Sacred Heart Church

History of Sacred Heart Parish

The year was 1890. The Pennsylvania Railroad was an algamation of 73 smaller companies and boasted some five thousands miles of rail. The mechanization and expansion of the factory system had increased at a breathtaking pace over the previous decade. The United States, which was born in the country, had moved to the city. Rural decline was great in the North Atlantic states, where half the urban population dwelled.

The new immigration was largely Catholic, working class, and urban, making the American Catholic Church more than ever the church of the city, the worker, and the immigrant. And the Most Reverend Richard Phelan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, call the Reverend Thomas P. Smith, pastor of Holy Name Church, Ebensburg. to form a new congregation in Altoona. This new congregation was Sacred Heart Parish.

On July 13, 1890, Father Thomas P. Smith, formerly pastor of Holy Name Parish in Ebensburg, celebrated as the newly-appointed pastor, the first Mass in the newly established Sacred Heart Parish in a building on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Twenty-Fourth Street in Altoona. A combination Church-School was opened in the Fall of 1891. The Sisters of Saint Joseph, whose Motherhouse was then at Ebensburg staffed the school. At that time, our area was still part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh

Our current rectory (priest’s residence) was built in 1897. Our current Formation Center was built as a combination church and school. A church auditorium, on the first floor, was dedicated to Divine Worship of October 18, 1891. The second floor consisted of six large classrooms.

When the Diocese of Altoona was established on May 27, 1901 its first bishop was the Most Reverend Eugene S. Garvey. When Bishop Garvey arrived at Altoona in the fall of 1901 there were four churches: St. John’s (now the Cathedral Parish); St. Mary’s; St. Mark’s and Sacred Heart. Father Smith, Sacred Heart’s pastor, was appointed the first Chancellor of the Diocese. Monsignor Smith died on September 20, 1928 after having served the parish for 38 years.

Father Jerome L. McQuillen was appointed to succeed Monsignor Smith. Father McQuillen arrived at Sacred Heart on October 1, 1928. The new pastor had a great love for the homeless and orphaned children of the parish and never lost an opportunity to spread his enthusiasm and interest. He vigorously lent his support to Catholic reading in the home and religious instruction for adults and children. In spite of the challenges facing the parish due to the depression and World War II, Monsignor McQuillen was a wise steward and devoted pastor. After months of being ill, Monsignor McQuillen died on July 1, 1946.

The third pastor of Sacred Heart Parish was Monsignor Joseph D. O’Leary who began his ministry here on January 9, 1947. Monsignor O’Leary began his pastorate by energetically addressing many of the repairs and renovations that were desired by the parishioners. By his pastoral and liturgical leadership, the members of the parish were sustained spiritually, intellectually and socially. In January 1951, preparations were made for a campaign, under the patronage of Saint Joseph, to obtain funds to erect a new church. The cornerstone of the new church, although dated Anno Domini 1952, was actually blessed and laid on Sunday, February 15, 1953 the dedication of our current church took place on July 12, 1953. It was Monsignor O’Leary who gave permission to a group of parishioners to form a parish credit union which is now operated independently from the parish as the ARC (Altoona Roman Catholic) Credit Union. Monsignor O’Leary died on November 22, 1963 at the age of 61 after having served the parish for 17 years as pastor.

Effective December 23, 1963 Monsignor Anthony J. O’Toole became the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish. Monsignor O’Toole had served as an assistant priest at Sacred Heart Parish from September 12, 1950 until May 31, 1956. With Monsignor O’Toole’s guidance, the parish adopted the motto: “Let the Christ in me reach out to the Christ in others.” In his own life, that motto was expressed in his concern for the children of the parish, his outreach to the sick, the elderly and the poor, and his availability for sacramental service. Monsignor O’Toole’s simplicity of life-style and wise financial acumen were also examples of his pastoral solicitude. After having reached the canonical retirement age of 75, the beloved Monsignor O’Toole ended his pastorate at Sacred Heart on June 10, 1992. Monsignor O’Toole died on the Feast of Our Lord’s Presentation, February 2, 2004. His funeral was celebrated at Sacred Heart Church on Thursday, February 5th.

The fifth pastor of Sacred Heart Parish was Monsignor Stanley B. Carson. He began his appointment on June 10, 1992 as parish administrator and continuing as Diocesan Vicar General for Administration. Monsignor Carson through his gifts of hospitality and eloquent preaching abilities became very highly respected and appreciated by the parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish. Under his prudent leadership, due to low student enrollment and increasing expenditures, the Sacred Heart School was closed in 1994. The school building serves to the parish as a Sacred Heart Formation Center for meetings and religious education purposes of young as well as adults. Prior to Fiftieth Jubilee of Sacred Heart Church, the necesery structural and liturgical updates of the church building were necessary. During the Lenten season of 2003 the extensive renovation forced the congregations to move to the former school building. On July 12, 2003 the parishioners gathered to celebrate Holy Eucharist in repaired, renovated and beautified Sacred Space. The Most Reverend Joseph V. Adamec was the principal celebrant who blessed the renovated church and its liturgical furnishings. The people of the Sacred Heart Parish truly appreciated the renovation of their worship space and supported it with monetary and spiritual gifts. On July 15, 2014, after 22 years of his pastoral leadership to the people of the Sacred Heart Parish, Monsignor Stanley B. Carson was assigned to Saint Michael the Archangel Parish in Hollidaysburg, PA. The current pastor of the parish is Father Lubomir J. Strecok.

The history of all parishes is more than just a summary of a list of pastors. All of the pastors of Sacred Heart parish have been assisted in their service to the parishioners by many good assistants/parochial vicars, deacons, and religious men and sisters. The charisms of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Sisters of Charity and the Carmelite Community of the Word have been a cherished and tremendous blessing to the parish.

The laity of Sacred Heart Parish forms the bulk of our parish’s history: their appreciation of the Eucharist, their devotion to Our Lady, their concern for one another and their profession of their faith are a testimony of their personal commitment to Jesus Christ and His message and mission. A Roman Catholic person’s recognition of the importance of family, the dignity of work, and a shared responsibility towards the common good has been a hallmark of our Church’s tradition…our unique legacy. Most folks can’t begin to imagine the sacrifices and dedicated loyalty that created and sustained the life of our parish.

The forms of service might have changed over the years; but, the needs of most people have been pretty much the same, the hungers of the human heart are strikingly similar, the hopes of the human soul are divinely inspired.

Every parishioner is called to be a part of our parish’s history. The story of the Church begun in the Biblical Book, The Acts of the Apostles, continues to be written. The trusting faith, loving service and courageous witness of each one of us are being noticed and recorded by the Lord of History. In our weakness we know God’s strength, in our sinfulness we have come to experience His mercy, and in our fears we have come to trust in God’s providence.

If you would like to read a more thorough account of the parish history from 1890 to 1990, we would be pleased to send you the centennial book that was distributed in July of 1990. Simply call 943-8553 and ask Paulette, the parish’s secretary, to send you a copy.



Sacred Heart Parish | 511 20th Street | Altoona, PA 16602 | (814) 943-8553
Questions or Comments? Contact Webmaster
Home | News | Mass Information | Weekly Schedule | Mass Intentions | Liturgical Ministers | Contact Us
Courtesy Open Web Design

Sacred Heart Links