History of Sacred Heart Parish and Churches
After the City of Vineland was founded by Charles K. Landis in 1861, many of the first settlers who moved into the area were Catholics. They were first visited by Father Gessner pastor of St. Mary Magdalen in Millville in 1864 and Mass was occasionally celebrated by him until 1868 when divine services were held once a month. Mass was said in private homes or in an upper room of the Pennsylvania Depot at Landis Avenue & the Boulevard. Many of those first settlers were Italian farmers who helped to make Vineland an Industrial center, thus attracting people from New York and Philadelphia, a number of whom were also Catholic. Vineland, Bridgeton, Malaga, Egg Harbor and Cape May were the mission of St. Mary Magdalen but the growing number of Catholics in Vineland wanted their own parish. After Fr. Gessner left the area, Fr. Vivet was assigned to Vineland and, assisted by Mr. John Cummings and Mr. Edward Dennery, petitioned Bishop Michael Corrigan of the diocese of Newark, to establish a parish in Vineland. The By-laws were drawn up and The Parish of Sacred Heart was declared on June 19, 1874. When word reached Mr. Landis that Father Vivet and the trustees were looking for land to build a church, he offered them the lots at Eighth and Quince Streets as it was close to town. The parishioners cleared the land and donated labor and money to build the church working throughout the summer using stones found in the immediate area. The church was roofed by Christmas and although the interior was still not completed and, with only a small stove to supply the heat, the first Mass was celebrated in Sacred Heart Church on Christmas Day, 1874.
Three 16th & 17th Century paintings were donated to the new church by Vineland founder Charles K. Landis. They were “Christ at the Pillar”, “The Flight into Egypt” and “The Crucifixion.” Other donations given to the church were statues of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and St. Anthony. The whereabouts of these items is unknown.
Happy to be in their new church, the parishioners of Sacred Heart endured the cold winter of 1875 with only a small stove to supply the heat, which the children gathered around while the elders sat farther away in the cold. By spring, the plastering was done which helped to seal out some of the cold. It took until 1879 for a hot air heater to be installed. Father Vivet, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, kept an itemized account of all expenditures and quoted that the total cost of the church was $2,947.80 as of January 1875, and paid in full by May 1, 1879.
Later the Diocese of Trenton was established, and Bishop Michael O’Farrell was assigned. The First Musical Concert ever to be held in Vineland took place in the Cosmopolitan Hall by the Choir and Friends of Sacred Heart on June 12, 1876.
Father William Dwyer was named pastor of Sacred Heart and served from 1879 to 1881. During his term, a new Sacristy was built on to the church and a little church in North Vineland was purchased.
In 1881, Bishop McFaul gave Sacred Heart to the charge of the Fathers of Mercy with Father McTague as pastor assisted by his curate Father Weist. They resided at the College of Sacred Heart of the Fathers of Mercy on North West Boulevard, which later became the Soldiers Home. Eventually, the pastor purchased a home on the corner of East and Montrose St. as a temporary rectory. Additional properties were purchased at 8th and Quince Streets and a new rectory was built but was used by the Sisters of Charity as a convent and school.
Several church societies were formed in 1882: The Children of Mary, Sacred Heart Society, St. Aloyius Society and the Altar Society. The first parish mission was given by Rev. Buckholtz, S.J. of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1897, the census shows that the parish consisted of 80 men, 120 women and 150 children. Of these, 4 were natives from Poland, 6 from Germany, 40 from Ireland, 100 from Italy and 200 from America. A mission church was built in East Vineland for the Italians who settled there with Father Pozzi as pastor. On June 18, 1899, the church celebrated its silver jubilee with Bishop McFaul in attendance. He took this occasion to administer confirmation to 22 girls and 18 boys. Many of the original settlers in Vineland were English, Irish, Scotch, German, Italian and French.
