Sacred Heart CHurch History
In 1878 Rev. Francis Mora became Bishop of the Los Angeles and Monterey Diocese, at a time when the population of Los Angeles was a bout 10,000. The building of a railroad sparked growth in the Antelope Valley as the Southern Pacific established a route through the AV, with a stop-off in Lancaster. In those years there were few Catholics in the Antelope Valley, and their spiritual needs were served by priests from San Buenaventura Mission, Ventura. A priest would come occasionally to offer Mass at such places as Elizabeth Lake, Neenach, St. Anthony’s Ranch in Bouquet Canyon or in Lancaster.
In the early days, the priest rode in horse and buggy through the Santa Paula Valley and then on horseback through Lake Elizabeth or San Francisquito Canyons. In bad weather he could not make it at all. Later he came by train via Santa Paula and Saugus. He wrote in advance of the time he was coming so that the parishioners could be summoned for mass.
In 1884 Fr. Patrick Bannon was made pastor of Malachy’s Church in Tehachapi in order to help those in Lancaster, Mojave, Fort Tejon, Amedia and the South Fork. Parishioners of the latter three were Tejon and Piute Indians. Mass was said once a month in the homes of the various people.
In 1886 Fr. Barron helped built the first Catholic Church in Lancaster on ton land donated by James P. Ward and constructed by Frederick and Max Godde and local people. The church was completed in 1890, the year the parish was established and was located at the Ninth and Cedar Avenue.
After Fr. Bannon, several other priests served the Tehachapi parish and area missions, including Fr. Joseph Wanner, who in 1907 was named pastor of Sacred Heart Church while serving and living in Malachy. In 1908 under Fr. Wanner the church was rebuilt and the work completed in 1910. Fr. Wanner was not satisfied with the appearance of the church and further improvements were made in 1914. In those days two gasoline stoves furnished all the heat. A room in the rear of the church served as rectory for Fr. Wanner when he stayed overnight in Lancaster. In 1916 Fr. John Meehan was named pastor and in 1918 he moved into the rectory in Lancaster, which had been built next to the church.
From 1921-1928 several different priests served as pastor and then, on November 15, 1928, Fr. Charles Kennedy was named pastor. The Canadian-born Fr. Kennedy arrived at Sacred Heart when there were only 30 families, but Lancaster was in the midst of population boom that tripled its population between 1920 and 1930. Fr. Kennedy would remain at Sacred Heart for almost 40 years, until his death on February 11, 1968, spending all but 3 years of priesthood at Sacred Heart. One year before his death Fr. Kennedy was invested with the church title of the right reverend monsignor.
Some of the highlights during the time of Fr. Kennedy are as follows. In 1932 the parish conducted its first barbecue, which quickly became a community tradition that drew Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In 1936 with the increasing population in Lancaster, Fr. Kennedy enlarged the first church building erected by Fr. Bannon and seating capacity was increased to 300. On May 3, 1936, the enlarged was dedicated and blessed by the late Archbishop John J. Cantwell. In February of 1949 there was the groundbreaking for the new Parochial School and Convent. On September 8, 1949, Sacred Heart opened the Valley’s first Catholic elementary school with 112 children, for which support came from the annual barbecue. The school was staffed by Immaculate Heart Sisters and later; the Sisters of the Holy Cross replaced them. The Sisters, while they were here, stayed in the Convent (which is now the Dachtler Center). After the Sisters left in the 1980’s, the lower floor of the Convent was converted into classrooms for kindergarten and upstairs a meeting room for the RCIA sessions (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) was created and called the “Upper Room.” In 1953 when Fr. Kennedy celebrated his 25th year as pastor of Sacred Heart Church, the town of Lancaster had grown to 10,000 people and his parishioners numbered 800 families. Four Masses were offered on Sundays, but the crowded attendance at all Masses indicated that a larger church was needed. That year, Fr. Kennedy began work on plans for a new church to meet the growing needs of his ever-increasing flock. On Sunday, October 28, 1956, His Eminence James Francis Cardinal McIntyre, came for the solemn dedication and blessing of the church (the current church). Adjacent to the church was the newly built rectory , where the priest lived on the upper floor and the offices, kitchen and dining area were all on the ground floor. Fr. Kennedy was also responsible in establishing Paraclete High School and serving as chaplain at CCC camps, sheriff’s facilities and Muroc Army Air Base (now Edwards AFB).
After the death of Msgr. Kennedy in 1968 at age 74, Fr. Charles Dachtler, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, became the next pastor. Fr. Dachtler had previously served Sacred Heart as an associate from 1950-1960. In his first year as pastor the “Kennedy Hall” was built and dedicated to Msgr. Kennedy’s memory. Fr. Dachtler served as pastor from 1968 until his death in 1975 at the age of 66 (Fr. Dachtler also served as pastor of St. Mary in Palmdale from 1960-1968). It was during Fr. Dachtler’s time at Sacred Heart that the first men began formation to be ordained deacons for the parish. Cletus Didier and Jose Garcia were first and both were ordained in June 1977, a year after the death of Fr. Dachtler.
