An anniversary of a parish is a joyous occasion during which the parishioners render thanksgiving to God for blessings received during the past. It is a special time when parishioners reflect on the accomplishments of the past and plan for the future. As we continue to celebrate the honor of Sacred Heart Parish being designated as a Basilica on October 3, 1999, we also hold in memory the beginning of our parish in 1892. While three pastors served during our earliest years (1892-1896), the accomplishments of Sacred Heart Parish in Syracuse, New York could well be called the product of four administrations: namely that of Rev. Francis Rusin (1896-1939), Rt. Rev. Msgr. Casimir S. Piejda, P.A. (1939-1970), Msgr. Adolph Kantor (1970-1989), and Msgr. Peter W. Gleba (1990-2011). We now look forward to the guidance of our newest rector, the Rev. Andrew E. Baranski who was appointed in 2011 by Bishop Robert Cunningham.
In reviewing our parish history, we also cherish the involvement of individual parishioners and various church societies. We are able to point with gratitude to the men and women who dedicated their lives to the glory of God through their vocations and service to our parish.
In May 1892, Rev. Anthony F. Kolaszewski, the founder of Sacred Heart Parish, came to Syracuse to visit Mr. and Mrs. Mielnicki. Upon seeing the hunger of Polonia for a church of their own, he and a committee which included Jan Lewandowski, Piotr Gdaniec, Jan Kostanczyk and Adolph Kirchner petitioned Most Rev. P. Ludden, the Bishop of Syracuse, to allow for the organization of such a parish. Although at that time the Polonia only numbered 124 families, the Bishop agreed to this organization of a parish for the Poles. On June 12, 1892, the organizers met at Assumption Parish and there decided to build their own church and selected the Sacred Heart of Jesus as their Patron. The incorporation of the parish included Bishop Ludden, Rt. Rev. James Kennedy, V.G., Rev. Anthony F. Kolaszewski, Pastor, and the Messrs. Peter Gdaniec, John L. Lewandowski and Adolph Kincher, Lay Trustees. This parish was the first Polish Parish in the Syracuse Diocese, the Mother Parish of all the other Polish churches.
The building first used for divine services was Kelly's Hall at West Fayette Street. The first Mass was offered there by Rev. Anthony F. Kolaszewski, on June 5, 1892. The original church which was located on Park Avenue at the site of the present school was a framed two-story structure. The land, consisting of two lots, was purchased from Brown Augusta Smith for $3,000.00. The entire cost of the two-story structure was $12,000.00. The cornerstone was solemnly blessed July 24, 1892 by Bishop P. Ludden. The first Mass in this new wooden church was offered August 30, 1892. The first baptism recorded at Sacred Heart Church was that of baby Helena Andrzejczak on October 30, 1892. Solemn dedication of the church took place June 11, 1893. On April 6, 1894, Rev. Anthony Plucinski was appointed pastor until July 2, 1894. Rev. James Klimecki was the third pastor who came to Sacred Heart on July 7, 1894 and labored until June 15, 1896. Because of poor health and advanced age, Father Klimecki resigned, and with his pastorate the first phase of our parish came to an end.
Sacred Heart Parish was organized and the Polish people had their own parish. Credit for the organization is due to both priests and laity. Coming to a new land, the pioneers of Sacred Heart made the sacrifice of the Mass the center of their lives. Saint Adalbert's Society in Syracuse, an affiliate of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of Chicago (PRCU), the oldest Polish society in Syracuse, was an essential part of the organization of the parish. Outstanding laymen in the beginning were Roman Lewandowski, John Lewandowski, and trustees Peter Gdaniec and Adolph Kirchner.
Rev. Francis Rusin came to Sacred Heart in June 16, 1896, immediately after his ordination and was to remain here until his death, July 25, 1939. Upon his arrival in Syracuse, Father Rusin found a flock of 85 families, a $17,000.00 church building and a debt of $11,000.00. As the number of parishioners increased, the original church structure could not accommodate them, so he began planning to build a larger church. Seeing the willingness of his parishioners, Father Rusin decided to undertake the construction of a new and larger church. From that day forward Father Rusin toiled diligently, working with his own hands to build the beautiful church that we have. Carpentry was his hobby, so he became the builder and leader of Sacred Heart Church. So dedicated was this man that he spent time collecting nickels and dimes in the various saloons so that he would have enough money to begin building. On June 20, 1906, with the agreement of the Board of Trustees, two Park Avenue lots were purchased for the new church for $4,000.00.
