Though Sacred Heart Academy was only recently re-founded as a classical academy, the school itself has operated for over 100 years. Founded as Sacred Heart of Jesus School in 1905, Sacred Heart has a long and rich history of educational ministry on the west side of Grand Rapids.
Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, organized the year prior to the opening of the school, was founded by 110 charter-families, primarily of Polish descent. Desiring to provide an education in keeping with their faith and ethnic heritage, the families of Sacred Heart dedicated their new church and school on Thanksgiving Day of 1904. On January 4th, 1905 the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who also staffed schools at St. Mary, St. James, St. Adalbert and St. Isidore parishes, opened the doors of the new Sacred Heart School to 120 pupils in 1st-7th grade.
At that time three sisters—the principal, a teacher, and a cook—made up the entirety of the staff, but work was soon begun on a convent capable of housing twelve sisters. The first eighth grade class graduated on June 28, 1908 and later that year, the sisters moved into the new quarters, allowing their previous living space to be converted into additional classrooms.
Growth and expansion
What we now know as the “old school building”, pictured here, was built as an addition in 1918 to house the rapidly growing student population. Shortly thereafter, in 1923, construction of the new church building we still enjoy today was completed. The school continued to expand, taking over the space previously occupied by the original parish building. However, only with the construction of a temporary block structure housing six classrooms was the overcrowding finally relieved.
In 1929, twenty-five years after it first opened, Sacred Heart School reached its peak population of approximately 900 students. That year 105 children in the school and parish received their First Communion. The school was staffed at the time by twenty-three of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Undoubtedly influenced by their caring and charitable work in the school, thirty-nine girls from the parish entered the Sisters of Notre Dame during the pastorate of Father Joseph Kaminski, the second pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish. At this point in the school’s history, many courses—especially those pertaining to religious history and catechetical instruction—were conducted in Polish.
During the mid-1920s Father Kaminski added a ninth and later a tenth grade to Sacred Heart School. During this time, the niece of the associate pastor, Father Adalbert Narloch, became the first lay teacher at Sacred Heart. When West Catholic High School opened in the 1940s, the high school courses were discontinued. Enrollment dropped throughout the 1930s and 40s, reaching 500 students in 1947, then slowly growing through the 1950s and 60s to reach its “second peak” of 750 students in 1960.
Committed to learning, faith
Construction on the present school building, including 18 classrooms, a kitchen, cafeteria, and library, began under the pastorate of Monsignor Edmund Falicki and the new space was opened in September of 1959. At the school’s Diamond Jubilee in 1980, Sacred Heart had its first lay principal, Timothy Dwyer, and an enrollment of 178 students. At that time only one Sister of Notre Dame remained on the school faculty, the rest of the staff being comprised of Dominican Sisters and lay teachers. Since then, a dedicated lay staff has continued to serve the parish school and a succession of caring pastors have continued to foster a love both for learning and for the religious and ethnic heritage of our parish.
A new direction
Early in 2013, Father Robert Sirico, current pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, and the school board began discussing how best to revitalize the beloved, but dwindling Sacred Heart of Jesus School. The fruit of their prayerful deliberation was the decision to re-found the school as Sacred Heart Academy, a Catholic classical school. In addition to making changes to ensure that the curriculum of the school would reflect a love of truth, goodness and beauty, and a fidelity to the Western educational tradition, the re-founding also included the formation of a new vision statement focusing on the school’s role in assisting families, forming Catholics, and cultivating culture.
Since the spring of 2013, Sacred Heart Academy has become the only school in the diocese where all students participate in daily Mass. Students also take part in weekly Adoration and monthly Reconciliation. Weekly Family Nights unite the school and parish, and our new Classical Enrichment Courses programs serves area homeschooling families by providing part-time students with access to sound, classically based instruction from Catholic educators.
This exciting new chapter in our school’s history is just now being written. We look forward to the future and we ask you to prayerfully discern how you might aid our efforts to provide authentic Catholic education to all students entrusted to our care.