Just as we are experiencing today, it was difficult to keep up with repairs to the church buildings. By 1908, the church was in such bad condition that it was necessary to repair it immediately. The plaster was so loose that on one Sunday morning, while the pastor Father Rudden was saying Mass, a large piece of plaster fell into the Sanctuary, barely missing him. It was replaced with a metal ceiling that remains in the “little church” today. The old wood floor was replaced and new pews were installed. The outside walls had large crevices that were repaired, a new cross was erected on the roof and an iron rail around the church was installed. Cement steps and a walk were added and the interior of the Rectory was altered and rearranged.
When Msgr. Aloysius Pozzi arrived as pastor in August, 1912, he found the parish in considerable debt. His solution was to have the people personally interested in the indebtedness give the money and pay them interest at 3 per cent, the same as they would get at the bank. The plan was a success. Within a year, the pledges were paid in full. And for the first time in its almost 40 year history, Sacred Heart Church was free of debt. In 1916, Msgr Pozzi purchased ground at the corner of Landis Avenue and Myrtle Street.
With the financial condition of Sacred Heart Parish in order, its pastor, Monsignor Pozzi directed his efforts to increasing the spirituality of the parishioners by establishing men’s and women’s societies. The men’s “Holy Name Society” attained a membership of 70 within the first year. They received Communion in a Body every three months and held its meetings each month in the society’s headquarters at Palace Hall.
The “Ladies’ Sodality of the Sacred Heart Parish,” which had disbanded in 1882, was successfully reestablished. The ladies held monthly meetings and assisted the parish in every way possible especially with fundraising projects. Both a “Junior Holy Name Society” and a “Young Ladies’ Sodality” were organized to encourage the young people to be more involved in the church. Later St. Rita’s Society and the St. Vincent DePaul Society were established. All organizations received Communion in a Body once a month. Names of members of these societies are familiar to us today: Albert and Francis Doerr, Peter Haughey, Joseph & Albert Zambone, Sal. D’Ippolito, Sam and Anthony Festa, Frank Luisi, Thomas Pagano, Charles Castellini, G. Maggioncalda, Martin Van Hook, Jon Fabbri, John Sehl, Mr DeLuca, Mr Monahan,N. Cornigliaro, Mrs. Schneider, Mrs Becker, Mrs A. Caterina, Mrs. B. Rossi, Mrs. Berault, Mrs. Fiori, Julia and Amelia Morello, Gertrude Sehl, Dolores Berault, Katherine Rossi, Regina Doerr just to name a few.
On Sunday, October 20, 1912, Forty Hours was held for the first time, closing on the following Tuesday evening. During that time, over four hundred parishioners received Holy Communion. Sacred Heart Church also had charge of two institutions, the Soldier’s Home and the State School where Mass was celebrated each month. To this day, our priests provide for the needs of the residents of both institutions.
With the number of Catholics increasing in Vineland, Msgr. Pozzi had one dream in mind, to build a larger church and that it should be located toward the center of the now-growing town. So in 1916, after consultation with the Bishop and lay trustees, he purchased a plot of ground at the corner of Landis Avenue and Myrtle Street. However, because of failing health he was not able to see that dream come true. In June, 1919, he was transferred to a smaller parish in Sea Isle City that would allow him to enjoy more rest and less responsibility. A truly holy man, he wrote this thought in the church history, “Let us strive to please God and to give Him Glory and let us always have before our eyes the salvation of our souls, and all the rest will be added unto us.”
The beginning of Catholic School Education in the Community
On July 2, 1919, Rev. James Bulfin was assigned as the new pastor of Sacred Heart Church.
As the year began, Father Bulfin had one thought in mind, building a new, bigger church. He consulted Bishop Thomas J. Walsh about his idea, but Bishop Walsh felt keenly about the importance of religious training. His program was:
“School first – Church second. He frequently said…”Without religious training, our youth and our schools and churches will soon be empty and then in a few years, there will be no need for Churches.”
A compromise was made and the decision to build a combined church and school was approved. On July 7, 1920, a resolution was drawn and passed that the new church and school be erected on the corner of Landis Avenue and Myrtle Street at a cost of $73,400.00 signed by Bishop Walsh and two lay trustees, M. F. Monahan and George Koch. Work began immediately and the cornerstone was laid in August.
