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Did You Know: Sacred Heart Church Opens Once A Year For Christmas Service

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 4:46pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 8:33am
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Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ
Old Sacred Heart Church is on a 19-acre lot on the corner of Buckeye Road and 16th Street. The church was built in 1952 with the help of Father Albert Baun, OFM.
(Photo courtesy of Braun – Sacred Heart Center Inc.)
Father Albert Braun, OFM, serves mass under an armada. This is how the community of Golden Gate came together for mass on Sundays, until (Old) Sacred Heart Church was built in 1952.

It’s been sitting in the middle of an empty lot for more than 30 years. From a distance it may look abandoned, but it isn’t. Its doors are opened once a year for the community.

West of Sky Harbor International Airport – near Buckeye Road and 16th Street- is an industrial complex. In the middle of it all is a small building on a 19-acre lot. It’s the Sacred Heart Church. Did You Know … Sacred Heart Church is only opened once a year for Christmas service?

“When you come out on Christmas day to our mass you’ll see people kneeling in the fields here. They go to the spot where their house used to be, and they’ll kneel, and they’ll pray.”

Abe Arvizu Jr. is a member of the Braun-Sacred Heart Center, the organization that oversees saving and restoring the Old Sacred Heart Church. He grew up in the neighborhood.

“I was right over here in the corner, you know, maybe a block away, block and a half away.”

Sacred Heart closed about 30 years ago. But every December, Arvizu and other former parishioners make their way into the church to clean it up in preparation for Christmas mass. Inside, Arvizu reminisces about this building in the area once known as the Golden Gate Barrio.

“The homes went from the all the way to the river bottom, all the way to the airport, all the way to 7th street, and all the way up to the railroad tracks. That was the neighborhood.”

Sacred Heart Church was built in a predominantly Mexican-American community in 1952 with the help of Father Albert Braun, OFM. He was a decorated chaplain of both World Wars. He arrived at Golden Gate Barrio, realized services were held under an armada and decided to build a church. Help came from everywhere, including from the community eager for a place to worship of their own.

“Pennies and nickels and dimes, that’s what they were gathering up that was left over to continue the building."

Many families even donated bricks from their own property.  After all the collections, a church big enough for about 300 parishioners was built. Unique features adorn the inside. The ceiling lights are the 1915 chandeliers that once hung at Saint Mary’s Basilica. The altar floor and the altar are covered in Italian marble.

“You think that’s beautiful, walk over here and look at the mosaic on the wall. All marble.”

It is a wall mosaic of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But the building does have its problems.

“You can see the termite damage. That’s from all the years of the treatment not being done.”

Around the 1970s, the City of Phoenix imposed eminent domain on the area for industrial development and airport expansion. Old Sacred Heart Church stands today because of community petitions and support from some city council members over the years preventing its demolition.

Old Sacred Heart and the land it sits on are owned by the City of Phoenix. Every year the city agrees to open its doors on Christmas for noon mass.

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