top of page

History of Sacred Heart of Jesus 

Starting with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

For more than 111 years, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, 1405 2nd Avenue, has proudly served the community of Leavenworth, Kansas. Over the years, "Sacred Heart" Church has been an integral part of the spiritual, educational and economic stability of the area.  It was in 1854, following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, that Leavenworth became the first city of the Kansas Territory because of its central location and promise for growth, the first Bishop of Kansas, Bishop John Baptiste Miege, moved his episcopal residence from St Mary's, Kansas to Leavenworth. He immediately began the task of firmly establishing and strengthening the roots of Catholicism in the state.  


The growth of Leavenworth at that time was equal to what Bishop Miege had anticipated. By the end of 1856, the number of Catholic families in Leavenworth had grown from the original seven to 600 Catholics. The first chapel, which was soon outgrown by its congregation, was dedicated to the  Immaculate Conception.  When the Sisters of Charity of Nashville responded to Bishop Miege's request for teachers in 1858, their arrival in the territory brought with them the first civilian hospital in the State and a Catholic School.


The number of Catholics grew to 2,000 by 1859.  By the mid-1860s, the influx of German, Irish and Polish families to the area led to the splintering off and organization of various "national" parishes. The waves of immigrants to the United States brought with them the desire to maintain their rich cultures, languages, and customs.  They desired to have Priests and Sisters that could speak their language and assist them in their effort to assimilate into their new homeland.  


Establishment of Sacred Heart of Jesus

The establishment of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish dates back to the year 1885 when the establishment of a new Catholic parish in the south part of Leavenworth had been deemed necessary because of the increasing Catholic population. On April 7, 1884, according to Court House records, the Most Reverend Louis M. Fink bought from Annie W Penman Lots 1 and 2 in Block F in "Fackler's Addition".  Later on, Sixth Street and an alley were vacated.  


As far back as the early 1870s, a Catholic school had been maintained for the benefit of the children of South Leavenworth on the site of the present-day Sacred Heart Convent.  This school was a small frame one-story, a one-room house situated on the corner of Sixth and Linn Streets. A movable partition was used to make it a two-room schoolhouse. The first teachers were two Sisters of Charity, who walked back and forth from the Cathedral Convent in North Leavenworth each day. There were no streetcars, buses, sidewalks, nor paved streets of any kind, but the Sisters never failed in their duty.


On August 16, 1885, the Most Reverend Louis M Fink O S B, Bishop of the Leavenworth Diocese, realizing a need for an additional parish in southern Leavenworth, issued a decree for the establishment of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish. This decree assigned the boundaries and appointed the Reverend Thomas J Downey as pastor. ln its entirety, the decree reads as follows: 
“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, GREETING, By these presents we make known that we rejoice at being able to fulfill the earnest prayers of many of the faithful of our city and surroundings by establishing a new congregation for the English speaking of the Faithful in South Leavenworth under the title of "The Sacred Heart of Jesus", and we appoint the Reverend T J Downey as its first pastor in accordance with the Laws and Usages of our Diocese. The limits of the new congregation shall be. on the south side a straight line running from the north line of Mt Calvary Catholic Cemetery, east and west, excepting St. Mary's Academy and the St Vincent's Orphan Asylum and their territories; on the north, the line of Spruce Street running from the Missouri River west. Until further arrangements can be perfected, the members of the new congregation will attend Divine Services at the Cathedral as heretofore, but their pew rent and other perquisites shall be applied for the benefit of the new congregation and its respective pastor, and shall be under his administration according to the Laws of the Diocese. Baptisms, marriages, funerals, sick calls, and other business and duties will and shall be attended by their respective pastor. The confessions will be heard at the Cathedral by the priests of both congregations. We hope that the good people of that part of the city will be glad at seeing their desire fulfilled, and will assist their pastor in getting their own place of worship without any unnecessary delay. Louis Mary, OSB" 
Plans for a New Church

The first Mass was celebrated in the small schoolhouse after the decree of August 16, 1885, but Father Downey immediately began plans for a new church upon his appointment as pastor. The new church was begun as soon as possible and Bishop Louis M. Fink laid the cornerstone on October 17, 1886.