In May, 1921, the building was completed and dedicated. “Never before in the history of Vineland was there such a large gathering of Catholics. Men, women, boys and girls, proud and happy paraded the streets of the City.”
In September, 1921, with great excitement, Father Bulfin, and parishioners welcomed the arrival of five Sisters of St. Joseph to staff the school. They were: Mother Albertino, Sister Mary Edmond, Sister Grace Stanislaus, Sister Theresa Carmel and Sister M. Barnabas. A few days later, the doors of the school were opened with a first enrollment of 235 students. School was conducted during the week and Masses held on weekends for Sacred Heart parishioners.
By 1924, Sacred Heart School enrollment had increased to 375 and Sister Cecilia Francis and Sister Rita Amos were added to the staff. With the growth of the school and plans for a future high school, it became obvious that the parish needed a separate church. Thanks to the generosity, sacrifice and dedication of the people of Vineland, the beautiful church we worship in today was completed and dedicated on September 2, 1927 by Bishop Thomas J. Walsh.
The day began with the largest gathering of Catholics in the history of Vineland when many parishioners from the neighboring parishes of East Vineland, New Italy, Landisville, Malaga, Rosenhayn and other towns attended the ceremonies and inspected the new church. The parade down Landis Avenue preceding the dedication was planned and organized by Mr. Gasper O. D’Ippolito who also served as parade marshal. Participants in the parade consisted of numerous church organizations and parishioners led by the Catholic Boy Scouts Band. Mass was concelebrated by Sacred Heart pastor, Rev. James Bulfin and his assistants, Rev. Joseph Fritz and Rev. Vincent Fucci. The homilist was Rev. Father McFadden, S.J., attached to the Jesuit Missionary of St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia. The church choir of 30 voices was under the direction of
Mr. F. Webster George.
Quoting a section of the church history, “The new edifice, seating nine hundred people, was a stone structure with its majestic tower rising heavenward which rises 140 feet above the tree lined pavement of Landis Avenue and Myrtle Street, open to view for miles around and silently proclaiming an invitation to heed the Master’s call, “Come, follow Me.” It is considered one of, if not, the tallest building in the City of Vineland today.
Eight days after the dedication of Sacred Heart Church on September 2, 1927, work was begun to provide classrooms for the new high school. With just one room completed, Sacred Heart High School welcomed its first freshman class comprised of 25 students. And, with books on their knees and sitting on church pews, they began the next phase of their Catholic education. Using the same gray stone as the church, an extension was built on the front of the grammar school three stories high consisting of freshman, sophomore, junior and senior classes and science labs. It was a unique experience in that, students from first grade through twelfth grade (and later pre-school), taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph, were educated in one building for the next twenty six years.
The great expansion of the church and school carried a heavy financial burden on the parish, a figure that exceeded two hundred thousand dollars. But there was every indication that the debt was not insurmountable. That is, until the depression hit in 1929. By 1934, with such a burden and in failing health, the pastor, now Monsignor Bulfin, requested he be relieved of his duties for the best interest of the parish. He built wisely and well and left behind a great legacy to the Catholics in the City of Vineland.
Thus began 95 years of Catholic Education that continues to this day.
After the transfer of Msgr. Bulfin in 1934, the Most Rev. Moses E. Kiley, S.T.D., Bishop of Trenton, chose Rev. Francis H. Jackson as the new pastor for Sacred Heart Church. He was young, affable, and full of energy and immediately set himself to the tasks confronting him. Economic conditions were bad and parishioners were out of work or in fear of losing their jobs. It was a great struggle but the people had great faith that better times were ahead.
“The parish, one of the largest in the area had many units; namely, church, school, rectory, convent, cemetery and the revered old church. The erection of the new main altar, made possible through donations of a small group; the installation of the altar rail in memory of the donor, Miss Susan Dennery, were the first steps of progress towards the beautification of the new church.”
