From the time of America’s entry into World War I, Sacred Heart has been a welcoming faith-community in our neighborhood and a home, mother, and cornerstone for the Catholics of western Berks County.
Although many communities in Berks County were predominantly agrarian, by the beginning of the 20th century, Reading experienced industrial expansion due to its proximity to the anthracite coal regions of Schuylkill County to the north and the product markets of Philadelphia to the southeast. Jobs brought significant population growth to the area, among whom were many Catholics.
Acting on the recommendation of Monsignor George Bornemann of Saint Paul Parish, Reading, Archbishop Edmond Prendergast erected Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in 1917, to provide for the spiritual needs of Catholics, primarily of German descent, living west of the Schuylkill River. Msgr. Bornemann purchased a plot of land at the southwest corner of Eighth and Hill Avenues in Wyomissing for erecting a church (the current site of McDonald’s).
Father Charles Bornemann, Msgr. Bornemann’s nephew, was named the founding pastor of the fledgling parish, which numbered 180 souls. Father Bornemann celebrated the first Mass for the parish on 8 July 1917 in the Wyomissing town hall. A two-story, brick church-school was completed and put into service in 1919. The church occupied the first floor and a two-room school was on the second floor with a small apartment to provide living quarters for two Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who taught in the school. Mindful of the growing parish, Father Bornemann took steps to acquire a new site for the parish. He also bought a home at 106 South Seventh Avenue as a convent for the expanding number of sisters.
In 1928, the task to build a new parish complex was handed over to Father John Wachter. The new building erected on the corner of Franklin Street and Seventh Avenue was made of local granite and was a combination church and school. Cardinal Dougherty laid the cornerstone in 1929 and the building was put into service in 1930
In 1943, Father Theodore Wagner was named the new pastor. Following World War II, Sacred Heart became the mother-parish for Saint John Baptist de LaSalle Parish in Shillington in 1947. By 1953, 1,000 more souls were added to the parish and the school was bursting at the seams. With 3,000 parishioners and 460 school children, both church and school were proving inadequate for the parish. In 1956, Father Wagner undertook the task to expand the school and at the same time, plan for a new church. In July 1960, Msgr. Wagner broke ground for the new church at the corner of Franklin Street and Lakeview Drive, and in April 1962, celebrated the first Mass in the new church with his beloved school children. The mid-sixties presented new challenges to the parish. In June of 1965, the parish once again split to create Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Whitfield. Also, with the conclusion of Vatican II in 1965, the parish would have to adapt the sanctuary of its new church to accommodate liturgical changes coming from the Council.
Msgr. Wagner died 20 June 1979, and Father Alfred Ott became the fourth pastor of Sacred Heart. Working with parish leaders, a capital campaign was begun to finance a sorely needed Parish Center to include meeting rooms and a weekday chapel, and a new rectory and office area. The Parish Center, offices, and new rectory were completed and occupied in October of 1982. In 1987 Father Ott took on the remodeling of the interior of the church to better adapt the space for worship and current needs. The aisles were widened; the sanctuary was given a new floor-plan and furnishings, and the confessionals were modified to accommodate for face-to-face Penance. Also, the area leading to the church from the street was significantly modified.
In 1989, Father James Reichert, a former assistant to Msgr. Wagner, was named pastor. After many years of use, the school was in need of repair and updating. After celebrating the parish’s 75th anniversary in 1992, the parishioners embarked on a capital campaign to fund a complete school renovation, including an addition to the school itself, to consist of a new library on the first floor and a school/parish meeting room on the second floor, named the “IHM Room,” in honor of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who served the school and parish until 1992. A self-contained science lab and a computer room were part of the renovation. A loggia was built to connect the second floor of the school to the church. In 2000, the original aluminum tubing bell tower was so weakened that it was no longer possible to safely ring the bells suspended in it. A 65-foot granite campanile was erected to replace it.
Father Joseph DeSantis was named the sixth pastor of Sacred Heart in June 2003. As part of a diocesan capital campaign, the parish was to receive a 25 percent return to its collected pledges over a six-year campaign period. Father DeSantis designated all returns to be used for renovating and restoring the church. Together with a committee of seven parishioners, the Rambusch Design Studios of New Jersey guided the committee through the process of design and refurbishing, steered by 3R’s: Restoration, Renovation, and Repair. A major challenge of the project was to preserve the integrity of the church’s original design. The project took nearly three years to complete. The new altar was consecrated and the church rededicated in December 2006 by Bishop Edward P. Cullen. In 2019, a group of concerned parishioners approached Msgr. DeSantis with the desire to create a parish educational endowment to help ensure the parish’s mission to “…teach all nations.” The parish/school endowment has proven successful as it continues to grow thanks to the ongoing generosity of parishioners and benefactors to provide for the future.
Sacred Heart Parish continues to be enriched, to grow and develop. But it is God and the faith, love and generosity of the people of the parish that make the church, school, and center a sacred, faith-filled home for the present and for the generations of disciples of Jesus Christ yet to come.