Michael Oliver Marie, a French Canadian, drew the plans for the new church and it was built by Michael Desmond and Samuel Schaefer. lt was originally a one-story brick building with a basement and with living quarters for the pastor in the back of the church. In the following years, Father Downey continued his good work and a second story was added to the structure. The second floor was then used for Mass and the first floor, was made into two classrooms for school purposes.  One of the Sisters who taught in those days reported the average daily attendance was "about one hundred bright, lovely, happy children who daily made the welkin ring with gladsome song and merry laughter".


Sacred Heart Altar Society Roots

The Sacred Heart Altar Society Women's club was established in the early days of the parish with their primary purpose the care of the altar and church furnishings and to assist the pastor in any way they could. They assisted at summer picnic dinners, ice cream socials and, in the Fall of the year, week-long bazaars were held with dinners served each day. Over the years, the society has become affiliated with the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.


A Series of Priests Shaped the Parish 

In 1910, Sacred Heart's first pastor, Father Downey, resigned because of poor health.  He died Jan 22, 1926, and is buried in his family plot in Plattsburg, Mo. He was succeeded by Rev Rudolph B. Groener who was the pastor for ten years. After ten years he was given a leave of absence because of illness. The Reverend Thomas Kinsella was the third pastor of Sacred Heart Parish. He came in December of '1911 and in 1914 was transferred. Father Kinsella is buried in the Ursuline Cemetery in Paola, Kansas. He was replaced by the Reverend Maurice Burk who only remained until 1916. During his pastorate, the present rectory was built in 1915. Father Burk was the fourth pastor of Sacred Heart and is buried in Mt Calvary Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas.


Having returned from the West, Father Groener returned to Sacred Heart and replaced Father Burk in 1916 and remained as pastor until June 1919. During this time he worked to reduce the debt incurred by the building of the rectory. He is buried beside his mother in Mt Calvary Cemetery in Leavenworth.


On June 5, 1919, Father Patrick J. Smith arrived in Leavenworth to begin his work as pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. His first work on coming to the parish, where he served for five years, was to complete the payment of the debt on the new rectory and to start a drive for a new church. Upon his departure in1924, the books showed that he had collected $1954.01 for this purpose! He is buried at Mt Calvary Cemetery, Leavenworth.


The Reverend Michael J O'Farrell became the sixth pastor of Sacred Heart on December I, 1924 and served until 1934. His primary mission was to continue to collect the necessary funds to build a much needed new and larger church. The cornerstone of the new church was laid by Bishop John Ward on May 16, 1926, and the church was dedicated with solemn ceremonies on November 24, 1927. Our present church structure is of Romanesque style and is an admirable work of art. The parishioners contributed $25,340.26 and $38,000 was borrowed.


The Green Construction Co of Lawrence built the church which was designed by a local architect, Myron Feth. Sacred Heart of Jesus Church was constructed in the Romanesque style. Romanesque designates a style of Western architecture that developed from Roman principles. lt reached its height from about the 11th to 13th centuries and was characterized by rounded arches, massive columns, and elaborate ornamentation. The first child baptized in the new church occurred on December 5, 1926. She was Elizabeth Joan Schindling (Cook) who is still an active member of the parish. The first marriage was that of August Kersten and Theresa Peet, which took place on August 16, 1927. 


At the close of 1926, the financial statement showed the debt of the parish to be $42,000. By the time Father O'Farrell left the parish in 1934, the debt had been reduced to $31.700. On May 1, 1934, Father O'Farrell was transferred. He later retired in California where he died in 1947 and is buried there. He was followed by the Reverend Joseph F Selting who remained as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish for 28 Years.


Under the spiritual guidance of Father Selting, the parish grew in size and added many new additions to the parish facilities. The Golden Jubilee of Sacred Heart Parish was celebrated in 1935 by having a two-week Mission. It was under the tenure of Father Selting that Sacred Heart Church was consecrated in solemn ceremonies by the Most Reverend George J Donnelly, Bishop of Kansas City, Kansas on  October 26, 1948.


Parish Improvements from 1950 to 1960

From 1950 to 1960 there were many improvements made in the parish. The Sisters' Convent, at 521 Linn Street, was built in 1950 of brick that matched the church. Seven Sisters took up residence in the convent on August 18, 1950.


As soon as the convent was completed, donations came in for a new school. Lots had to be bought to provide space for the school building and playground facilities. A campaign to raise monies to build a new school began on "Pledge Sunday", January 23, 1955. The goal of the parish was to raise $110,000.  After contacting each family in the parish, pledges totaled $130,499.21.


