In June of 1889, Jeannette, a community formed around the glass plants that were being built nearby, was incorporated as a borough. Jeannette’s population rapidly grew to around 34,000, as people settled in the area seeking work at the factories.
Later that year, 100 Catholic families appealed to Bishop John Phelan of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for a priest. The bishop contacted the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, asking that they supply a spiritual leader. Benedictine Father Timothy Blasius was sent to administer the fledgling mission. Shortly thereafter, The Benedictine Father Severin Lauferberg became the first permanent pastor.
On November 17, 1889, he celebrated the parish’s first Mass in an unpainted, tar-papered building, which was used as a blacksmith’s shop, in an alley near the corner of Clay Avenue and South Seventh Street. Umbrellas had to be held over the priest and the organist during Mass at the building.
Father Severin’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament prompted him to name the parish Sacred Heart. In 1890, Father Severin, proposed erecting a building at the corner of North Seventh Street. The land purchased from the Westmoreland Improvement Company for $2,016 also faced Patton and Cowan Avenues. A two-story building was erected on the site at a cost of $3,180. The bottom floor was used as a school and a rectory while church services were held on the second floor.
The next year, the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh were summoned to oversee the school. Classes began in the fall of 1891 with 90 students.
The growth of the parish community necessitated the remodeling and enlargement of the church and the construction of a new school building in 1893, at a combined cost of approximately $13,000. The persistent growth of the school necessitated the addition of a second floor, begun in 1900 and completed in 1904.
Also, in 1904, Sacred Heart initiated a building fund, with the goal being the building of a new church. Funds for the project were acquire over the course of 17 years and four pastors. Finally, in 1921, Bishop Hugh Boyle of the Diocese of Pittsburgh gave his permission to the Benedictine Father Callistus Stehle to move forward with plans to ballet the new church.
After two years, during which time several surveys and proposals were rejected and revised, Pittsburgh’s Edward Wehr was chosen to build the church, based on the architectural design of Carlton Strong, at a proposed cost of $167,785. A ground-breaking ceremony was held on Holy Thursday, March 29, 1923. The cornerstone was laid by Bishop Boyle, and among the guests in attendance was the Archabbot Aurelius Stehle and brother of Sacred Heart’s pastor.
The new church was constructed in an English Gothic style of sandstone quarried in Beaver County. The stained-glass windows were created by the Hunt Stained Glass Studio in Pittsburgh, at the urging of Father Callistus, and donated by parishioners and the parish’s societies. The Station of the Cross are wooden carvings designed by the Oberammergau Passion Players of Bavaria, Germany.
The new church was formally dedicated July 20, 1924, with Bishop Boyle officiating the blessing ceremony and Holy Mass of Dedication. The old church became a social center and banquet hall. On the day of the dedication, Helen Catherine Hurley, Evelyn Elizabeth Larch and Bernard Joseph Lucas were the first to be baptized in the new church. Three days later, Anthony Petrilli and Lilia Santy were joined in the first wedding at the new church.
Two decades, a depression and another world war would pass before any new building projects were undertaken. In 1950, after 59 years staffing the parish school, preparations began for the construction of a convent building to house the Benedictine Sisters. The convent was completed and formally blessed on October 7, 1951, by the Archabbot Denis Strittmatter of Saint Vincent Archabbey, who had served Sacred Heart Parish as an associate 23 years earlier.
During the 1950s, a two-story annex was added to the school building, increasing the number of classrooms, and a remodeling of the oldest part of the building modernized that section. But the Baby Boom that followed the Second World War resulted in more than 1,000 children crowding into the over 60 year old building. The parish, under the direction of its pastor, the Benedictine Father Benno Brink petitioned Bishop Hugh Lamb of the recently established Diocese of Greensburg to permit construction of a new school.
Bishop Lamb’s successor, Bishop William G. Connare,came to Sacred Heart, August 22, 1960, to bless the new building’s cornerstone. He returned one year later to dedicate and formally open the new school.
Father Benno was succeeded by the Benedictine Father Lucian Malich, who was succeeded in 1969 by the Benedictine Father Marcian Kornides. Father Marcian arrived as plans were being developed for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the church.
In advance of the observance in 1974, the church was given a makeover. Interior and exterior walls were sandblasted, plaster walls were painted, and the stained-glass windows were repaired and resealed. In addition, new asphalt tile flooring was installed, the pews reconditioned, old kneelers replaced, the pipe organ restored, the sanctuary area finally renovated, and the breezeway connecting the church to the school enclosed. Bishop Connare and Archabbot Egbert Donovan presided over a concelebrated Mass, July 28, 1974, in recognition of the church’s golden anniversary.
The church subsequently received a new organ, purchased in 1975 from the Church of the Redeemer in Pittsburgh, for $3,000. It was first used on the Saturday before Easter, 1976, although it was not formally completed and blessed until December 19, 1976.
Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, the aging church has been the recipient of constant upkeep and maintenance. Waterproofing was done and a new gas fired boiler installed. Ongoing repairs to the stained glass windows included the installation of protective storm window coverings. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the parish in 1989, under the guidance of pastor, Benedictine Father Gilbert Burke, the interior of the church received a makeover to brighten its appearance.
In more recent years, the church bells, which had been silent for too long were put back into service by the efforts of members of the Holy Name Society, who were also responsible for redesigning and remodeling the confessionals.
The area around the church building like its interior, has also seen dramatic change. The old school was demolished to add parking space and the convent no longer houses the Benedictine Sisters. The last classes at Sacred Heart School were held during the 1994-95 school year, with a commemorative Mass being held June 4, 1995, to honor the 105 year history of students, teachers and families who had dedicated themselves to Catholic education at Sacred Heart.
The school building was the site of the Sister Veronica Learning Center Day Care, and preschool classes of the Westmoreland County Intermediate Unit, both of which have now been relocated. Because of the sudden closing of Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School in North Huntingdon due to structural problems, the Sacred Heart building temporarily hosted the Queen of Angels students beginning in the fall of 1999. The school building is currently used by Jeannette Early Care and Education Center and Brightside Academy.
Benedictine Father Leon Hont was named pastor in 2003, replacing Benedictine Father William Beaver. In 2008, Bishop Emeritus Lawrence E. Brandt partnered the parishes of Ascension and Sacred Heart Churches and named Father John Foriska as pastor of Sacred Heart. This assignment effectively ended the long and outstanding leadership that the Benedictine monks of Saint Vincent Archabbey had provided to the Sacred Heart community since 1889, almost 120 years.
Father Paul Lisik was then appointed as pastor in 2013, along with being appointed as administrator of Ascension Parish. During his time in Jeannette, Father Paul was instrumental in the celebration of Sacred Heart’s 125th Anniversary in 2014. To assist Father Paul with his duties at both parishes, Deacon Bill Newhouse, a permanet deacon of the Diocese of Greensburg, was assigned in 2015.
Father Paul served as pastor until 2019, when Father Michael Sikon was named pastor of Ascension and Sacred Heart Churches in Jeannette, while still remaining pastor of St. Barbara Church in nearby Harrison City. In addition, Father Alvin Alberion, an international priest from the Phillipines, was also named as parochial vicar.
Throughout the changes to the parish and the community, the massive growth in the first half of the 20th century, to the reduction of the population in recent years, Sacred Heart parish has endured. The people of Sacred Heart have been dedicated to their parish for over 130 years, and their continued devotion to it, will see that its legacy of serving God and neighbor remains.