On December 8, 1903 a meeting of all the parishioners was held and all unanimously decided to buy land for a cemetery. January 1904 was the date on which 15 acres of land on the west side of the city line in the town of Geddes was purchased at a cost of $7,000.00.
At the beginning of 1907, Merrich and Randall, architects, prepared the plans and specifications for the new church. O'Connor Bros. Masons and Hueber Bros. Builders were contacted for the new church. Father Rusin devoted himself completely to this special project and nothing was too much for him to do. Parishioners told of his collections and his begging from home to home, business place to business place, so that a new church could be constructed. The parishioners themselves dug the foundation to save money. The cornerstone was blessed October 20, 1907 by Bishop P. Ludden. The new church was completed in 1910. The entire external structure was completed at a cost of $207,917.25. It was the realization of the dream of Father Rusin, made possible by the labor and sacrifices of the people at Sacred Heart. The new church, having two spires of 212 feet high and built in the form of a cross, is of pure gothic style. It is a steel-framed, stone building veneered with gouveneur marble. Its length is 162 feet and the width of the cross is 105 feet. The seating capacity is 1200.
The new church was dedicated June 5, 1910 by Bishop R. Rhode, D.D. Polish Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, by special permission of Bishop Ludden. Present in the sanctuary were Bishop P. Ludden, D.D., His Auxiliary, Most Rev. H. Grimes D.D. and Rev. John Bieda, S.J. who preached the sermon. Three large bells were blessed by Auxiliary Bishop Grimes in September 1912.
When the church was completed in 1910, the old church was converted entirely for the use of the parochial school. In April 1916 a fire damaged the old school which was razed, and in its place Father Rusin built the modern brick building. Erected first as a two-story building, in May 1926 due to increased registration the state ordered the erection of a third floor. The entire cost of the school and playground area was $150,000.00.
Other properties belonging to the parish in 1921 included the cemetery in the Town of Geddes and the frame building for the sexton in the rear of the school. This house was built in 1914 for $2,200.00. Two decades of building gave us our present setup worth a half million dollars. From 1906 to 1926, the church, school, convent and rectory were erected as monuments of the faith.
When Father Rusin came to Syracuse in 1896 he found a flock of eighty-five families, a $17,000.00 church building and debts of $11,000.00. When he died in 1939, the buildings were valued at one half million dollars, and there was a debt of $132,000.00. His work was well done and the huge handsome ecclesiastical structure with twin spires will always be a striking monument for their priest and the pioneers and founders of Sacred Heart.
1939 - 1970
In 1939, the Rev. Casimir S. Piejda became our fifth pastor. On May 10, 1945 Father Piejda was elevated to the Office of Domestic Prelate and could be called Monsignor. During his administration, property behind the school and convent was purchased, and an addition to the convent was built. A high school was established. A youth center with a gym and cafeteria was added. The sanctuary and bapistry were renovated.
During the night of February 20, 1940 the roof above the Altar of the Blessed Mother collapsed due to the weight of the one foot blanket of wet snow. The damage was discovered when the janitor of the church, Walter Szmurlo, entered the building at 5:00 am. Huge quantities of snow had piled in that part of the church, having fallen through the 20 foot square jagged hole. Rev. Casimir Piejda, the Pastor, estimated the damage at $20,000.00.
On October 11, 1942, a Golden Jubilee Banquet was held at Hotel Syracuse. Rev. Michael Dzialuk, D.D. was guest speaker at the dinner. Over 900 parishioners and guests took part in this gala affair. A memorable day was August 9, 1945, when the complete debt of the parish was dissolved. Legal documents of the burning of the mortgage of $132,000.00 are on file at the Chancery Office.
Many other improvements followed. Monsignor was always engaged in some project to make Sacred Heart grow spiritually and materially. The most important project in 1952 was the installation of new marble altars in the sanctuary, marble communion rail and pulpit, sanctuary floor, wainscoting, statuaries and bronze tabernacle which were all imported from Pietrosanta, Italy and installed by the De Ranieri Studios, Detroit, Michigan. The entire project cost the parish $150,000.00.
When the entire sanctuary was completed, Bishop Foery re-dedicated the completely renovated Sacred Heart Church on October 26, 1952. This was one of the greatest projects accomplished by Monsignor Piejda with the help and prayers of his parishioners. In the evening, a banquet was held to commemorate both this re-dedication and the 60th anniversary of Sacred Heart Parish. The outstanding speaker for the banquet was Rev. Stanislaus Lniski, former Pastor of Transfiguration Church in Syracuse. The whole affair was an expression of joy and gratitude to the parishioners for their loyalty and devotion.
