St. Mary's School through the church coffers, but by a gift of $100 to the family at the birth of a child. He was a classicist, yet a gracious person, easy to meet.

Father Cleary, with the legacies from John Pryor and Elizabeth Hubbard, built Pryor-Hubbard Hall. With a warm glow of pride, he remarked at the dedication, "This is the first building I had a chance to construct."

Father George D. Birge came as pastor in 1972 after the helpful work of Father John Norton. Although he laughingly said he was not concerned with repairs or constructions, he had the interior and exterior of the rectory painted and then directed the extensive renovation of the church.

This latter effort remains as a tribute to his excellent taste and the cooperative zeal he brought forth from the many who volunteered in such strenuous work as removing and reinstalling pews, painting, cleaning windows and candelabra, redecorating statues and polishing all metals. To enter and take even a glimpse of the church remains a treat.

To watch Father Birge visit with the children was an experience in observing real emanating love. They gave him relaxed responses with beaming faces and he looked equally relaxed and jovial- true spiritual communication. He has real catalytic influence. He sensed the very soul of not only the individual but the entire Sacred Heart area.

Still another contribution through Father Birge's effort was the installation of a new exceptionally fine organ in 1972. This has added to the quality of music at Sacred Heart, where we have the unique privilege of listening to Mary Fox, an accomplished organist who was recently honored for her 60th year of devoted service.

In 1977, Father Birge sought change of duty and into our lives came Father John M. Conlisk. Father Conlisk's homily in the first Mass I attended revealed the scholarly depth and spiritual strength he has. To share in the Mass with him fills one with the spiritual awe this sacrifice compels. All, from child to aged adult, (as I am), continue to feel reinspired to greater effort in the daily living out of our faith.

At our first lay advisory meeting, under the pastoral leadership of Father Conlisk, he made reference to Pope John Paul XXIII's emphasis on lay participation and lay leadership as one of the goals he sought for Sacred Heart Parish. The result of his effort would make a long list in addition many on-going services not overly demonstrated, rather a matter of individual spiritual effort.

Through group and personal contacts and homilies, Father Conlisk's great admiration of Pope John XXIII brought the gift of this great pope closer to most of us. Also, the increased understanding of Vatican II continued to grow.

He sought aid in planning needed revisions in the rectory, changing the porch into a Pastor's office so he had privacy for counseling. Later, the exterior of the church foundation was repaired after removal of tree roots that threatened the entire structure. the surrounding grounds were then landscaped so that Sacred Heart, at all seasons, now with its quaint architecture and scrubs, makes a choice Connecticut scene. the renovation of the rectory basement, this past year, has made it into a comfortable meeting hall with a kitchen.

The over-seeing of these alterations and the additional leadership of growing St. Patrick's Church which, too, was under his care, never took anything away from his devotion to the Holy Mass, his homilies and the personal counseling of the many who needed his spiritual lift.

Father Conlisk, accepting the pastoral leadership of St. Patrick's, will become their first pastor in their 101 years of the church's existence. His quiet yet strong leadership was recognized by his flock at St. Patrick's. Fortunately, the distance between Sacred Heart and St. Patrick's is close, so his faithful parishioners of Sacred Heart while praying for his leadership at St. Patrick's may still catch an occasional glimpse of him.

Now, as of June 12, 1981, we are blessed by Father James Dennis as our pastor. The warmth with which he was greeted at all the masses on June 13th and 14th was a reflection of his genuine pleasure in greeting us. We can understand the regrets expressed by his flock at St. Joseph's in Brookfield with whom he worked for eight years.

Father Dennis has had an extensive background with pastorships in large churches, among them St. Peter's in Danbury and St. Edward the Confessor in New Fairfield. He smilingly stated that he has been a "rolling stone." From our introduction we are more than eager to offer him all the support, efforts and prayers to make his life among us blessed with the finest in Catholic spirit for years and years ahead.

Over the first hundred years, we souls of Sacred heart, those among us today and the many who have preceded us, have indeed been privileged. We have been under the spiritual guidance of truly great priests, each one strong in a unique way, each one blessed in guiding our individual souls and parish home with the love and patience as exemplified by Jesus.

Parish Activities and Organizations

From the small cluster of twelve families in 1881, the Sacred Heart membership has grown to 519 families with new members coming monthly. In addition, there are many from other parishes who come regularly to the services at Sacred Heart.

