Founded by Polish Immigrants
This parish owes its origins to the settlement of Polish immigrants in the Southwest part of Grand Rapids in the late 1800s, many of whom worked in the local gypsum mines. It was the third such Polish speaking community of faith in the city. The founding parish priest Father Ladislaus Krakowski, along with his fledgling community, were a courageous and creative lot. A sign of life and vitality in any parish is indicated by the sacrament of Baptism. The first baptisms took place in June 1904.
The School Opens
It was on Thanksgiving Day in 1904 when Bishop Joseph Richter presided over the dedication of the school, convent and church complex on Valley Avenue. Shortly, School Sisters of Notre Dame of Milwaukee arrived to staff the school, which opened in January 1905 with 7 grades. The priest’s house was competed in February 1906 and a new expanded convent was opened in December 1908. Because of the growth and development in that side of the city, “running out of room” was the order of the day. The school had to be expanded in 1918. By 1921 there were 650 children enrolled in the school. With 800 children in 1925, an addition was made to the school again with a “bungalow” structure which would serve until the late 1950s.
Building Our Future
In 1920 a new church building was started. The first Mass was celebrated in the basement in January 1921 and on Christmas Eve 1923 the first Mass was celebrated on the main floor of the structure. Despite the Depression, which began in 1929, the parish grew and great sacrifices were undertaken to pay off the new church building, built in the style of the Major Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls in Rome. No new construction was undertaken until the “Bungalow School” was replaced by a two-story brick and glass building in 1959. The old school building on Valley Ave. was turned into a gymnasium the same year. All of this brick and mortar growth was made possible by the efforts and financial sacrifices of the parish populace. As the years have rolled on, the complexion of the parish changed. The older generations have yielded their leadership to the new ones, who knew more of the New World than the Old. Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish today is a diverse community of faith and culture, but unified in a more traditional approach to liturgy and social practice. The commitment to Gospel values, and the expression of same, is as vibrant was it was when the parish first started.
The School is Re-founded as Sacred Heart Academy
In early 2013, shortly after the appointment of Father Robert Sirico as Pastor of Sacred Heart, the Bishop and Diocesan Schools Superintendent approached Father Sirico to discuss the dire situation with the parish school, and suggested that things were so bad he should consider closing the school. Enrollment in the school was declining, even after a boost from some nearby Catholic schools that had closed just a few years before. There were many reasons for the decline, but perhaps one of the most significant problems was a decline in the Catholic identity of the school, reflected most strongly by the fact that there were a high percentage of strong faith-filled parish families that were not interested in being a part of the school.
After much debate, some “town hall” meetings, and some creative thinking, Father Sirico approved a plan to refound the school as a Catholic classical school, Sacred Heart Academy. One of the first changes made was to begin each school day with Mass. From this renewal of the sacramental life of the school has flowed many graces, including the growth of the school by 245% during the first full year with its changed curricular program in 2014-15. In 2016-17, Sacred Heart Academy led the Diocese in growth for a third consecutive year, growing by an additional 15%. As of April 2017, confirmed enrollment for 2017-18 projects at least 5% and based on summer enrollment trends, this could easily rise above 10% as the new year approaches.
In light of our meteoric success, our Bishop authorized Sacred Heart Academy to begin full-time high school programming in 2015-16. We started with our first class of 9th grade students in September 2015 and we planned to build out the high school one year at a time through the 2018-19 school year.
Sacred Heart Today
Today the Academy is educating 317 students, will be graduating it’s first Senior class in the Spring of 2019 and has added a classical kindergarten class. In fact, the senior class average on the CLT (Classical Learning Test) earned a #1 ranking in the nation in October of 2018. The parish, meanwhile is about to enjoy a newly renovated parish hall and a much anticipated elevator so that parishioners will no longer be required to take the stairs for parish events. We’ve also just started up a new Society of St. Vincent de Paul group. The passion for Christ and serving God is ever present at Sacred Heart and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. We are truly blessed.