In 1985, Glenmary appointed Reverend Joseph Dean to Mt. Pleasant, Texas. He began looking for a place in Mt. Vernon to conduct Mass for the purpose of starting a new parish. By August 1986, the “blue house” located at 409 East Main was purchased as the residence for the Glenmary Sisters. Sister Mary Lynn Wrocklage and Sister Dorothy Hendershot agreed to move to Mt. Vernon and arranged for Mass to be offered in their living room. On September 6, 1986, Bishop Thomas Tschoepe of Dallas dedicated the front room as the local chapel of Franklin County. The first English Mass was offered on Sunday, October 26, of the same year. Since then, weekend services in English and in Spanish have been offered. Reverends Joseph Dean and Paul Ouderkirk took turns serving the small chapel from 1986 until 1988.
On November 30, 1986, Deacon Joe Moreno, Father Paul Ouderkirk and Father Joseph Dean began a half-hour television series covering the Mt. Vernon/Mt. Pleasant area. The television contact lasted thirteen weeks. About this same time, the Sisters began a weekly religious education program for the children in the area. Simultaneously, they started a Legion of Mary group in Mt. Vernon. As a result of the Sisters’ dedicated work with the community, on December 7, the Hispanic parishioners celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast at the 12:30 p.m. Mass. Many memorial gifts and items that were very much needed were donated to Mt. Vernon’s Chapel. On December 16, the first Posada ceremony was held in the chapel.
On January 10, 1987, the parishioners agreed to name the chapel “Sacred Heart Chapel.” The following month, the Legion of Mary met in Mt. Vernon. On February 23, Bishop Herzig arrived in Tyler to form the new Tyler Catholic Diocese, which included Sacred Heart Chapel. In March of 1987, a building committee was established to evaluate and develop the needs of the new community. In December of the same year, a finance committee was appointed to administer funds of the new Catholic community and to oversee the fundraising projects proposed and developed by the parishioners. On February 1, 1988, Bishop Herzig of the Diocese of Tyler appointed Reverend Joseph Dean pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Pittsburg, with Sacred Heart Church as a mission.
On October 31, 1988, Bishop Charles Herzig purchased the ground upon which the church was built. He officiated at the groundbreaking ceremonies on December 9, 1989. A Paris resident, Mr. William M. Lightfoot, an architect with Horizon Builders, Inc., of Dallas, designed the existing building. Construction on the new facility began on December 11, 1989.
Growing Through Change
In August of 1989, Sister Mary Lynn Wrocklage and Sister Dorothy Hendershot were replaced by Sister Martha Schuler. Bishop Herzig dedicated the new multi-purpose building on April 22, 1990. Father Joseph Dean was transferred to a new assignment in July of 1990 and was replaced by Father Mike Kieran. Father Kieran was followed by Father Poandl in 1994. Father Pat O’Donnell was the first resident of a home located at 307 Rutherford Street in Mt. Vernon. This home was renovated by the parishioners and became our rectory. Father Janusz Barczyk was appointed pastor in 1997. Under his leadership, the Sacred Heart Chapel became recognized as a Catholic parish in July of 1999.
Father Lawrence Chellaian replaced Father Janusz Barczyk in August of 1999 when Father Barczyk answered his call to join the Armed Forces. Under Father Lawrence Chellaian’s leadership, Sacred Heart Church began its current Youth Group as well as Bible Study Groups. In September 2002, Father Maria Susai J. Avula became pastor. Father Susai garnered participation and involvement from the Hispanic community. Under his leadership, construction began on the Family Life Center with groundbreaking and blessing of the site by Bishop Alvaro Corrada, S.J., on October 16, 2004. A year to the day later, October 16, 2005, Bishop Corrada blessed and dedicated the Family Life Center.
In 2006, a dedicated group of volunteers remodeled the church. They removed a glass partition that separated the church from the lobby, thereby enlarging the church. We received pews donated from St. Jude’s Church in Allen, which were also modified by volunteers to enlarge our seating capacity.
In 2007, a group of volunteers led by our Hispanic community enlarged our existing parking area to create more parking spaces, which were badly needed during Spanish Masses and bi-lingual Masses and social gatherings.
Bishop Alvaro Corrado suggested to Father Susai that Sacred Heart might want to consider building a new rectory on the acreage next to the church. Father Susai brought the Bishop’s suggestion to the Pastoral and Financial Councils, and soon after that, the Parish began to save money for the construction of a new rectory.
Father Ambrose Chinnappa came to Sacred Heart to replace Father Maria Susai Avula on March 19, 2009. Father Ambrose continued to encourage fundraising efforts and donations toward raising enough money to begin construction of the rectory.
On April 21, 2010, Monsignor Joseph Strickland, Vicar General of the Tyler Diocese, came to Sacred Heart for groundbreaking and blessing of the site of a new rectory to be constructed for our priest adjacent to the church. Parishioners continued to raise and donate money, and by the grace of God, Bishop Alvaro Corrado came to bless the new rectory on May 2, 2011, even though some work was still to be completed.
The physical exterior construction of the rectory was finished late in 2011 with the completion of the driveway and sidewalk leading from the existing church parking lot. We still have more things to complete before we can call the project finished. The interior of the rectory is still not completely furnished. There are still rooms that are empty of furnishings, and we would like to replace some items that are old with new things. We need landscaping to include retaining walls and planting of grass and trees to prevent erosion, including a sprinkler system. We need another driveway from the rectory to Hwy 37.
Looking to the Future
We very much need a playground area between the rectory and the church for our children to include playground equipment for the smaller children and a basketball and/or tennis court area for older youth.
Even though we still have things to do, we thank God for all He has given us, and we pray for His continued blessings in the future.