The program for religious education naturally reflects similar growth. In the first pioneer days of the church, the lone priests offered what education they could with much responsibility carried by the family as was the case, country-wide, before parochial schools were established. We at Sacred Heart never had a large enough number of children to establish a school. As the number of children grew, parents, chiefly mothers, met with groups of children in their homes. Later, the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Wilton coordinated the religious instruction program and assisted the lay catechists.

In the years since the sacred Vatican Council the religious education program has developed under the guidance and leadership of several Directors: Mrs. Beverly Arndt, Mrs. Anne Witterholt, Mrs. Eleanor Rae, Mrs. Mary Zibelli, and presently Sr. Joan Pesce, C.N.D. Our present religious education program has a total of 346 students ranging from first to twelfth grades. Classes meet in various places including the homes. Forty men and women give dedicated service to the parent participation of our young Catholics. An increasing parent participation is a significant part of the method, so ultimately it will become a truly family-life education.

An outstanding feature of our parish life is the work of the students under the volunteer leadership of Mrs. Beverly Ardnt. the presentation of Godspell, each time offered, has been an amazing production of dramatic professionalism. It has been not only a genuine entertainment, but also a spiritual experience for the youth actors and the audience. in addition, these high school youngsters are involved in social actions in the Sacred Heart area.

During the years, various organizations sprouted. At one time a Holy Name Society existed, also a woman's group named the Needlework Guild. they made clothes for the orphans of St. Agnes Home in Hartford. This latter group has continued and today is known as the Ladies Guild. Under the direction of this organization, many social functions occur, through the effort of its members. Many important contributions to the church life have been made. For example, the oriental rug, which adds such an elegant tone to the sanctuary, is one of the many contributions of the Ladies Guild, the cost earned through their variety of group and individual work.

The men today, though not organized, have donated hours of professional work in the renovation of the Pryor-Hubbard Hall, the church and lately, as previously mentioned, the meeting hall beneath the rectory.

Lastly, properly in sequence of time, the Parish Advisory Council was organized as one of the significant influences of the Second Vatican Council. Men, women, and youth are elected by the parish members. They serve in an advisory capacity to the pastor on spiritual and temporal matters and in developing plans for the future direction of the total parish effort.

An adequate description of individual and group activities cannot be made, even if limitless space were available. The self-sacrifice and hours of difficult labor with the zeal that comes only from dedication to our Lord made the impossible at times become a reality. No seemingly slight chore was mundane.

Even the matter of finance has a real halo over it. At the time Father Thaddeus Walsh wrote to the Bishop. "My people are poor," an annual contribution of $6.00 could not be met by some. One Sunday collection totaled sixty-five cents. A great effort was demanded to meet the first debt of $300.00; In furnishing the church "the cheapest vestments were bought". Through the years of continuing growth and effort, Sacred Heart is debt free, no mortgage, absolutely solvent a tribute to those who gave generously of money and hard work.

The Great Step-Ecumenism

Pope John XXIII was termed "an interim Pope". His term did prove brief, but the power of his spiritual efforts continues to grow most gratifyingly. Fortunately for us, Father Cleary seemed to be tuned in on the spiritual waves emanating from Pope John XXIII. Father Cleary, and leaders of the Lutheran Church and Methodist Church met regularly. Interfaith religious services continue to be held during Lent and at other times of the year. Senior Citizen interfaith luncheons are an animated annual occasion. A genuine spiritual love and brotherhood continues to grow at a pace.

Before the overt event of ecumenism, several church affairs such as the annual church musical or "Minstrel show" (where I first heard Father Cleary sing with real gusto) and the summer supper, had a "coming-together-of-all-people" effect. The show was a delightful evening to many from all denominations. Many of the skits are frequently recalled by those who still hope such recreation can be revived. The supper was a gastronomic event for the entire area. Sacred Heart "cooks" have become famed for their gourmet offerings. Members of other churches, many who would not have had any contacts with Sacred Heart came to these events and felt at ease, an essential for the now developing shared religious life.

This seems a fitting time, therefore, for our centennial to occur. We have been blessed with both spiritual and temporal growth-not bounded by any perimeter. May the Lord shine his light on us similarly in the years ahead.


Back to TOP