January 18, 2011
Editor’s Note: In preparing for the erection of St. Mary’s Church, Amarillo, to Cathedral status on Friday, March 25, The West Texas Catholic begins a series of stories on the cathedral churches of the Diocese of Amarillo. Our first story is on the first cathedral, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Amarillo.
Amarillo—The story of Sacred Heart Cathedral has been told many times in the 75-year history of the West Texas Catholic. It’s a story that begins with a young priest, frail in health, but strong and genial in spirit.
His name was Father David H. Dunn. He arrived in the Texas Panhandle in 1900, appointed pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Clarendon, and its missions.
In 1902, the general consensus was that Amarillo, thanks to its central position and its possibilities as a crossroads for various railroad lines, would become the leading town of the Texas Panhandle.
In August 1902, Father Dunn decided to build a church in Amarillo. Beginning with $400 out of his pocket, Father Dunn began a fund drive. On March 17, 1903, ground was broken at Fourth and North Polk for Sacred Heart Church. The 48 by 24 foot building was opened for services nearly five months later on Aug. 2 and was dedicated on Oct. 18.
After 1905, Amarillo developed into the leading town of the Texas Panhandle. By 1909, Father Dunn began thinking seriously about building a new church. Sacred Heart Church purchased two lots at the corner of Ninth and Taylor streets at a cost of $5,000. Seven years after the purchase, ground was finally broken for the new Sacred Heart Church, which was built at a cost of $18,000. The new church was of red brick with white trimmings, in modified Romanesque style. The total outlay of the church, including the cost of the lots, was $23,000. When the church was sold in 1973, the purchase price was $250,000.
Father Dunn, unfortunately, would not have the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the new Sacred Heart Church. After falling ill on the first Friday of September 1916, he died on Oct. 3 at the age of 47. His funeral on Oct. 5 was the first Mass in the new church, presided by Dallas Bishop Joseph Patrick Lynch. As a mark of respect, businesses in Amarillo closed their doors during Father Dunn’s funeral.
After the death of Father Dunn, Father Bart O’Brien became the administrator of Sacred Heart Church. The church was formally opened for services in January 1917. The church was blessed and dedicated by Bishop Lynch on April 13, 1918.
In 1922, construction began on a rectory for the church. When finished, the two-story building which contained a basement cost $16,000.
By 1926, there were 14 parishes, 30 missions, 11 stations, nine schools, 12 diocesan priests and 12 priests from religious orders serving in the Catholic Church in the Amarillo area. On Aug. 3, Pope Pius XI issued a decree creating the Diocese of Amarillo. The new diocese was comprised of an area 400 miles long and nearly 200 miles wide. Sacred Heart Church, Amarillo, was named the first cathedral for the new diocese.
On April 26, 1927, Bishop Rudolph A. Gerken, was consecrated first Bishop of Amarillo at a Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Dallas. The following day, Bishop Gerken was installed as Bishop at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Amarillo.
For nearly the next 48 years, Sacred Heart Cathedral would serve the people of the Diocese of Amarillo. Four successors to Bishop Gerken, Bishops Robert E. Lucey, Lawrence J. FitzSimon, John J. Morkovsky and Laurence M. DeFalco, would be installed at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
In 1974, the property was sold to First National Bank of Amarillo. On Jan. 19, 1975, the final Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral was celebrated by Bishop DeFalco and priests of the Diocese of Amarillo, with an overflow crowd in attendance.
The scene at the final Mass, as reported in the pages of The West Texas Catholic, was a bit sad, but beautiful. The Marian Mass in D minor, composed and directed by Joseph E. Martin, was sung by the newly-named St. Laurence Cathedral Choir and former members of the Sacred Heart Choir.
Alamo Catholic High School students presented a reading of “The Cathedral Story” and Monsignor Francis A. Smyer gave the homily.
A reception followed the Mass, but when all was done, the workman came and stripped away the interior and removed the windows.