In 1937, great sadness struck the parish. In August of that year, Father Jackson was stricken and passed away. “The eyes that beamed with cheerfulness closed, the lips that spoke hopefully of the future were silenced, the mind that conceived plans was not to see their fruition.” In his short term as pastor, he endeared himself to the people of the community – Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
Appointed by Bishop Kiley, the Rev. William J. Hickey, S.T.D. arrived in September, 1937 as the new pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, a position he would hold for the next twenty five years. With determination, he began guiding the parish out of its huge debt and through World War II with over 1000 parishioners gone to serve in the Military.
With the end of World War II and so many difficult years behind it, Sacred Heart Parish was able to enjoy a period of solvency. Concerned about the safety of the children in Sacred Heart School, Father Hickey purchased two properties on Myrtle Street to provide recreation area for the students and more parking spaces for the parishioners. In 1947, he renovated the interior of the church with acousti-celotex tiles at a cost of $25,000.00 and a stained-glass window, donated by parishioners, was dedicated to those who died in the war, “so that the record of their glorious deeds may not pass from our minds.” said Father Hickey. That same year, Father Hickey was named Papal Chamberlain with the title of Monsignor by the Holy Father and Mr. Dane Barse, one of the parish’s greatest benefactors was made a Knight of St. Gregory.
In 1949, the priests and faithful parishioners celebrated two great events, the Diamond Jubilee of the parish and the 25th Anniversary of Msgr. Hickey’s ordination to the priesthood. A quote from the 75th Anniversary booklet reads, “And, now, the future lies ahead. We cannot rest our oars in going forward, nor can we bask in the sunshine of the past, much remains to be done – the Convent, additional school space, the youth center. These will test our perseverance. May we ever march on united in our efforts, determined to do our best, leave to our successors the fruit of our zeal, and ask for ourselves only the blessing of Our Divine Savior.”
A larger convent was needed to accommodate the increased teaching staff of the Sisters of St. Joseph. A two-story brick building, dedicated on October 21, 1951, was built on the corner of Eighth and Quince Streets that housed 22 sisters and included a chapel and community room, a large kitchen, dining area and sleeping quarters.
The old convent located between the Sacred Heart Chapel and the new convent was later turned over to the Diocese of Camden and used as offices to administer to the growing Spanish Community. In 1961 it was officially incorporated as the Spanish Catholic Center.
Music has always been a major part of church liturgy. Beginning with the first Church Grand Concert of Vocal and Instrumental music on June 12, 1876 conducted by Dr. Erith to today’s adult choir conducted by Professor Salvatore Scarpa, Sacred Heart has been regarded as one of the most outstanding contributors of Sacred Music in the community. In 1970, Miss Catherine Cresci was honored for her 50 years as church organist. For many years, youth choirs were under the direction of Sister Anita Gertrude of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In 1971, Mrs. Alice Robinson organized an adult choir that she directed for the next 25 years. Later, a children’s choir was organized by parish music director and church organist Mrs Christine Scarpa. For several years, the carillons in the church tower were unusable. In 1996, a new electronic system was installed donated by the Scarpa family in memory of their parents Edith and Frank Scarpa. The chimes announce the start of Mass and sacred music is played at scheduled times each weekday and Sundays.
In the next twenty years, Sacred Heart Parish experienced great milestones and expansion. In 1974, the parish observed its centennial with a yearlong celebration. It was highlighted by a four- day retreat given by the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a Youth Day, a Festival of Music Concert, a Big Band Dance featuring Harry James and Orchestra, an open house and informal dance party. Numerous buildings were purchased and renovated; the “Halpin House” and the cable building for the high school, the former “Elite Sweet Shop” and two other stores for Kindergarten and Pre-K, a house on Myrtle Street for the “after school program,” extensive repairs to the rectory and the D’Ippolito house on Landis Avenue and Myrtle Street donated to the church by the daughters of Mr. & Mrs. Edward D’Ippolito.
