by:Richard Regnier, Extraordinary Minister & Founding President of the Parish Council
Nestled in the Santa Clara Valley is a parish community of cheerful smiles.
They epitomize the proverb: A glad heart brings forth a cheerful smile. (Proverbs 15:13)
These cheerful smiles belong to the parishioners of Sacred Heart Church. For a quarter of a century it has been recognized in Ventura County that Sacred Hearters are glad hearters. And with good reason, because the origin and development of Sacred Heart Church ranks as a shining achievement. This success is the result of: (1) the cheerful constancy and devoted leadership of our founder and only pastor, Monsignor Arnold Biedermann; and (2) our Sacred Heart parishioners practicing the gospel of love and generosity of spirit.
The roots of Sacred Heart Parish began in 1915 in response to the spiritual needs of Catholics in this area. St. Sebastian's Parish in Santa Paula established Sacred Heart Mission at Wells Road and Violeta (formerly Sixth) Street in rural Saticoy. A wooden frame building on the corner of Saticoy Avenue and Telephone Road, which originally served as a general store and post office, was purchased and moved to downtown "metropolitan" Saticoy in 1915. The building was converted to a tiny white chapel with a seating capacity of 200 and named Sacred Heart. Religious services in the early years were conducted by Reverend Emillio Ylla, Pastor of St. Sebastian's until 1919. Father Ylla performed much of his work between Santa Paula and Saticoy with the aid of a horse and buggy.
As the years passed it was felt that some form of spiritual instruction and training should be made available to the many children in the area who were attending public schools. This need was met in 1930 when several nuns from the Community of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters established a foothold in Santa Paula and commenced a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program at Sacred Heart Mission. Beginning with 34 children, this number expanded rapidly in the coming years. A primary mission of the Sisters was to serve the Spanish-speaking Catholics who far outnumbered the English-speaking Catholics in this area.
Because of burgeoning growth and development in Ventura County, by the 1960's there was a compelling need for a new church and school. This need was answered largely through the foresight, dedication and most generous donation of 23 acres of land at Wells Road and Henderson Road by Mr. and Mrs. John P. Thille of Santa Paula, as well by the inspiration and encouragement of Reverend Joshua Kennedy, Pastor of St. Sebastian's. The Thilles were also leaders in the original chapel project in 1915. In March 1966, a Building Fund Drive was launched with a goal of raising one third of the $365,000 needed to construct the new church and the first four classrooms of a new elementary school.
Two months later on May 15, 1966, His Eminence Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, Archbishop of Los Angeles, canonically raised Sacred Heart Mission to parish status. Cardinal McIntyre appointed the Pastor of St. Stephen's Parish in Los Angeles, Reverend Arnold Biedermann, as our first Pastor. The Cardinal prophetically told him: "You're going to God's country. You'll have nothing there, but your youthful energy and spirit hopefully will make something out of nothing."
Born in Austria the second of 18 children, Father Biedermann was ordained at Innsbruck, Austria, on August 26, 1945. In 1948 he came to America where he diligently applied himself in night school learning English (and just as diligently retained his charming Austrian accent - "Choy to ze Vorld").
Excitement filled the air on April 30, 1967, when ground breaking ceremonies were held. Monsignor Joseph F. Sharpe of Santa Clara Church in Oxnard blessed the ground and was the principal speaker on that momentous day. A few hundred parishioners stood like pilgrim pioneers in the pumpkin field now occupied by Sacred Heart Church while the ceremonies were conducted from the flatbeds of two semi-trailers.