Fr. John Alvarez became pastor after the death of Fr. Dachtler but only served for two years because of his poor health and he died in 1978 at age 51. Fr. Jerome Elder succeeded Fr. Alvarez and organized the people of the parish into a strong and very active community. Fr. Elder remained at Sacred Heart for 13 years until leaving in 1991 to become pastor of St. Bartholomew Church in Long Beach (1991-2002), he was named monsignor in 2000, and died in 2003 at age 71.
From 1991-1999 the pastor was Msgr. Timothy O’Connell of County Cook, Ireland and former pastor of St. Linus Church in Norwalk. Over 2000 registered families packed seven weekend Masses in the church that had been recently renovated. In describing the parish he observed, “We’re got a lot of people with military background, as well as many teachers, many families and good number of old-timers in the area.” In a Tiding articles from 1996 Msgr. O’Connell stated: “There is much to like about, where the skies are clear 350 days a year. I wanted to come here because I enjoy the desert, you’ve got more change of seasons up here, with snow sometimes in the winter and the people are very committed to their parish.”
In 1999, Fr. Vogel, a member of St. John’s Seminary class of 1986, was named Sacred Heart administrator and pastor in 2000. It was during Fr. Vogel’s time that the parish expansion plans were begun. Fr. Vogel was succeeded in July of 2005 by our pastor, Fr. Tom Baker.
Fr. Baker was sent to Sacred Heart to help realize the expansion plans begun under Fr. Vogel. Starting a Capital Campaign in 2008, the parish was able to raise enough money to purchase approximately 4 acres of property from the City of Lancaster and develop it for their expansion. This property was adjacent to the existing property and required elimination of Cedar Ave., re-routing of sewage and other infrastructure development, the construction of the new parking area and resident priest house. The property is completely developed and ready for the new church. A second campaign drive is underway to obtain the funds necessary to construct a new church with seating capacity of 1500. The campaign slogan is “Our Faith, as a Family, Building our Future.”
We hope you’ve enjoyed this parish history and pray you become a part of the history of Sacred Heart by participating in our capital campaign. Throughout the years, people have sacrificed to make sure the Catholic Church here in Lancaster was strong and meeting the ever growing needs. Each of us has a blessed opportunity to leave our mark.
Pastors and Associates who served Sacred Heart Church
(Early records were viewed in Archdiocese archives and written by Fr. Kennedy)
1907 - 1916 Fr. Joseph Wanner
1916 - 1921 Fr. John Meehan
1921 - 1922 Anselm Bois
1922 - 1924 Fr. J.C Buckley
1924 - 1925 Fr. Peter A. Connolly
1925 - 1926 Fr. P.F. MacAran
1926 - 1928 Fr. John Corcoran
1928 - 1968 Fr/Msgr. Charles Kennedy (associates Fr. Charles Dachtler, Fr. Ed Landreau and Fr. Platz)
1968 - 1976 Fr. Charles Dachtler (associates Fr. Daniel Cremins, Fr. William Farney, Fr. Joseph Zwizzler, Fr. Dorren Rowe, Fr. Douglas Sauders and John Weaver)
1976 - 1978 Fr. John Alvarez (associates Fr. Doreen Rowe and Fr. John Killeen)
1978 - 1991 Fr. Jerome Elder (Fr. William Caffrey, residence and Fr. Phil Llanos, associate)
1991 - 1999 Mgsr. Timothy o’ Connell (associates Fr. Phil Llanos, Fr. Tom Cook, Fr. John Kesterson, Fr. Michael Okpara, Fr. Leo Alberg, Fr. David Ayotte, Fr. Maurice Harrigan)
2000 - 2005 Fr. Vogel (associates Fr. Maurice Harrigan, Fr. Hung Tran, Fr. Michael Ohanete)
2005 - 2016 Fr. Tom Baker (associates Fr. Hung Tran, Fr. Michael Ohanete, Fr. Hieu Tran, Fr. Eben MacDonald, Fr. Raymont Medina)
2016 - Present Fr Hieu Tran
Deacons who have served/serve at Sacred Heart Church
Deacon Clete Didier (ordained 1977)
Deacon Jose Garcia (ordained 1977)
Deacon Nicholas “Nick” Griego (ordained 1978)
Deacon John Burns (ordained 1979)
Deacon Salvatore “Sam” Safani (ordained 1990)
Deacon Donald Simanski (ordained 1994)
Deacon John Charters (ordained 1999)
Deacon Rotoulo (ordained 2003)
Deacon Francisco “Pancho” Gonzalez (ordained 2003)
Deacon Dale Reynolds (ordained 2008)
Deacon Fermin Herrera (ordained 2010)
Deacon Gregory Halamicek (ordained 2012)
Deacon Jason Schalow (ordained 2013)
Seminarians who have served Sacred Heart Church
Fr. Eben MacDonald (ordained 2012)
Fr. Parker Sandoval (ordained 2015)
Fr. Jeffrey Baker (ordained 2016)
Fr. Timothy Grumbach (ordained 2017)
Fr. Egren Gomez (ordinated 2018)