Priest remembers Sacred Heart:
‘There were-miracles there’
If you never went to mass at Sacred Heart it might be hard to understand the devotion parishioners feel for their soon to be demolished place of worship.
What is it that draws Catholics away from their neighborhood parishes to a small church in a black neighborhood on the Southwest Side?
“It is a happy place—with so much love. It’s such a homey little place. You can just feel the Sacred Heart alive in the people,” said Father Kenneth Borchardt, the former pastor there.
“There were miracles there. People told me about them. A retired priest I know—his sister had a miracle there. She was cured from a serious disease,” Borchardt said.
Even then the humble, country style mission church had the power to embrace a congregation from all over the city.
“We lived in Rogers Park, 6500 North. My mother and my aunt heard about the little miracle church on the Southwest Side and they asked me to take them down there,” Borchardt recalled.
“It was the first time I saw it and oh it was such a lovely little place,” he said.
Now the church stands empty, almost ready for demolition, just six months after Borchardt retired as pastor of Sacred Heart.
The pews are gone, sold to individuals and the Holy Name of Mary parish. The chalices, altar and other religious articles have been given to the Catholic Youth Ministry center at Morgan Park High school.
A life-size hand carved wooden statue of Jesus that Borchardt bought for Sacred Heart with more than $3,000 of parishioner’s donations is gone.
Father Borchardt stayed away from Sacred Heart that Sunday on Jan. 21 when parishioners were told during the service it would be their last mass and the church would be demolished.
“I didn’t want to interfere. I would’ve loved to have been there. I felt a strange sad feeling that day. But, you know, I’m a priest and my bishop is the Cardinal and that’s the way it is,” Borchardt said,
He had known during the 14 years of his service at Sacred Heart that the Archdiocese was considering closing it.
“When I was first appointed to Sacred Heart, I was advised the church might be closed, but the people had such a reputation for devotion and love that the Archdiocese held off,” he said.
“The people there have been so good to me. It was the most beautiful part of my priesthood—my 14 years with those people. My priesthood blossomed into its fullness at Sacred Heart,” Borchardt said.
“There were so many people that came, I couldn’t take care of them all.
“My little dog Judy was a part of the place,” Borchardt recalled, “There were a lot of stray dogs that would come.
“There was one named Rover. He would go lie up by the altar and the ushers couldn’t move him until I came in to say mass,” he said.
Sacred Heart never had a parish school; it didn’t have parish boundaries. After Borchardt left, it didn’t have a full-time pastor.
It just seems to have a spirit of devotion all its own which has lasted over the decades.
For parishioners, resisting Archdiocesean efforts to merge them with their local parishes by closing Sacred Heart, the church demolition is a matter of their religious freedom to worship at a place of their own choosing.
This morning at 11:45, Sacred Heart church members will hold a prayer service without a priest in the church’s parking lot as a protest.
For Catholics, who regularly attend their neighborhood parishes, it’s a question of accepting the pastor whose parish they live in and of sharing support for parish schools and the pastoral services offered.
But for Father Borchardt, it’s a question of God’s’will. “If the dear Sacred Heart wants the church, it will stay there.”