His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Manning, at that time Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Chairman of the Archdiocesan Building Department, was most influential in the planning of our new church. His inspiring concepts were carried out by architect John Bartlett and Associates of Arcadia who designed the new arrow-shaped church. Ralph Viola, general contractor from Oxnard, served as the builder of the church, school and rectory. Throughout devoted personal effort was put forth by the job superintendent, Jose Flores. He even slept nights at the job site to safeguard the sacred project. Such efforts were rewarded the following year when our spacious and inviting new church was completed. Then on August 11, 1968, Father Biedermann celebrated the first Mass in Sacred Heart's new home. With a seating capacity of 837, it was indeed a magnificent setting for Catholic worship and a far cry from the old wooden chapel Father Biedermann affectionately referred to as his "chicken coop." Por Dios!
To help meet the needs of an expanding parish populace, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles assigned Reverend Paul Dotson in 1968 as Sacred Heart's first Associate Pastor. Quickly winning his way into the hearts of the parishioners, he spread wholesomeness, warmth and goodwill throughout the parish. In 1973 our beloved Father Dotson became Associate Pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Pacific Palisades. He was succeeded at Sacred Heart by Reverend Terrance Fleming, who focused on involving our young people in Sacred Heart youth group activities. Father Terry served as Vice Chancellor and Director of the Secretariat for Administrative Services for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The admirable participation of our young people was also stimulated by Sacred heart being the first Catholic Church in Ventura County to inaugurate Folk Masses. Another first for Sacred Heart Parish occurred October 10, 1971, when the first two Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist, John Keefe and Dick Regnier, were commissioned for our parish by special mandate of the Archbishop of Los Angeles. That same year Sacred Heart's found co-benefactor, John P. Thille, died at the age of 87. He was a recipient of the Papal Honor "Knight Commander of St. Gregory." Also in 1971 the Lourdes Grotto beside Sacred Heart Church was completed and blessed. It was built by Sacred Hearters Alfons Mikus, Pius Von Flue and Jack Garcia using 15 tons of Piru stone. Al Barsotti had donated it in memory of his wife, Kathryn.
In 1972 all bridges were burned behind us when Mission Chapel was sold to Pioneer Baking Company. As Father Biedermann aptly observed, the cozy little chapel that had served us so well for so many years would continue to be a "house of bread." Several years ago, however, it was transported to a field on nearby Darling Road and turned into a museum which housed Chumash artifacts and many other items from Saticoy's past.
Over the years Monsignor Biedermann's loyal sister, Frau Isolde Von Flue, has tirelessly devoted herself as a most gracious hostess for the residents, visitors and guests at the rectory. Her culinary skill is renowned, and her husband, Pius Von Flue, became a living legend as our Parish Custodian and Sacristan, as well as Father Biedermann's devoted handyman. A direct descendant of St. Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Switzerland, Pius died at the rectory and went to his eternal reward New Year's Day 1985. As part of his enduring commitment to Sacred Heart, he donated the exquisite stained glass center window in our church choir loft.
The end of our first decade as a dynamic parish provided a fitting occasion to reflect on the Sacred Heart legacy we enjoy. Our then Archbishop of Los Angeles, His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Manning, dedicated our new church on Pentecost Sunday, June 6, 1976. Cardinal Manning then offered a solemn High Mass, concelebrated by two dozen priests. It was a most impressive and fitting celebration of the 10th anniversary of our parish.
In 1979 three major advances in the development of our splendid parish occurred. First, an expansive Parish Center was erected with modern stage and kitchen facilities. In honor or our beloved Pastor serving his 25th year as our "good shepherd", the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has recently designated it as Arnold K. Biedermann Hall. Secondly, parishioner Braden McKinley was ordained and assigned as Sacred Heart's first Permanent Deacon. Eleven years later this devout Catholic family man was joined by our second Permanent Deacon, Walt Gleeson, another exemplary parishioner. The third advance in 1979 occurred when Sacred Heart received permission from the Archdiocese to open a parochial school commencing with kindergarten and first grade. An additional grade was added each successive year until we now have 323 students in grades K through 8. As the school expanded, in 1983 four additional classrooms were constructed plus school offices, a faculty lounge and restrooms. The first class graduated in 1988. The year 1979 was also marked by the passing of another Sacred Heart founding co-benefactor, Grace Thille, at the age of 103. She had bestowed upon her the Papal Honor "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice."
