My Georgia History

The Sacred Heart Cultural Center

As you know, Augusta is a city of churches.  Church buildings for the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopals, Christian or Disciples of Christ, Catholics, and others.

We have had Catholics in Augusta from the beginning.  In 1811, the city trustees gave the property between 7th and 8th Street and between Telfair and Walker Street for a Catholic Church building.  The first building was erected in 1843.  The cornerstone for Church of the Most Holy Trinity was laid in 1857.  So many Irish came over during the potato famine of 1844 that they packed the building.

In 1873 Bishop William Gross of the Savannah Diocese, invited Father Theobald and Father Joseph Heidenkamp, two  Jesuit priests, to come to Augusta and accept a new parish.  The new parish boundaries had to be set up.  Bishop Gross called upon the editor of the Augusta Chronicle, Patrick Walsh, to chair an advisory board.  Bishop Gross acted upon advice of Welch’s committee.  On March 14, 1874, “Sacred Heart Parish” was established.  With money pledged by the parishioners, Father Butler was able to buy Charles Roland’s house and lot on Greene Street for $10,000.

Now, the Jesuit Priests were started back in 1534 by a Spanish soldier,  Ignatius of Loyola.  The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, is primarily a teaching order.  The Jesuit Priests would not come to Augusta unless they were also going to start a school.  The school building was built, but the Diocese asked Father Butler to wait on building the new church.  So Father Butler used the school building as a church.  In 1898, the go-ahead was given.  On August 22, they began work.

Patrick Walsh presided at the meeting for Sacred Heart Catholic Church on August 22, 1897.  Father Butler and Brother Cornelius Otten were there .  Brother Otten had built Sacred Heart Church in Galveston, Texas.  On February 20, 1898, the cornerstone was laid.  On December 2, 1900, the building was finished and ready to be used.  The dedication was even more elaborate then the Cornerstone Celebration.  Cardinal Gibbons, of Baltimore, Maryland, was there for the dedication.

The building is an architectural wonder.  It’s made out of 13 different brick designs, which are laid on the granite and limestone blocks at the base.  When you step inside the building, it’s like stepping into a European Cathedral.  It has a high ceiling. The acoustics are wonderful.  The bricks were made, in Hamburg, South Carolina, just across the river.  Almost half a million bricks were used.   The stained-glass windows in front of the church were made in Cincinnati, Ohio and the windows on the sides and back were made in Munich, Germany.  They were installed in the church before the end of 1900.  In 1960, the windows estimated value was $250,000.  After the city fire of 1916 people moved from the area.  The Parish greatly declined in population.  ‘

The Jesuits left on July 15, 1963.  The Savannah Diocese kept the church open.  But with few people and huge repair bills, they decided to close the building.  The last Mass was celebrated on Sunday, July 4, 1971.  It was a very sad time.  The Diocese decided to join Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart and Most Holy Trinity Church.  The Diocese tried to sell the old building asking $200,000.  It was during this time the building was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  On August 31, 1982 news broke that Knox Limited bought the building to save it.  They spent huge amounts of money to repair the building.    Today it is called “The Sacred Heart Cultural Center.”

Written by: Mark Woodard

Research resources:

  • The Story of Augusta. Cashin, Edward J. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Company Publishing. (1996)
  • Augusta, A Pictorial History. Callahan, Helen. Richmond County Historical Society Publisher. (1980)
  • Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia. Jones, Charles C. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Publishers. (1890)
  • From City to Countryside, a Guidebook to the Landmarks of Augusta, GA. Haltermann, Bryan M. (1997)
  • The Story of Sacred Heart. Cashin, Edward J. (1987)
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1 Comment

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