SACRED HEART PARISH HISTORY
Prior to 1870, the pioneer German Catholic families living in and around sterling had no church of their own, but were often visited by German speaking priests from Freeport. Most of the early German families arrived about the time the Galena division of the Chicago-Northwestern railroad was being built in the year 1855.
In the year 1870, Father Peter Fisher, vicar General of the Chicago Diocese at the time, appointed Father William Schamoni the first resident pastor for the Germans of Sterling. For a time, he offered Mass in the old Bressler hall, but soon began the construction of a little church and bought a small house to be used as his rectory. On Easter Sunday 1870, Mass was offered for the first time in the new church, which served the congregation until May 1, 1886.
On January 1, 1971, Father Schamoni (1870-1871) was appointed a pastor and parish in Oregon was made a mission of Sacred Heart Parish.
Father Ferdinand Allgayer became pastor in 1875 and remained until October 1876. During his pastorate two lots were purchased for the purpose of building a school and convent. His successor, Father Joseph Beinecke (1876-1881), arrived in December 1876 and sw to the building of the school and convent. The school was in operation until June 15, 1910 when it was closed because the small attendance did not warrant the expensive repairs necessary at that time.
During the pastorate of Father George M. Miller (1881-1885), the building of the second church was begun. The next pastor, Father Hubert M. Fegers (1885-1914), remained in Sterling for nearly 30 years as pastor of the Sacred Heart Parish. His first work was to finish the church which was solemnly dedicated by Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan of Chicago on May 2, 1886. The church was then completely furnished and six years later, was debt free. Still under the pastorate of Father Fegers, the parish observed its Silver Jubilee in 1895.
When Father Michael B. Krug (1925-1955) came to sterling as pastor (later monsignor), he came to a parish deeply in debt. Father Krug was instrumental in retiring the parish debt and in making many improvements in the building. The church was enlarged and redecorated and furnished with statues and art work to the extent that it was known as the “jewel box” of the Rockford Diocese.
In June 1964, Father Joseph D. Highland was appointed Administrator of the parish. During his tenure at the parish, a new Sacred Heart Church was planned across from Newman Central Catholic High School. The church was built on seven acres of land in the northwest part of the city.
Father Highland served Sacred Heart Parish until July of 1970 when Bishop Arthur J. O’Neil announced a structural change that created an experimental team ministry in Sterling to serve both parishes; Sacred Heart and St. Mary. Father Everett J. Hiller, at that time Pastor of St. Mary, was appointed as coordinator for both parishes with Father Philip Kennedy, Father Robert N. Sherry and Father Humberto C. Rodriguez, as members of the first ministry team.
Father Sherry and Father Kenney came to live in the rectory on the site of the new church and on September 26, 1971, the new Sacred Heart Church was dedicated by Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill.
The new parish is organized as a compound of buildings clustered around a church courtyard. The form of the building recalls the qualities of traditional Northern European construction, thus expressing the Germanic traditions of the parish. A free-standing bell tower near the church houses the bell donated to the parish in 1895 by Jacob Lauff. The bell had been preserved when the old church was demolished in 1970.
Large scale photographic murals, expressing traditional concepts of faith in contemporary terms, adorn the interior brick walls of the new church. The church design won national honors from the Guild for Religious Architecture in May 1972.
In the fall of 1973, it was decided to discontinue the team ministry in Sterling and return to the traditional system of each parish having its own pastor. On October 1, 1973, Bishop O’Neill appointed Father Lawrence London (1973-1976) as Pastor of Sacred Heart and Father William P. Knott as Pastor of St. Mary’s.
On June 5, 2005, Father Paul White, pastor since 1997, dedicated the parish’s new handicapped accessible entrance. Local businesses owned by parishioners and other professionals, donated their skills, keeping construction costs to a minimum. At the time of the dedication, Eugene and Rita Graff donated a life-sized statue of the Sacred Heart that had once stood in the original church on First Avenue. That church was demolished after a storm caused the steeple to collapse into the church. Many of the statues were sold at auction. The Graffs’s purchased the Sacred Heart statue and kept it safely stored in their barn for 33 years. They restored the statue and presented it as a gift in memory of Rita’s parents, John and Berth Minertz.
In 2007 Fr. Paul White was transferred to St. Joseph Parish, Harvard, Il. Fr. Paul Lipinski, principal of Newman Central Catholic High School, also shared the Sacred Heart Church rectory was named pastor. While pastor, Fr. Lipinski worked with parishioner Bob Hibbard, parishioners and the Rockford Diocese to have new statues of The Blessed Mary and St. Joseph placed in the sanctuary with the crucifix.
Fr. David C.Finn was named parochial administrator from 2008 – 2011. While at Sacred Heart he was also principal at Newman High School and taught religion classes throughout the year.
Since 2011 to current, Fr. Bruce Ludeke arrived as new parochial administrator, and became our pastor on June 7, 2014. He is also the Assistant Principal at Newman High School. Fr. Bruce also teaches at Newman and St. Mary’s grade school, Sterling.