Innovation has been another Sacred Heart tradition. It was demonstrated in the fall of 1981, for example, when our First Parish Renewal Mission was convened. The attendance was outstanding, and to this day it is remembered for the spirituality, open communication, warmth and Christian understanding it fostered.
A "choyful" and historic milestone was reached on September 13, 1984, when Pope John Paul II bestowed the honor of Papal Prelate on our one and only Pastor, elevating him to Monsignor. In a special celebration led by Cardinal Timothy Manning at Sacred Heart Church on February 2, 1985, shared by Bishop Donald Montrose, Abbot Ladislaus Parker and 27 priests, Monsignor Arnold Biedermann was officially invested while concelebrating the 40th anniversary of his ordination as a priest. Ole!
The march of our parish progress included construction in 1987 of another kindergarten facility, a parish library, computer and science room. Also, a new plaza was provided as an inspirational environment for school assemblies. As with our church, once again the project architect was John Bartlett of Arcadia and the contractor was Viola Construction of Oxnard. Sacred Heart School was under the direction of Sister Mary Francelia as principal from 1981- 1997. Totally committed to providing the highest quality of Catholic education, she was a kind, cheerful, self-effacing nun who is one of Sacred Heart's greatest blessings. Ms. Jean Alden is the current principal and continues to uphold the finest quality of Catholic education that Sacred Heart offers.
The year 1989 ushered in two more noteworthy events: (1) the passing of still another cherished Sacred Heart benefactor, Mary Thille, at the age of 96; and (2) the Knights of Columbus establishing Council No. 10067 with Vince Ordonez installed as the first Grand Knight. Then the following year on August 26, 1990, a memorable mass was celebrated in honor of the 45th anniversary of Monsignor Biedermann's ordination. That year was also very special for Sacred Hearters because Father Dennis Mongrain became our Associate Pastor. Universally admired for his friendliness, encouragement and clear, concise sermons, he denies his handsome tan comes from any secret tanning lamp in the rectory. Convincing even doubting Thomases, he good-naturedly reminds us: "I am a Confessor. I have a tanning booth!"
Our parish's first quarter century was reverently saluted on May 26, 1991, at a 25th Anniversary Mass offered by Bishop Patrick Ziemann, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and Regional Bishop Ziemann said the Mass because he personifies the warmth, openness and generous spirit which is the heartbeat of Sacred Heart.
From an initial 400 families, Sacred Heart Parish has grown to over 2,200 families on its 25th anniversary. The religious training of our children through the Religious Education Program has grown from an original 34 children to 475 today. Our school religion also embraces a very active and successful adult program witnessing the Good News of Christ. Various parish organizations continue to engage in the work of the lay apostolate in molding our community, serving our fellow men and women and supporting parish programs & projects. These include the Adult, Hispanic, Teen and Student Choirs, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts & Girl Scouts, Legion of Mary, Secular Franciscans, Marriage Preparation Course, Respect Life Group, Bereavement Committee, Finance Council, Italian Catholic Federation, Family to Family, Parent-Teacher Council, Divorced-Separated-Widowed Group, Senior Activities, Hispanic Ministry and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Notwithstanding its grandeur, our new church has not proven itself to be cold and impersonal. Au contraire, under Monsignor's extraordinary leadership the new church provides an exceptional forum for us to express our communion with God and genuine fellowship with each other. Clearly Sacred Heart Church serves as the focal point in our continuing endeavor to lead meaningful Christian lives. For at Sacred Heart there is a pervasive spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, yea of love, among all of us that radiates our Christian commitment. Now on the threshold of the bi-millennial of Christ's resurrection, we envision sharing and expanding in the 21st Century all that such a commitment produces for the betterment of humankind and the glory of God. We are indeed a blessed Parish and joyful people.