Sacred Heart Church on Hamilton Mountain overlooking Hamilton, Ont. The parish is marking its 100th anniversary. Photo courtesy Sacred Heart Parish

Century-old Hamilton parish vibrant, resilient

  • May 28, 2022

On June 5, Pentecost Sunday, Bishop Douglas Crosby will celebrate the 100th anniversary Mass for Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish overlooking Hamilton, Ont., from Hamilton Mountain.       

Fr. Charlie Jordan considers it fitting that this landmark occurs on the date Jesus’ disciples were charged to launch the Church.

“It is a very suitable feast to have the anniversary because we are celebrating 100 years of parish life in which the Holy Spirit has led our church and been present to our parish through those years,” said Jordan. “I like that connection.”

Gus Hubbard, chair of the parish’s 100th anniversary committee alongside his wife, Aldona, adds “it is nice that the Mass is taking place during the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

In truth, the centenary year was 1921, but the pandemic bumped celebrations to 2022. 

At its inception, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish on Mountain Park Avenue was a small, white-frame building accommodating up to 150 people. The building was already dedicated as Chapel of the Sacred Heart nearly a decade earlier in 1912, but a budding Catholic population on Hamilton Mountain transformed the place of worship into a fully-fledged parish.

Bishop Thomas Dowling decreed in a letter to Fr. James Kirby that he would be the inaugural pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and he should “take charge of the same not later than Sunday, the 18th of September 1921.”

Parish historians recorded the first wedding in Sacred Heart history on June 2, 1921 with Thomas Bull and Catherine Fitzgerald. On Nov. 20, 1921, Mary Margaret Hamilton was the first baby baptized in the new parish.

Forty families, mostly of Irish descent, constituted the founding congregation. Now, Sacred Heart, branded as a “community with a heart,” features a diverse, active collective of parishioners.

“We have a very kind, caring and collaborative Catholic community,” said Aldona, who married her husband at Sacred Heart in 1978. “I think people show a lot of mercy and compassion for others, we have outreach for people in need of support and active volunteer groups. And we are a great example of what Canadian society is like, a blend of many people.”

Gus, as a member of the Sacred Heart community since the 1950s, is perhaps best equipped to articulate why the first house of worship on Hamilton Mountain has such enduring staying power after a century. He said the “vibrancy and resiliency” of the people keeps this parish marching forward.

Gus considers the 1960s “the heyday” for Sacred Heart, then the only Catholic church on Hamilton Mountain. That decade was defined as a decade of radical societal change and religious upheaval because of Vatican II.

“I recall the rectory had as many as four priests at a time, and the pastor at the time was Msgr. James Ryan,” he said. “We had four Masses on Sunday and we had two morning Masses each day. The overall growth in the area was phenomenal at the time.”

Gus credits the stable, long-term presence of Ryan as a key driver of Sacred Heart’s decades of growth. Ryan oversaw construction of the modern church, the introduction of English liturgies and instituting the parish’s Holy Name Society and Catholic Women’s League chapter.

Declining attendance in the new millennium compelled the Diocese of Hamilton to assign Fr. Michael McHugh as pastor of both Sacred Heart and Holy Family Parish in 2006. When Jordan began his term in 2016, he was tasked to shepherd Sacred Heart and Blessed Sacrament Parish.

Each twinned parish hosts one weekend celebration and two weekday liturgies per week. It is an arrangement that works effectively, said Jordan.

“There is such an openness to the idea from the people that things change over the years. They have gone from a parish with three priests living there to down to one shared with another parish.”

The celebrations launched with a special Mass last year on Sept. 13. Since then, Sacred Heart hosted a soup fest and anniversary cake celebration, installed a Knights of Columbus plaque honouring the unborn, beautified the grounds with a gardening project, compiled A Century of Cooking and Baking cookbook, wrote a specialized prayer and published a history booklet.

An anniversary brunch at the Michelangelo Banquet Centre follows the June 5 Mass with Crosby featuring speeches and a picture slideshow of the parish throughout its history.

A time capsule filled with noteworthy 100th anniversary items will be buried in June or July.

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