GAFFNEY — It’s the kind of parish where even the ushers are in shirtsleeves for Sunday Mass. People are familiar with each other, talk to each other’s kids and act generally as if they are one big family.
Of course, “big” is a relative term when talking about Sacred Heart Church. There are 225 registered families and about 400 attend Mass on a given vigil-Sunday Mass weekend. That doesn’t count the 80 or so Hispanics who come to the late Sunday Mass in Spanish.
Still, that’s a long way from parish beginnings, and parishioners talked about that on Oct. 10 when they gathered for dinner to kick off the 50th year of their hometown church.
“We’ve always been a welcoming parish,” said Helen J. Suttle, a founding member of Sacred Heart. “When I came here in 1941, there were cotton fields and watermelon farms. There was nothing even resembling a Catholic presence.”
There had been a chapel, but it was abandoned by the time of World War II. In 1950, Catholics from the surrounding area began congregating to worship in another chapel, this one in the basement of the home of Mary and Vincent Caggiano. They were served by itinerant priests and priests from St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg, 25 miles distant. The first Mass drew 38 worshippers, and the numbers rose steadily from there. Within two years the basement was exceeding its capacity, and the Caggianos led an effort to raise money for a real church.
In June 1954, construction began on the yellow brick neo-Gothic structure that the current pastor, Jesuit Father Louis P. Manuel, called “this beautiful church.” Sacred Heart was dedicated by Bishop John J. Russell on Oct. 9, 1955. It seats 180 in the main worship space, with a cry room and choir loft adding to that. The church has dark wood beams, lush stained glass windows from Germany and hand-carved sacramentals from Italy.
One of the members of the steering committee that oversaw construction was Thomas F. Scott. Scott said that the committee searched the world for an adequate design and finally commissioned a priest-architect from Belmont Abbey in Belmont, N.C. Each brick, Scott said, was pressed individually. Scott, now 91, has lived through 22 administrators and pastors during his time at Sacred Heart, which became a canonical parish in 1981. He has seen some interesting approaches to the universal celebration of the holy Mass, and widely divergent management styles.
“Father (David) Schiller used to take up the collection himself,” said Scott, a retired machinery troubleshooter.
Sacred Heart today is a mixture of young and old, with a growing Hispanic presence. Much of the continuing steady growth of the parish can be attributed to workers coming down from northern states. They are always impressed by the family nature of the parish.
“Everyone here is very friendly, and the mothers make the children behave in church. It’s a comfortable place,” said Aleta Yonkoske, a member for nine years.
Parish secretary Mary C. Charbonneau, herself a nine-year veteran of Sacred Heart, said that parish rolls have doubled in the past decade. Because of that continuing growth, the basement parish hall has become too small for events.
At the Mass opening the 50th year of the parish, Father Manuel thanked God for the blessings showered on the parish community and asked God to grant the next step in its history, a $700,000 parish hall building venture that is already 70 percent funded by parishioners.
“May the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who began this parish project in Gaffney, continue to bless his people,” the priest said.