By Alexandra Piacenza

From their beginnings, Sacred Heart’s and Prescott’s history have been entwined. As early as 1540 Catholic priest Father Juan de Padilla, a spiritual leader of the Coronado expedition, may have encountered some of the native people of the area as the expedition traveled east of Arizona's central highlands. Church history suggests that it would be more than 230 years before they may have been visited again, this time by Franciscan missionary Father Francisco Hermenegildo Garcés in 1776. Yet another century passed before the first resident pastor, Father F.C. Becker, arrived.

Father Becker built the house at 227 N. Marina Street that became Sacred Heart’s first parish church and rectory and during his tenure the Sisters of St. Joseph established Mercy Hospital, Prescott’s first. In The Arizona Diary of Lily Fremont, the daughter of Territorial Governor John C. Fremont tells of sending “beef tea” to founding Mother John Berchmans Hartrich during her last illness and assisting with her funeral. Father Becker was succeeded by Father Jules Durache. As early as February of 1879, Father Durache discussed having the Sisters start a school, asking Lily to determine if the military authorities at Fort Whipple would be receptive to the idea. Whatever the outcome of that initial inquiry, St. Joseph’s Academy was founded in 1885, occupying the former hospital building.

Arriving in 1889, Father Alfred Queto is considered by many as the architect of “the first solid organization of the parish,” exemplified by the construction of Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the corner of Marina and Willis Streets. The architect of the physical building, Frank Parker, designed it “in Sober Gothic Style,” using pointed arches, decorative brick and rough-cut local stone. Completed in 1896, it’s considered one of the best examples of 19th century religious architecture in Arizona. The structure underwent some subsequent changes, such as destruction of the 115-foot steeple by lightning and replacement of the wooden rectory building with a brick one. However, it served generations of Prescottonians for over seven decades.

In 1915 at the request of the Bishop of Tucson the Claretian Fathers arrived in Prescott. The Claretians have now served the Prescott community for over 100 years, helping ensure the parish in Prescott and the Catholic community throughout Yavapai County continues to flourish.

In 1956 the current Sacred Heart Catholic School was built and St Joseph’s Academy became a day and boarding school for girls. In 1969 Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), also called the Sisters of Loreto, came to teach at the Sacred Heart, where they still serve.

The design and construction of the current Sacred Heart Church and Parish Center grew out of overcrowding as well as an embrace of contemporary design and materials inspired by the Second Vatican Council. A chapel for Spanish-speakers, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel, had been established in 1935 and the new facility would allow bringing all parishioners together under one roof. The original Mercy Hospital building, which had so long served the community, first as a place of healing and then one of learning, was torn down. The new Sacred Heart Catholic Church was built on the site and dedicated on June 15th, 1969.

As its 50th anniversary approaches, plans to improve Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church and Parish Center are now well under way. These efforts are plainly built upon the dedication and love for church and community of countless parishioners over the years and of course the current Sacred Heart family. The new design will encourage a greater feeling of connection to sacred space and represents a continuation of Sacred Heart’s long and fruitful connection to Prescott.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.