Sacred Heart Grammar School was regionalized and renamed Sacred Heart/St. Isidore’s Regional Grammar School. An elevator was installed in the rear of the church and restrooms in the foyer and church hall to accommodate the handicapped, parishioners and visitors. All this was accomplished through major capital campaigns, raffles (approximately 35), weekly bingos, chicken barbecues, pasta dinners, the famous Sacred Heart Smorgasbord, the Centennial Cook Book and the hard work and generosity of all the parishioners and numerous businesses in the community.
In the 1970’s Msgr. Stoerlein commissioned the remodeling of the Chapel in the Sacred Heart Convent. Under the guidance of associate pastor Fr. Salvatore DeIelse and donations from parishioners, new carpeting was installed and woodwork was completed. All the woodwork on the altar and podium was handcrafted by parishioner Matthew Jordan, a carpenter and cabinet maker.
In 1999, Sacred Heart Parish celebrated its 125th Anniversary with several activities throughout the year and concluded with a concelebrated Mass, Choir Concert, open house and a display of all parish organizations and activities. The Michael Family donated a new Baptismal Fond in memory of Dom Michael in honor of the 125th Anniversary.
In June, 1999, Msgr. Joseph G. Stoerlein celebrated his 50th Anniversary to the priesthood and his retirement as pastor of Sacred Heart Church, a position he held for 32 years, the longest of any pastor in the history of the parish. He is credited with great accomplishments in the parish as well as his contributions to the Diocese of Camden and the City of Vineland. He served as Dean of Cumberland County and on numerous Diocesan Committees and was named Pastor Emeritus of Sacred Heart Parish by Bishop James McHugh upon his retirement.
The parish welcomed Rev. Patsy C. Amabile, Jr. as its new pastor. With a grammar and high school as part of his responsibility, his experience as pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish and schools in Hammonton helped him to adjust to the tasks ahead of him at Sacred Heart. It was eased when Sacred Heart High School was reclassified as a diocesan high school. He is working closely with the Pastoral Council and parishioners to increase the spirituality of the parish and provide more family oriented programs such as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament which is held every Sunday afternoon and Monday from 8:30am to 3pm and a Parish picnic in June to bring families closer together. A Polish Mass was started by Associate Pastor Father Pawl Kryszkiewicz and is celebrated on the second Sunday of each month.
For 79 years, the Sisters of St. Joseph faithfully taught the students in Sacred Heart Schools. That ended in the year 2000 when Sister Bernadette Mary Leahy became the last sister of her order to be associated with Sacred Heart. The Sister of St. Joseph Convent that once housed 22 sisters was later established as the John Paul II Retreat Center under the direction of Msgr. Victor Muro.
The Spanish Catholic Center had grown extensively over the years and in 2001 was officially established as the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish with Msgr. Victor Muro as Pastor/Director. He has been director of the Spanish Center for the past 17 years. A church/hall was built to accommodate the increased number of Spanish speaking Catholics in the community.
At the direction of the Camden Diocese, St. Francis of Assisi Parish and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish were merged to create the Divine Mercy Parish with Msgr. Victor Muro as pastor.
Much has changed in our parish in the past seven years causing a considerable financial burden on the parishioners. The magnificent church tower needed repairs due to structural damage. The front steps were replaced to correct water leakage into the church basement and interior and exterior work was done on the stately Tudor style rectory. A fire that was started by an unknown source caused considerable damage in the church lavatory. It took several months to clean the smoke and soot from the walls, heater and air conditioner vents. The church organ, consisting of one hundred and seventeen pipes, was dismantled and cleaned by the same company that installed the organ when the church was built.
For several years, the church roof had been a problem with leaks that caused damage to the interior ceiling and walls. Efforts to patch or repair them were unsuccessful. Finally, in 2009, Sacred Heart’s new pastor Msgr. John H. Burton authorized the replacement of the church roofs. The unique slate tiles so familiar to everyone for 82 years were gone. The new look was well chosen to keep within the style and grace of this iconic structure.
There are other needed repairs to be done such as interior walls and ceilings to be cleaned, painted and restored, repair and resetting of the original stained glass windows and the air conditioning, heating and ventilation systems to be upgraded.