In May 1953, Monsignor undertook another project, the expansion and the necessary repairs to the rectory office and reception room. Additional rooms were added on the second floor in place of the side porch. In June of the same year, additional land was purchased near the convent, with the intention of enlarging the Sisters' home someday in the future. This addition was realized in 1958.
The year 1953 made history because of the opening of Sacred Heart Academy. Our parish had the distinct honor of being the only Polish parish in New York State having its own high school. Eight rooms were added to the grammar school building. These included a science room, art room, home economics room and additional classroom space. The entire project cost $380,000.00. The new high school was blessed by Bishop Foery. The first graduation class was in 1958.
A beautiful auditorium, 1800 seating capacity was built with a modern school cafeteria on the first floor, able to feed over 600 students. Showers were installed for the sports program. A stage was included in the gym to enable students to participate in public functions. The cost of the entire structure under Monsignor's guidance totaled a sum of $467.939.00. Additional equipment brought the total to $600,000.00.
The project at the old cemetery was finally completed. A new section had been added which had been in the process of formation since October 1965. It was estimated that this new space off of Montrose Avenue would be sufficient to serve the parish for the next 50 years.
The last project of Msgr. Piejda at Sacred Heart was the 75th anniversary of the parish. On September 7, 1966 the first organization meeting took place. Msgr. Piejda revealed his plans for this occasion to be celebrated on Sunday, April 23, 1967. Suggestions were offered, committees formed, and meetings planned, so that all would long remember this celebration.
Due to illness, Msgr. Piejda resigned as Pastor at Sacred Heart on January 15, 1970. On April 19, 1970 a testimonial dinner was held at the Hotel Syracuse Motor Inn to honor Rt. Rev. Msgr. Casimir S. Piejda, P.A. In 1972 a banquet was held at the Parish Center to honor the Monsignor on his 50th anniversary of priesthood. He passed away on June 12, 1976.
The Most Rev. David Cunningham, Bishop of Syracuse appointed Msgr. Adolph Kantor as the sixth pastor of Sacred Heart Church to take effect on January 15, 1970. Msgr. Kantor, a zealous priest, one who loves people and looks out for their spiritual needs, took on his duties at Sacred Heart, and this brought many new parishioners into the fold.
During Msgr. Kantor’s years of service, the exterior of the church, its steeples and the school building were repaired and remodeled. The steeples were in great need of repair. It was only upon the insistence of Msgr. Kantor that the steeples were not torn down as originally discussed. Instead they were restored to their grandeur-overlooking the west side of the city of Syracuse. The cost of restoration of the steeples was $110,000.00.
On December 3, 1977, employees from Michael Adams Stained Glass Studios were using a propane torch to melt window putty in the cleaning of the windows. The wood was all dry rot, so when the torch was applied, a fire resulted.
The Parish Council and Building Committee immediately began a restoration fund, asking parishioners to add a little to their weekly collection. This fund was set up, and parishioners, as always, responded most generously. Contributions of all amounts, including $1,000.00 and $5,000.00 gifts were given. Finally on Sunday, September 30, 1979, Bishop Harrison re-dedicated the church at a solemn Mass of Concelebration. An open house followed and parishioners were given a tour of all the parish buildings to see the restoration work.
A new sound system and stage curtains were purchased and installed in the school gym. Pointing and waterproofing the exterior of the church was completed.
In November 1981 our first deacon, Deacon Ralph Vinciguerra, was ordained by Bishop David Cunningham. Deacon Ralph had a special gift of ministering to the sick. He died July 20. 1996.
On September 30, 1984 thanks to our local Knights of Columbus Council #6282, a ramp for the handicapped was installed and a new elevator was dedicated at a cost of $31,000.00. Five new stained glass doors, dedicated to St. Joseph, Immaculate Conception, Mercy of God, St. Jude and St. Michael the Archangel were newly installed by Msgr. Kantor. A new directory sign was installed at the front of the church.
Msgr. Kantor is also known for his many Masses for the sick. Many have claimed healing and resignation to God's will because of their presence at these Masses. Msgr. Kantor served the faithful well, here at Sacred Heart Parish.
1990 - 2011
In 1990 Father Peter W, Gleba became the seventh Rector and builder of Sacred Heart Parish. During his tenure, Father Gleba renovated the rectory, converted the convent wing into six apartments, remodeled the church basement, built a chapel at the Geddes Cemetery, and constructed a new cemetery in Lakeland.
