From 1890 to 1903 people of Italian origin began to come to Connecticut in such increasing numbers that the Bishop of Hartford found it necessary to send an Italian missionary, Father Gaetano Ceruti, to find out whether there was a need for the founding of an Italian parish in Stamford, shortly after the establishment of Holy Name of Jesus Church, the second Catholic parish to be established in Stamford (1903), the first being St. John’s Church.
On his way here, Father Ceruti stopped off in Bridgeport thinking he had arrived in Stamford. There he was convinced that there was a larger group of Italian immigrants than Stamford. In subsequent years, Stamford was frequently visited by Italian priest missionaries sent to administer to the spiritual needs of their immigrant brothers-in-Christ.
On March 25, 1913, a select group of Italian men met in the basement of St. John’s Church and formed the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and thus began what was later to become part of “the little flock of Christ” known now as the Church of the Sacred Heart, Stamford. At that first meeting, the following were elected as officers: President/Pietro Iovanna, Vice-President/ Giuseppe Maffei, Secretary/Desiderio Gianesello and Vice–Secretary /Carmine Passero.
It was decided the group would meet the first and third Sunday of each month at 7PM in the basement of St. John’s Church under whose spiritual care the Italians were entrusted. According to records, there were 133 names and addresses of Italian members that lived on the extreme East Side (Blachley Ave., Avery, Dean Streets, etc) and the West Side (West Main, West Ave., Stillwater, Fairfield Ave., Liberty, Virgil, Ann Streets, etc., etc.).
President Pietro Iovanna had written a letter to the Bishop of Hartford requesting permission to form an Italian parish in Stamford. It was almost a year after the formation of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was formed that an answer to his letter was received.
In his letter of January 10, 1914, the Bishop’s secretary, Reverend William H. Flynn, answered: “The Bishop, first of all, needs information as to the number of Italians who attend Mass and receive the Sacraments, because these are the only ones in whom there can be entrusted the building of a church and then supporting it. If they contribute with generosity, then he can take into consideration their petition; otherwise, for the time being, it would be useless to even think about this.“
Strange as it might seem, by the end of that same year 1914, on December 8, at the American College in Rome, Reverend John J. Kelley was ordained to the priesthood. A few years after his ordination, Father Kelley was appointed Assistant Pastor at St. John’s Church and was put in charge of the Italian speaking people of the parish.
After administering to spiritual needs of his Italian parishioners, a committee of 72 men was formed for the purpose of erecting a church of their own. The committee and Father Kelley requested the Pastor of St. John’s Church to obtain the approval of Bishop John J. Nilan of Hartford to take steps towards the formation of the Church of Sacred Heart.
In the meantime, Father Kelley obtained a certificate from the State of Connecticut dated November 20, 1920, thus establishing the “Sacred Heart Church Corporation, Stamford”. On November 30, 1920, the property on Schuyler Avenue, owned by Henry K. McHarg and Schuyler Merritt, was purchased by the Sacred Heart Church Corporation for the sum of $8,000.00 with a down payment of $1,000.00 and a promissory note of $7,000.00.
The committee of 72 men went forth every Sunday afternoon to the homes on streets allotted to them, to ask for donations to pay for the newly acquired Church property and for the Church that was yet to be built. Each family and working person gave as generously as their means allowed. The land acquired was fully paid for before the church was built on it!
On February 9, 1923, Bishop John J. Nilan designated Sacred Heart Church as a parish and appointed Reverend John, J. Kelley as its pastor. So, beginning February 18, 1923, all parish services were being held, on their appointed days and hours, in the basement of St. John’s Church in the name of Sacred Heart Church until whatever time the new church would be built. Sunday Masses were scheduled for 8:00, 9:00 and 10:30 AM. Religious education for the children was after the 9:00 AM Mass and also after school hours on Wednesdays.
In September of 1923, bids were sent out to different contractors and the contract for building Sacred Heart Church was awarded to F.D. Rich and Company. The cornerstone was laid on November 18, 1923 by Most Reverend John G. Murray, Auxiliary Bishop of Hartford. A cornerstone collection that day totaled $1,660.00. The Church of the Sacred Heart was completed and dedicated on Sunday, May 11, 1924 at 10:30 AM by Most Reverend John J. Nilan, Bishop of Hartford.
Sacred Heart Church is ever so grateful to the Italian immigrants and various Italian organizations throughout Stamford who were instrumental in making this huge endeavor a reality. We invite you to come visit us and participate in the many Italian feast days and traditions celebrated throughout the year! We welcome all people to our parish.