The early settlers of Pinellas Park, mainly farmers and tradesmen from Pennsylvania, were people who envisaged the creation of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in this current community. With some financial assistance from the Chicago Extension Society and a grant from F.A. Davis, the developer, plus the physical help from their Baptist and Presbyterian neighbors, the settlers had a start. The church, a mission of St. Jude’s Parish which provided the land, was begun in 1910 and finished the following year. It was located on the site where the Knights of Columbus Council #5737 now stands at 58th Street, south of Park Boulevard. The Mission was a wood frame structure seating fewer than 100 persons and the congregation totaled 53, from nine families.
The first wedding was performed on June 10, 1913 to Harold F. Brennan (one of Pinellas Park’s early mayors) and Miss Anna D. Balas. Since they could not afford a resident Priest and services were not held on a regular basis and the Mission was abandoned in 1929. But the revival of the Parish began in 1951 when Fr. Leo Paul Manning, Pastor of St. Jude’s and through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Magnotta- owners of the Royal Palms Trailer Park at 49th Street and Park Boulevard, began to celebrate Mass in the recreation center of the trailer park. This arrangement continued until a new church in Pinellas Park could be built.
Father Walter Mack, a retired priest living in Pinellas Park, and Father John P. Griffin of St. Jude’s Parish from Ireland, served the mission through these years. By 1952, the congregation had grown to a sufficient size to justify reestablishing Sacred Heart Church. Thirty acres of land were acquired, much of it a palmetto and pine swamp. On August 19, 1955, Monsignor James J. Meehan, pastor of St. Jude, broke ground for the new church (the current Parish Center). Construction began at once. It was finished sufficiently to celebrate the first Mass at Midnight Christmas Eve 1955 by Father John P. Griffin. Sacred Heart Parish was canonically erected (officially established) with Father, now Monsignor, John F. Scully as the first Pastor September 29, 1956.
There were 114 families in Sacred Heart in 1956. The long range plans of the parish included an elementary school. Father John F. Scully, founding Pastor, began to take steps early in 1958 to make it a reality. He announced the plans to the parishioners and set up a committee for a building fund drive. In July 1959, Fr. Scully announced the start of construction of the school wing which would consist of three cement block classrooms together with a convent to house five sisters. Sacred Heart Catholic School opened as planned on September 1, 1959 with an enrollment of 50 students for 3 grades. The Office housed the Nuns. Father Paul R. Woodyard was appointed Pastor on December 10, 1959 to succeed Father Scully. He served until July 12, 1961, and succeeded by Father J. Keith Symons.
In 1961, a house was purchased on the corner of 80th Avenue and 46th Street for use as a rectory and office. Father James Gloekler succeeded Father Symons. During the years of 1963 and 1964, Sacred Heart served as the temporary home of St. Theresa Byzantine Church of which Father John Puskar was Pastor. The latter celebrated the Divine Liturgy every Sunday in the school. In the same vein, Father John Lawlor, administrator of the Holy Cross Mission Church, maintained an office in the Sunday Sacristy of Sacred Heart Church from October 1964 until February 1965. Father Bernard F. Dittman succeeded Father Gloekler as Pastor on August 15, 1968 and served until September 4, 1978. During these years, growth of the church and school continued at a steady pace, much the same as throughout the state of Florida.
In 1971, the first Sacred Heart Fall Festival as a fundraiser for the school was held. The first Chairpersons were Max and Alice Wannike. Father Alexander D. Rinaldo succeeded Father Dittman on September 5, 1978 as Pastor. During this pastorate, it became apparent that a major move was necessary in order for Sacred Heart to keep up with the growth of the Parish. The new Sacred Heart Church was planned and a campaign for the project was initiated. The building fund was started in December 1982 and the “groundbreaking“ ceremony was held on December 9, 1984 by Bishop Larkin. It took 2 more years for the present day Church to be built. The most prominent feature of our Church is the Mosaic behind the altar. It was created by the Vatican Mosaic Studio in April 1984. The painting from which it was to be copied is the work of Virgilio Cassio, who starts by making a drawing the actual size of the finished work from a large photo of it in full color. He has 28,000 colors in varying shades and hues at hand to copy any painting exactly. Each mosaic piece is meticulously put into place in the stucco, which when slowly and completely dried stays fixed for a thousand years. The artist made the mosaic in sections and as each one was completed and numbered, it was sealed to protect it and set aside to dry. When done and thoroughly dry, the sections are carefully packed and shipped.
The new Sanctuary was dedicated on November 16, 1986 with Bishop W. Thomas Larkin as the principal celebrant. Celebrants included the Pastor, Rev. Alexander Rinaldo, about 50 other priests from the diocese, Pinellas Park city officials, Knights of Columbus and members of the building project committees. Bishop Larkin congratulated Father Rinaldo for great leadership and ability in building this beautiful home for the Lord. The Mass ended with a blessing from Bishop Larkin.
By 1986, Sacred Heart Catholic School was comprised of a balanced program of studies emphasizing the development of skills and concepts. Extracurricular activities offered opportunities for students to grow physically, spiritually and intellectually. By 1987, there were 1800 families in the congregation. In 1987, Tony Mazzella assumed the Chair of the Fall Festival. In 1991, the church purchased the house where the current Priest of our Church lives, but it was originally purchased as a residence for the school Principal, Sister Alice.
One of the most notable features of Sacred Heart Church and School are the festivals held each fall and spring. For over thirty years, the fall festival has grown to be the largest festival in Pinellas County. It brings five nights of rides, entertainment, food and fun for our neighbors and parish community. In 1995 the Fall Festival had become a huge success so the Committee agreed to expand the days of the Festival from 3 days to 5 days. They also agreed to celebrate Mass under the “big tent” with a good hot breakfast afterward in the Parish Center. That still goes on today. The school started a Spring Carnival which also became a huge success and runs for 3 days in spring. In more recent years we have been blessed to have Father Robert McGuire, Father Ralph Argentino, Father James Merkle, Father John Gerth and currently Father Anthony Coppola as our pastors! Make sure to visit these wonderful festivals!