Along with Bishop O’Keefe and others, Father Gleba sponsored our parish to receive the honor of being named a Minor Basilica. When Archbishop Dolan, now Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, came to visit our Basilica, he encouraged Bishop Moynihan to move forward with the designation of our pastor as a Monsignor. Msgr. Peter W. Gleba completed his tenure in 2011 and proceeded to his eternal reward.
A back exit was added to the rear of the church, and new church bathrooms were the first project of Fr. Peter Gleba. In the fall of 1990, Father Gleba began the project of removing and reframing the three huge stained glass windows, done by Baut Studios, at a cost of $140,000.00. The new chapel at Sacred Heart Cemetery, built during the summer months, was formally blessed and dedicated on November 2, 1990 by Father Peter Gleba.
Parishioners were shocked to hear that Father Peter Gleba, our Pastor, who left for a retreat, landed in the hospital on June 9, 1991, suffering from an imminent heart attack. On Friday, June 14, 1991 successful surgery was performed with a triple bypass at Elmira Hospital. Our Pastor returned to his duties July 6, 1991. Our two associate pastors, Father Stanley Dudkiewicz and Father James Serowik, managed the parish very well during Father Peter’s absence.
Father Dudkiewicz, known as Father Stas, came to Sacred Heart Parish in 1975 and retired in 2011. Father Dudkiewicz was in charge of decorations for special Polish memorial celebrations and served very well the special needs of our Polish parishioners and Kombatanci.
In preparation for our centennial celebration, new side entrance ways of granite were installed. Church pews were refinished, and a new marble floor was installed in church. Red carpeting was placed in the vestibule. All this renovation was accomplished in memory of Martin Haske, who bequeathed $153,000.00 to the church. A statue of the Sacred Heart was sculptured in Poland and is placed outside to the right of the church. The statue donated by Father Peter Gleba and Father William Gleba in memory of Peter and Agnes Gleba, their parents, was dedicated during the Jubilee Year.
On September 29, 1991, Bishop Joseph O'Keefe celebrated the opening of the Jubilee Year with a solemn concelebrated Mass. All former associates and Pastors took part in the program. A banquet followed in the evening at Sacred Heart Parish Center. The Altar of Sacrifice was blessed and dedicated in November 1991. Due to the generosity of Marta Dell this altar became a reality in the sanctuary. The marble lector stand is a gift from the Urban Family. A shrine was built in the rear of the church donated by Marta Dell. During the Jubilee Year, each month was dedicated to a special event. The big celebration was held on Sunday, September 27, 1992 at the Hotel Syracuse.
In September 1993, Pat and Beverly Galtieri donated a six foot statue of Our Lady of Grace, which is located in the vestibule of the church. On Saturday, January 30, 1994 two new stained glass windows, Jesus praying in the Garden, located on the Lakeview Ave. side, and Blessed Sister Faustina Kowalska, located on the rectory side, were blessed at the beginning of the 5:00 pm Mass. On June 19, 1995, the new cemetery in Lakeland was blessed by Bishop Joseph O'Keefe. Punch, coffee, and cake was served by the Legion of Mary and the Rosary Society. All were invited to attend.
On May 11, 1996, Joseph Daniszewski became our third Deacon, having been ordained by Bishop James Moynihan at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Our I.J Padereski Choir sang at the Mass. Deacon Joseph served his first Mass at 5:00 pm in our Parish. Following the Mass the parish honored him with a dinner in the Parish Center.
On Sunday, September 6, 1998, the Labor Day storm hit Central New York. In the morning, Father Peter Gleba saw all the damage that was done. Trees were down by the shrine in the back of the church. Roof tiles and litter were all over the yard. After saying Mass in the dark, Father was informed about all the damage that was done. All of our roofs were damaged. The roof over the altar boy sacristy was ripped off. A large hole was left in the gym roof, 20x30 feet, and the entire roof was off the school annex. We had some very dedicated parishioners who spent hours mopping the gym and the classrooms, cleaning, cutting and removing debris. The clearing of our streets, allowed the power company to restore electricity to our church and parish buildings.
On July 17, 1999, at the 5:00 pm Mass, it rained so hard that our parishioners saw and felt the rain coming through the stained glass windows in the sanctuary of the church. As a result of this, all the upper stained glass windows were encased.
