Sacred Heart was a gift to the Diocese by Father Carlos Pinto, the Apostle of El Paso, who decided to build two churches with schools – Sacred Heart was built for Spanish-speaking Catholics and Immaculate Conception for English-speaking Catholics. On December 11, 1892, the cornerstone for Sacred Heart Church was laid and the first Mass was celebrated on April 30, 1893. Jesuits have continuously staffed Sacred Heart Parish since its founding 125 years ago. Today, the Sacred Heart community has a strong and abiding spirit, which is especially evident in its joyful and faith-filled liturgies.
Immaculate Conception is a liturgical and architectural treasure of downtown El Paso. It was built in 1893 by Fr. Pinto at the same time as her sister church, Sacred Heart. The church served El Paso luminaries such as the Magoffin family, Richard Caples, Mayor Charles Kelly and more. When the Diocese of El Paso was established in March 1914, Immaculate Conception became the Provisional Cathedral, a title the church still retains. In 2014 Bishop Mark Seitz invited the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to serve at Immaculate Conception. Their arrival renewed the regular celebration of the traditional Latin Mass.
In a recent interview with Father Ron Gonzales, S.J., Pastor at Sacred Heart and Father Kevin O’Neill, F.S.S.P., Pastor at Immaculate Conception, the Rio Grande Catholic was reminded of just how significant these two beautiful and historic churches are to the El Paso region.
RGC: Why are both churches celebrating the 125th Anniversary together?
FR. RON GONZALES: Fr. Carlos Pinto, S.J., known as the Apostle of El Paso, laid the foundations of what was to eventually become the Diocese of El Paso in these two churches built simultaneously 125 years ago, hence the title of the celebration: Building on Pillars of Faith. Although, only Sacred Heart continues to be staffed by Jesuits, we felt it was important to include the spiritual heritage of both parishes as they were both influential to the spiritual underpinnings of the El Paso Catholic faith community.
FR. KEVIN O'NEILL: Fr. Carlos Pinto, S.J. built Immaculate Conception and Sacred Heart churches at the same time to serve two language communities in El Paso. While forging their own histories, these sister churches have remained twin pillars of faith for the El Paso region. In order to honor that history for the benefit, not only of the two parish communities, of the wider El Paso community in which countless souls have close connections with these churches, we agreed to a collaboration for this anniversary.
RGC: The Jesuits have had an impact in El Paso since 1893, how so?
FR. RON GONZALES: Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus knew that education and spirituality could both help a person to become the person that God created them to be. Together, with the Sisters of Loretto, the Jesuits established elementary schools, and for a time a Jesuit High School in El Paso. Many people also remember individual Jesuit priests and brothers who left an impact on their lives to this day. Bishop Schuler, S.J., was the first Bishop of the Diocese of El Paso setting course for what is today a vibrant and ever expanding diocese.
FR. KEVIN O'NEILL: Fr. Pinto, SJ, founder of many of the principle churches in El Paso was a Jesuit and the beginnings of the diocese had Jesuit contributors. The 125th anniversary celebrations do not focus on one man, The Jesuits as an order, or the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which serves at Immaculate Conception Church. Rather, the anniversary honors the history and communities of these parishes and hopes to build on that legacy for the future.
RGC: There must be many stories from both parishes of families in the area?
FR. KEVIN O'NEILL: There are many fascinating stories from the history of the parish that we hope to highlight in this year.
FR. RON GONZALES: If you talk to anybody from El Paso, it seems everyone has some connection to these two churches. Some were altar servers; some were baptized, confirmed or married here. Many families' grandparents grew up here in very humble beginnings and later were able to move on to a better life for themselves and their family. By remembering and celebrating our roots and humble beginnings we can better appreciate and reconnect to that faith sometimes long forgotten.
RGC: What is the future of the church in El Paso for Sacred Heart and for Immaculate Conception?
FR. RON GONZALES: It is a question that those who most love these parishes must ultimately answer for themselves. We believe that this parish continues to serve the many spiritual needs of the parishioners, many now aging and infirm, as well as the wider El Paso faith community. Sacred Heart Parish serves as the hub for Jesuits presently working with our parishioners, migrants/immigrants, the poor in Juarez, spiritual direction to seminarians, helping other local parishes with mass, jail ministry, talks and workshops, and visits to the sick and infirm. Our unique Ignatian Spirituality lends itself to all of these and more. All are welcome to make their spiritual home here at the "Mother Church" of the Diocese of El Paso. AMDG- For the Greater Glory of God.
FR. KEVIN O'NEILL: There are several unique characteristics about the heritage of Immaculate Conception Church on which to build. As the Pro-Cathedral of the diocese of El Paso it is, in a sense, the ‘Mother Church’ of the diocese. As the community continues to grow with young new families and others seeking a home for beautiful worship of Almighty God, a place of recollected prayer, and a solid teaching of the faith the origins and identity of El Paso’s mother church is being reclaimed and infused with fresh life. We are excited to continue this important evangelical labor.
Another important way in which Immaculate Conception “bringeth forth out of [its] treasure new things and old.” (Mt 13:52) is through the liturgical preservation and promotion of the very Rite of Mass that Fr. Pinto, SJ would have celebrated here and the first Bishop of El Paso, Anthony Schuler, would have offered. The ancient treasure of the Traditional Latin Mass is again available to the faithful of the El Paso region in connection with the prayer of our fathers in the faith and countless saints. Immaculate Conception has the unique privilege to offer this form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at all of her liturgies.
RGC: Is there a way people can participate and join the 125th celebration?
FR. RON GONZALES: I would encourage individuals to pick at least one of the many events during this year to participate. Come celebrate with us the wonderful gift of God's continued blessings over these 125 years! You won't be disappointed.
FR. KEVIN O'NEILL: In addition to the events already held, immaculate Conception is hosting a Golf Tournament on the 18th of May. There will be a Procession from Sacred Heart to Immaculate Conception on the 8th of June. We are very privileged and excited to announce a Solemn Pontifical Mass in the Traditional Form on the 15th of August. This will be the first time in over 40 years that this liturgy will be offered in the Diocese of El Paso. There are other events that will be announced soon.
125th ANNIVERSARY EVENTS SCHEDULE
PROGRAMA DE EVENTOS DURANTE EL ANIVERSARIO 125
FRI: MAY 18 at 10 am Golf Tournament (Torneo de Golf) Underwood Golf Course
SUN: JUN 3 First Mass of Newly Ordained Priest (Misa) 10:00 am
WED: AUG 15 Feast of Assumption of Our Lady Pontifical Solemn Mass (Festividad/Misa)
FRI: JUN 8 at 8 am Golf Tournament (Torneo de Golf ) Butterfield Trail Golf Club
SAT: JULY 28 at 10 am History of the Jesuits and the Parishes in El Paso (Historia de los Jesuitas y las Parroquias en El Paso) by Father Eddie Fernandez, S.J.