Holy Family Parish
The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
In August of 1871 in Union Hall in the Bowery section of Central Falls, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish held its first service. A weekly Visitor article in 1873 described the church this way:
"The front of he church, which is on Park Street, will be ornamented with five large windows, graduating in size, as before stated, of stained glass monograms and figures in stationary lead sash. At the left corner will be a square tower, buttressed, reaching above the level of the building surmounted with an octagon tower resting on a brooch, and on this last tower will rest a gothic spire, octagon in shape, with gothic spire lights and crockets. The spire will be surmounted with a cross, the top of which will be 125 feet from the ground."
Rev. James L. Smith was the first pastor, but stayed only two years and was succeeded by Rev. Michael Fitzgerald.
A great deal of building occurred in those early decades, with a rectory, convent and school adjoining the original wooden church. In 1913, Rev. Louis Deady followed a trend of those times and made the church more permanent by bricking it over - veneering as it was called. Other area churches - St. Joseph, St. Patrick and St. Margaret were also veneered. A 100-year history celebrating the parish jubilee reported "the spire of the church was rebuilt and made firm for the interest is incorporated in the brickwork of the transepts, forming crosses within each the idea being to recall the three crosses of Calvary."
On January 18, 1953, a fire reportedly started by faulty wiring destroyed Sacred Heart Church. Ed Broadmeadow and his son Joseph, Irene Fallon, Frank Conlon and John Hathaway helped Rev. John Flanagan rescue various sacred articles. John Acheson also helped, only ten hours after watching two of his grandchildren baptized in the church.
Church parishioners Catherine Carter, Ann Parkinson, Theresa Acheson and Cathy Childs lived in the neighborhood at the time and remember how devastated everyone was...People viewed the ruins and cried. "The fire was a sad, sad thing," Ann Parkinson recalls, "like losing your home." Gloria Kanakry (Duffy at the time) remembers hearing the news at work. She called Sam, her fiance, who lived just down the street from the church. He had not yet heard, but a while later he called back to confirm the bad news that the church where they were scheduled to be wed was in ashes. They were married at St. Basil's Syrian Melkite church nearby, with a Catholic priest performing the ceremony.
Everyone rallied to rebuild Sacred Heart and attended Mass at Tolman High School Auditorium in the interim. Rev. Robert Cassidy spearheaded the drive to rebuild and modernize the church. The May 13, 1955, Pawtucket Times reported that the church "incorporates the best features of contemporary styling construction and ornamentation. Its severe exterior lines are broken in front by a massive statue of the Sacred Heart set in a niche above the main entrance. Among the many features of the church proper are the new-type stations of the cross and glass block windows. Instead of customary tablets, the stations are designed as a frieze around the wall, painted in gold on a black background. The glass block windows, largest of their kind in the country, are highly decorate and allow more light into the church."
Father Cassidy adroitly hurdled Bishop Russell McVinney's reported opposition to air conditioning by arranging to have windows that didn't open. In those less environmentally conscious days, there was little concern about electrical or oil costs and the building was designed to have the heat or air conditioning on at all times.