Granting the title Basilica is a special papal recognition for churches that have played an important role in the proclamation of the Gospel message in liturgy and the life of its members. The decree from Rome, Italy was issued from the Holy See on August 27, 1998. It became official on Sunday, October 3, 1999 which is now the Anniversary of the Dedication. The decree states: It has come to our attention that the Parish Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, designed and built in the Gothic style of architecture, and has been recognized as a center of spiritual life, pastoral care, love and ecumenical inspiration deserves to be classified among edifices worthy of note in the Diocese of Syracuse, New York. Since, therefore, our Venerable Brother Joseph O'Keefe, Bishop of Syracuse by his letter on behalf of the clergy and people has requested us to dignify the aforesaid holy place with the title and rank of Minor Basilica. Therefore, with regard to the decision of the Congregation concerned with Divine Liturgy and the Discipline of the Sacraments, we do dignify irrevocably by the authority of this Letter Patent the parish we have identified above with the title and dignity of Minor Basilica with all the rights and special provisions for divine services in accordance with the Decree on the Naming of Minor Basilicas.
Bishop Moynihan in his letter of congratulations said, “The granting of this title is a testimony from Rome, Italy, to the faith of the Polish-American communities in our diocese. It is our Catholic faith that we find unity and our common mission. May the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus be a place of blessings and faith to all who enter here to pray.“
A Solemn High Mass was celebrated on October 3, 1999 during which Bishop James Moynihan read the Bull from Rome, Italy dedicating Sacred Heart as a Minor Basilica. As a Minor Basilica, Sacred Heart is a church granted special honors and privileges by our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. If the Pope were to come to Syracuse, he would visit here in this church. Bishop Thomas Costello presided at the Mass and honored our Basilica by being the main speaker at the banquet that followed the Mass. The banquet took place at the Hotel Syracuse. The great Jubilee Year 2000 saw Sacred Heart Basilica named as one of the churches to be visited in order to receive special indulgences. Holy cards were printed and given out to the pilgrims coming to the Basilica. On May 19, 2002, Father Stanley Dudkiewicz celebrated his Golden Jubilee of Priesthood with a Mass to honor him. A reception was held for him in the Parish Center.
On June 27, 2002, we had to say farewell to Sacred Heart School. Low enrollment and financial concerns forced us to close our school. A special Mass was celebrated with Bishop James Moynihan, commemorating 110 years of educating our children, and celebrating 100 years of the Felician Sisters teaching in our school. After Mass a lunch was held in the Parish Center for everyone to attend to thank our students, faculty, and especially our Felician Sisters on their 100th Anniversary.
On May 7, 2003, the Ordination Anniversaries of priests of the diocese was celebrated here at the Basilica, with Bishops Costello and Moynihan presiding. Father Peter Gleba preached the Jubilee sermon. The guests were hosted with a banquet, thanks to the Knights of Columbus #6282.
On Sunday, May 18, 2003, Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of Priesthood for our Rector - Father Peter W. Gleba was held. To honor this joyous occasion a banquet was held at the On Center with Bishop Costello as the main speaker.
October 5, 2003, the 33rd Annual Rosary Rally was held at the Basilica with Father Michael Carmola as guest homilist.
On October 11, 2003 Deacon James Morse celebrated his 15th anniversary of being ordained a Deacon. A celebration was held in his honor at the Parish Center.
On November 9, 2003, the Basilica held a Veterans Appreciation Day Mass to honor all veterans who served our country. The Rosary Society sponsored this Mass and reception. This event was a huge success and was sponsored the following year by the PLAV.
The Polish American Priests Association (PAPA) held its Fifteenth Annual National Convention here in Syracuse April 19 - 23, 2004. The convention was held here to honor the 150th Year of Polish Catholic Ministry in these United States, and also to honor the works of Father Leopold Moczygemba. A convention Mass was held here at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Mother Church to nine other Polish American parishes in our diocese. Some 85 priest from all over the country, along with our local priests concelebrated the Mass. Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, was the homilist. A dinner followed in the Parish Center sponsored by the Knights of Columbus #6282.
On June 5, 2004, Frank Timson was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Bishop James Moynihan at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The parish honored Deacon Timson at a reception in the Parish Center on Sunday, June 13, 2004, after he served his first Mass as deacon. In June 1910, our parish was blessed with the ordination of Richard Galloway as the fifth Deacon to serve us.
On July 1, 2004, The Syracuse Academy of Science began renting our school for a renewable period of three years. In 2011 the parish entered into an agreement to sell the school to the Academy. Provisions were made for the Parish to retain use of the building and parking space for some of our activities.
Every parish is a reflection of the people and the organizations that form a parish. Sacred Heart has grown tremendously over the years. Everything in our parish was realized because of the sacrifices and generous spirit of parishioners, societies, Felician Sisters and past and present associate priests and pastors. We have a Basilica that we can be proud of. It is our monument of praise and glory to God through His Sacred Heart. It manifests how much we love God and how great God is.