The first Catholic congregation began gathering in 1884, and by 1891 had grown to at least twelve Catholic families who moved from building to building to meet. By then they were finding it increasingly difficult to find adequate space, and at the itinerant priest Fr. O'Riordan urgings, got together as a congregation and built a small frame building that was called St. Patrick's Church on Austin Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets.
It was then that Wichita Falls was designated as a mission parish, with a priest having to travel twenty miles by horse and buggy from Henrietta to say Mass. Since this was a very long trip for the time, the extra sacristy room was fitted with a bed to give the priest a place to sleep for the night.
This arrangement continued until May of 1894 when the building was destroyed by a tornado. Although the parishioners were devastated, they used the $700 "wind and storm" insurance to begin again. Under the leadership of the current priest Fr. Blakeney, the parishioners added their own money and all the labor to build a new and even larger St. Patrick's on the same site. It was from the courage and determination of this group of devout worshipers that the Catholic community of Wichita Falls began its long history of parishes, schools and organizations.
In 1884 parish records show only one Catholic family in Wichita Falls, but by 1903, due to the coming of the railroad and the resulting addition of many European immigrants to our community, thirty families are known to have been present. There was not a considerable need for a Catholic school. An appeal was sent from the current mission parish pastor Fr. Goessens to Mother Teresa Brennan, the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of St. Mary in America. It included a letter from the Wichita Falls Board of Trade that assured Mother Teresa that the citizens of Wichita Falls were quite eager for a Catholic school. With the permission of Bishop Dunne of Dallas (Ft. Worth was not a separate diocese until 1969), and the support of Wichita Falls Mayor Charles W. Bean, the Academy of Mary Immaculate was built in 1904 on the comer of Ninth Street and Holliday Street, and by the end of the school year had 150 students.
Due to the vision of Fr. Goessens and the tenacity of the first administrator of Saint Mary's, Sr. Mary Bernard Reilly, in 1906 the land opposite of the Academy on Ninth Street was purchased and the St. Patrick's building was moved to the present site of the church. The next year the first rectory was built, again by parishioners, and the first resident pastor was assigned to St. Patrick's of Wichita Falls.
Sometime between 1907 and 1910 the Catholic Church of Wichita Falls underwent another significant change: the name of the church was changed from St. Patrick's to Sacred Heart. The exact reason and time of the change is not available from past records, but the most prominent legend says that the name' change reflected a change in the ethnic shift of parishioners. When the Wichitans began congregating as Catholics they were mostly made up of Irish immigrants; by the second decade of the twentieth century, the families of the St. Patrick's were also strongly represented by German, Czech and Polish immigrants. The legend has that the German parishioners were the most vocal, wanting the church's name to be changed to reflect a German saint. The whole matter was allegedly given over to the Bishop, who solved the ethnic battle by giving a non-partisan name of Sacred Heart. It took a while for both the parishioners and the diocesan leaders to get used to the name change, but they were helped by yet another change soon to come.
In 1915, after two years of fundraising efforts and more months of frustration over legal problems with a contractor, construction was begun on a new building for the church. The dedication of the new building took place on January 20, 1916, with the Bishop Lynch of Dallas in attendance with visiting clergy from all over the diocese. The frame building that had been built as St. Patrick's Church was moved a hundred feet to the west and became the Parish Hall.
Sacred Heart suffered damage from a fire in 1925, but thanks to efforts of Fr. Hoyt and the supportive parishioners, the church was not only rebuilt, but a new rectory was also built. The next few years were ones of steady and consistent growth for the church. It wasn't until the middle to end of the 1940's, however, that the church began to feel more growing pains. The small, antiquated Parish Hall building was no longer suitable for all the many gatherings and activities of an active church of 632 families. By 1949, the building of the new, expanded, brick Parish Hall was completed.
It was twenty years before any more major construction was needed, when in 1969 it was decided by Bishop Gorman that at the same time repairs were being made to the interior of the sanctuary, remodeling should also take place, Not only were changes made to accommodate the liturgical changes as per the second Vatican Council, but the statues and large elaborate white marble altar at the back of the church was replaced with a more contemporary, less ornate looking altar area. Although this was the cause of some contention by some parishioners, it was yet another sign of the change that Sacred Heart has been known for throughout its history.
