The parish of Sacred Heart was formed by descendants of the French-Canadians who lived along the old Blue Island Ridge, in what is now the areas from Alsip to the Morgan Park neighborhood in Chicago. Many of these early parishioners worked at the Purington Brickyard which was located at 119th and Vincennes. By 1892, some eighteen families were given permission to form Sacred Heart in what is now Alsip, Illinois, on property located at 123rd and Rexford Avenue. This land was donated by Mr. and Mrs. William Harrison. Then, as now, a priest would travel to the church on Sundays to celebrate Mass. Sadly, the church structure was destroyed by fire in the early 1900’s. Parishioners eventually rebuilt the structure at the present location of 117th and Church Street, in Chicago.
The current building was completed in 1904. The tiny church was a French national church; it was built on stilts due to the swampy lowland area. It was a Greek revival church with white clapboards. In the early 1920’s, bricks were purchased from the nearby Purington Brick Yard to create the charming facade seen today. A statue of Jesus Christ, with his arms outstretched, sits on top of the church; He continues to welcome old and new worshipers every weekend.
Sacred Heart has a long history of being a special healing place. Plaques were once placed on the rafters of the church, with the names of those cured of their ailments. Others who were healed left their crutches, canes, eyeglasses and walking sticks. It was said that Father DeMers healed by passing out Holy Water, medicine and blessings to the sick. The long tradition of healing and miracles continue to this day as the faithful add the names of loved ones to the prayer list at every Mass; the names are read during the Prayers of the Faithful.
Over the years, membership included many Irish and Germans. Parishioners attended Mass faithfully until January 21, 1979, when Cardinal John Cody announced the church would be closed due to costly repairs and lack of a resident priest. At this time, over one thousand families called Sacred Heart “home.” The “Save Our Shrine committee was formed and appeals were made to Rome, Cardinal Cody, the media and to anyone who would listen.
Sacred Heart remain closed until 1982, when Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, successor to Cardinal Cody, reviewed the case. Cardinal Bernadin reversed the decision to close and demolish the beautiful little church.
Today, Sacred Heart remains an active and faithful Catholic community. Visitors are often surprised by the welcoming atmosphere of those who come to share in the celebration of Mass every week. It is a tiny community with a big heart.
For more details regarding the 1979 closing of Sacred Heart Church, the efforts of the “Save Our Shrine Committee” and the subsequent reopening of the beloved structure in 1982, please refer to the book “Spires of Faith: Historic Churches of Chicago,” by Wayne Wolf, Jack Simmerling and Miriam Kravis.