It was during this building campaign that Father Selting was elevated to the rank of Domestic Prelate, with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor, on January 23, 1955. "Monsignor" is a title of honor for a priest. lt originated in feudal Europe when clergy designated with this courtly title of distinction was considered to be connected in some way with the papal household. lt is still a practice in some dioceses for a bishop to recommend and pope to approve this designation for certain diocesan clergy.  


On October 2, 1955, Msgr Selting turned the first spade of the earth at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new school. Ten months and twenty-four days later the school was dedicated on August 26, 1956, by Archbishop Edward J Hunkeler.  This new school - replacing a structure which had served at various times as a church, school and parish hall, and which was constructed in 1886 – had been erected at a cost of approximately $200,000. Msgr Selting died in September of 1962. His faith and dedication to Sacred Heart Parish will never be forgotten.  


Post-Vatican II Council

Recent years have brought dynamic changes to Sacred Heart Parish. The first session of the Vatican ll Council met in October 1962, shortly after Msgr Selting's death. His successor, Reverend Henry Grosdider, the appointed pastor in 1962, had to cope with the tremendous impact of the changes in the Church brought about by the Vatican ll Council. Fr Grosdidier instituted the weekly bulletin for the parish so that people might read about & understand the many changes in the church as well as be informed about parish activities.


During Father Grosdidier's tenure the rectory was refurbished and the old school building that had been the old church was finally razed, making room for a large parking lot and playground area between the church and the school. Prior to his departure, plans were underway for the redecoration of the church. On July 1, 1971, Reverend William Landwehr was assigned as pastor. For ten years this cheerful, saintly priest and his sister, Isabelle Landwehr who served as his housekeeper, ministered to the people of the parish with devotion and love. Father Landwehr's rapport with children is still remembered by many to this day. Fr Landwehr initiated "CCD," the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine to the parish where lay teachers now began to share some of the burdens of teaching religion to children that were enrolled in the public school system.


Sacred Heart School and Xavier Catholic School

In 1979, Sacred Heart School became Xavier Catholic Primary School as part of the citywide consolidation of Catholic schools to achieve optimum educational efficiency with minimum expenditure. The former Sacred Heart School now housed the first & second grades.


Father Landwehr's health was failing rapidly in 1979 but he continued to carry out his duties. The parish was deeply saddened by the death of Father Landwehr in February 1981.  At this time Rev Charles McGlinn was appointed temporary administrator until a new pastor could be named On July 1, 1981, Reverand Gerald E Sheeds, better known as "Father Jerry", was appointed pastor of both Sacred Heart and St Casimir Parishes. A major concern that he carried was the responsibility of bringing the two parishes closer together by having one Pastoral Council and sharing personnel in order to serve both parish communities. He was also instrumental in carrying forth the spirit and directives of the Second Vatican Council. Under his 5 year tenure as pastor, protective glass was placed on the outdoor stained glass windows in the church, and additional playground and parking areas south of the school were made available.  


A Rodgers electronic organ was also purchased. The small school cafeteria was also air-conditioned. On July 1, 1986, Father William M "Bill" Haegelin was transferred as pastor of  St Lawrence Church in Easton & St Joseph of the Valley Church in rural Leavenworth County as the new pastor of Sacred Heart & St Casimir Parishes. "Father Bill" was no stranger to the people of Sacred Heart Parish since he had been sent to "help out" in 1983 for a 6 month period while Fr Jerry took a short sabbatical. By this time, both parish facilities were in need of much repair. Father Bill rolled up his sleeves and with the collaboration of the parish finance-maintenance committee and the Pastoral Council, began a strategic plan for the future that included many improvements to the parish plant & spiritual life for Sacred Heart and St Casimir parishes. 
On January 26, 1997, Father Gary P. Applegate became Administrator of Sacred Heart & St. Casimir Parishes until priest selections in July. He was then appointed the Pastor in July of 1997. Fr. Gary was the pastor of Sacred Heart & St. Casimir Parishes until July of 2003. 
On July 20, 2003, Father Phillip J. Winkelbauer became the new pastor of Sacred Heart & St Casimir Parishes. In 2006 both parishes were joined into one parish. Father Winkelbauer retired in 2018. 


Currently, the Sacred Heart-St. Casimir Parish community has a single pastoral council, finance council, pastor, program plan and staff. Both church sites are maintained and Mass is offered weekly at both churches. Programs, committees, and organizations are open to all parishioners, regardless of the church site of Mass attendance, and participation is welcomed and encouraged. 

bottom of page