CATHOLIC GROWTH IN WICHITA FALLS
Growth has never been more evident than with the need to build additional Catholic churches in Wichita Falls. Our Lady of Guadalupe and the accompanying school, built in 1926, are the result of a real need for a Spanish-speaking parish in this predominantly anglo community; transportation to the Ninth Street site was also a problem. In direct answer to the over-crowdedness at Sacred Heart and the continual growth of Wichita Falls in a southwest direction, Our Lady Queen of Peace was built in 1956, taking all those Sacred Heart parishioners living closest to become the first congregation. Added along the way were OLQP Elementary School (1954) and Notre Dame High School (1966). Since the closing of the Academy of Mary Immaculate in 1966 and Our Lady of Guadalupe School in 1972, Our Lady Queen of Peace Elementary became a truly inter-parochial school, serving the entire Catholic community. Thus in 1976 a school board was elected and the name was changed to Notre Dame Elementary. The Assumption of Mary, a fourth parish begun by Sacred Heart and one created to serve the needs of the growing Vietnamese community, was dedicated in 1983. Sacred Heart also maintains the Sacred Heart Cemetery which it has owned since 1908. Until the merger in 2003 with Wichita General Hospital to create United Regional Health Care Systems, Bethania Hospital was in operation under the auspices of the Sisters of Holy Family of Nazareth and was therefore another large part of the local Catholic community, with many parishioners from Sacred Heart spending many hours working as volunteers.
ADDING THE PASTORAL CENTER
In 1986 the old Tanner Furniture Building was purchased and turned into the Pastoral Center, replacing the houses on the south of the property. It was to be used for Religious Education and to allow the church offices to be moved from the priest's residence. In the same year Deacon Roland Benoit was added to the parish staff. He left the parish and moved to Oklahoma City in 1992. Russ Detwiler was ordained to the Diaconate in 1995 and remained here until his retirement from AC Delco in 2001.
In the early nineties it became obvious that some repairs and remodeling were needed on both the Parish Hall and the main church building. With a massive effort on the part of parishioners, the money was raised and in 1993 the remodeling of the Parish Hall began. By November of 1994 the renovations were complete, resulting in a beautiful building more suitable for the many activities of a busy, growing community. In fact, the number of parishioners had grown so much that when renovations of the main church building began in July of 1996, the plans included an addition to be built onto the back of the church that could also double as a chapel. This additional seating nearly doubled the seating capacity of the church. A Mass of Thanksgiving, 1997, celebrated by Father Ivor Koch, who had been instrumental in overseeing the renovation and expansion process, opened the newly renovated church. The church as it is now is a liturgical combination of the original design intention joined with the needs of today.
Bishop Joseph Delaney was present for the rededication of the church on June 12, 1999. It was a wonderful weekend of festivities and fellowship.
THE 21ST CENTURY
The new century began with our Pastor of many years, Father Ivor Koch as our Shepherd. The bottom floor of the priest's residence was renovated in 2001.
We had a few sad notes in the first years of this century because we lost Pope John Paul II in April of 2005 and ten days later we lost our Bishop, Joseph Delaney.
We welcomed our new Bishop, Kevin Vann, in 2005. He has been a visitor to our parish many times. And in 2005 we were blessed with a new Pope, Benedict XVI.
Father Koch retired as our Pastor and we gave him a great farewell party in the Multi Purpose Events Center (MPEC) on August 29
th of 2007. Father Hoa Nguyen moved "all the way" from Burkburnett to Wichita Falls to become our new Pastor on September 1
A revitalized program to pay off the parish debt (from the renovations in the 1990’s) was instituted and the parishioners of Sacred Heart paid down over 2 million dollars in debt in less the 18 months. A note burning ceremony was held in front of the church on Nov. 15
We began a spiritual renewal with the Christ Renews His Parish program in January of 2008. A Weekend Renewal Program ( #1) was put on by members of St Patrick Parish in Dennison, TX. The Men’s Weekend was held on January 12
th and the Women’s Weekend was on January 26
th. Many parishioners have embraced the program and put on additional weekends. Over 600 parishioners had attended a Renewal Weekend by Sept. 2013!
Deacon Russ Detwiler returned to the parish staff in January 2009
The physical plant improves with the parish. We have installed two large screen TVs in the back of the church so those attending Mass there can see the priest and the altar from the front. The upstairs of our Pastoral Annex has been converted into a Youth Center.
Father Jack McKone became the Pastor on July 1st, 2012.
Father Michael Moloney became the Parochial Vicar in August of 2013.
As we look forward, we anticipate continued growth in the parish and in the spirit of the people who are the church.