Jennifer Barton
Assistant Publications Manager
September 20, 2022 // Diocese

Sacred Heart Marks 75 Years in Southeast Fort Wayne

Jennifer Barton
Assistant Publications Manager

In the wake of World War II, cities and towns throughout the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend saw a tremendously rapid growth, which reflected in the demographics of Catholics and Catholic churches through the late 1940s and beyond. Sacred Heart Parish in Fort Wayne was one such parish created to meet the growing needs of the Catholic community in that area of the city at the time. This year, through many changes, Sacred Heart marks its 75th anniversary.

Father Mark Wojdelski, FSSP, serves as its current pastor. He has been at the parish for roughly six years, transferred from Dayton, Ohio, after former pastor Father George Gabet, FSSP, served at the parish for eight years when it became a personal parish, dedicated to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). Prior to that, the parish had been served by diocesan priests, including Father Thomas Durkin, Father Glen Kohrman, and Father Thomas Shoemaker.

Photos by Jennifer Barton
Sacred Heart, a building that started as a military barracks, is celebrating its 75th anniversary as a parish located on the southeast side of Fort Wayne.

Rise and Decline

The church began its life as a former military barracks building transferred to the location from Baer Field, a military base created just south of Fort Wayne during the war. The rectory was purchased in 1948 before a new church and rectory were built in 1963. From its early days, Sacred Heart School, established in 1949, was staffed by Sisters of the Holy Cross, then Sisters of St. Joseph and Sisters of Providence. 

As years passed and the neighborhood surrounding Sacred Heart changed, membership declined and the number of students at the school dropped to unsustainable rates. The sisters had already left in 1975 and the convent was sold to The Church in Fort Wayne, Inc. The 1990s saw the nearby parishes of St. Henry and St. Patrick combine schools with Sacred Heart to form the short-lived Benoit Academy, located at the St. Henry campus. The school at Sacred Heart closed its doors at that time. Benoit Academy closed only a few years later in 2006 due to a declining student population.

Sacred Heart Parish found a new purpose beginning in 1990, when Bishop John M. D’Arcy allowed the celebration of the TLM there for those who are drawn to that form of worship. In 2011, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades changed Sacred Heart Parish from a territorial parish to what is known as a personal parish, which means that a parish no longer has territorial boundaries, but serves a single purpose. In this case, that means it is exclusively dedicated to the TLM. It has retained the services of two pastors from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, Fort Wayne native Father Gabet and current Pastor, Father Wojdelski. 

The church building itself has undergone changes over the years, Father Wojdelski remarked, and is the parish’s second church. During his time as pastor, Father Gabet added a baldacchino or altar canopy and Father Wojdelski made additional renovations.

The Stations of the Cross are one of his recent additions to the church, acquired from a closed parish elsewhere in the country, with the station names written in the Slovak language of the previous parish’s ethnic population. Similar enough to Polish, a language Father Wojdelski understands, he was able to read the Slovak writing and post translations below each station.

Relics

Another aspect of the church that has grown over time is its collection of sacred relics. Encased in small but often elaborate reliquaries, Sacred Heart possesses what Father Wojdelski estimates to be around 250 individual relics in their display cases. Normally, he explained, a church will have only a couple of these. 

Some are what are known as first-class relics, meaning they are a part of a saint’s body, such as bone fragments from St. Linus and St. Pius V. Others are second-class relics, which is something that a saint owned, such as a piece of clothing. A third-class relic is something that has been laid on the body of a saint. Relics need to have authenticated papers to be considered genuine and relics cannot be put up for sale. 

Sacred Heart has multiple cases for these relics and Father Wojdelski maintains a list of those on display. The priests of the parish bring individual relics out to put on display and to venerate on a saint’s feast day. Relics from such honored saints as Mary Magdalene, Cecelia, Felicity and Perpetua, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Ignatius can be viewed after Mass times. The Sacred Heart website has a link to the list of relics and a schedule of feast days in which a particular relic may be exposed (sacredheartfw.org/about-us/sacred-relics/).  

‘Fertile Ground’

Father Wojdelski has made a home in the diocese, Fort Wayne in particular. “Fort Wayne is phenomenal with Catholicism. I have never seen so many confessional options. … I think this is a great place to be a Catholic. It’s very fertile ground.”

Due to growth within the parish, Father Dominic Savoie, FSSP, has recently been assigned as Parochial Vicar to assist in the life of the parish. Father Wojdelski attributes this growth to a rise in young families “looking for a reverent worship experience and tradition.” 

He proudly stated that: “We have a five percent growth by babies alone,” with 14 infant baptisms and a handful of adult converts to the faith this year. 

Father Wojdelski speaks enthusiastically of the people of his parish, some of whom travel an hour or more to attend Mass there. Groups like the Militia of St. Joseph, a parish men’s group; the Troops of St. George, a scouting group for boys and their fathers based completely in Catholicism; the Handmaids of St. Joseph, a woman’s group currently studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church; and the Young Ladies’ Sodality all make for a bustling civic life for a small parish of roughly 400 people. When Bishop Rhoades visits the parish, Father Wojdelski said that the people receive him warmly, spending time with him and showing him their appreciation. He also shared how several vocations have come from Sacred Heart since its becoming a personal parish, particularly in the FSSP. 

For those attending a Latin Mass for the first time, Father Wojdelski’s advice is simple. “Don’t follow along, just experience it. Look at the [red translation] book before you come, but don’t worry about anything else. Immerse yourself in the experience … your Catholic heritage.”

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