By Laura Grisham
SOUTHAVEN – The story of Sacred Heart School dates back 75 years. In the beginning, Father John Flanagan, SCJ, wrote to Bishop R.O. Gerow in 1944 requesting a church for the 34 Catholics in the village of Walls in northwest DeSoto County. That was the year that the Harris family opened their home to the group to celebrate the first Mass. Many Sacred Heart School alumni fondly refer to this building as “The Little White House.”
By the end of 1944, construction of Sacred Heart Catholic Church was complete. During the dedication of the church, parishioners requested a school be built. World War II delayed construction of the school due to lack of building materials. Finally, in the fall of 1947, the work was completed. The School Sisters of St. Francis agreed to send three sisters to staff the school. On Sept. 17, 1947, Sacred Heart School opened with 17 students.
From that tiny three-room building in Walls, Mississippi, Sacred Heart School has seen many changes over the years. The growth of the student body necessitated the construction of a new building in 1999. A larger, more centrally located site in Southaven was chosen. Situated on 16 acres in central DeSoto County, Sacred Heart School serves students from across northern Mississippi and the Memphis-Metropolitan area. The school offers classes for hundred of students from early childhood development beginning at age three and continuing through middle school through eighth grade.
On Saturday, Sept. 17, exactly 75 years to the day after first opening its doors, Sacred Heart School celebrated its legacy of a quality catholic education with a full day of activities for students, staff, alumni and friends of the school.
The day started with a family picnic and games on campus. Inside, every corner of the school was filled with pictures, yearbooks and memorabilia from past years. Dozens of the school’s former educators were on hand to greet alumni and reminisce about days gone by.
Mass was celebrated in the school gymnasium with Bishop Joseph Kopacz, as the main celebrant. Alongside him were Father Vien Nguyen, provincial superior of the U.S. Province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (SCJs), Father Jack Kurps, executive director of Sacred Heart Southern Missions (and vice provincial superior) and Father David Szatkowski, local superior of the SCJ community. More than 400 people attended the liturgy.
Accolades were in no short supply for the school or its educators. Father Kurps thanked the many dedicated teachers and staff, who through the years, were committed to making sure that the children received a good education and made sure that they could succeed.
He also recognized the dedication of the School Sisters of St. Francis, who have provided many teachers throughout the schools’ seven-and-a-half decades of operation. “In the early years, most of the students of Sacred Heart School came from poor backgrounds. The Sisters opened the back door of their convent and gave families food, clothing and an encouraging word. They were able to help families know that God loved them and that the Sacred Heart of Jesus would always be with them and protect them.”
Father Kurps also shared a letter from the Superior General of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, Father Carolos Luis Suárez Codorniú, who had visited the school in late spring. Father Carlos said in part that he was impressed with the great spirit and care those at the school share with one another; it is a school where people are ready to do things with love and generosity in the service of all.
Father Vien shared that when the Priests and Brothers of the Sacred Heart founded the school so many years ago, they strived to carry out the vision and passion of their founder, Father Leo John Dehon, who believed in the formation in young people in making a difference in society and in the church through education.
In a nod to Sacred Heart Southern Missions’ 80 years of service to the area, Bishop Kopacz said that the work of educating children and raising them out of poverty was a blessing, adding, “We have been blessed to collaborate with so many dedicated disciples of the Lord here in their schools and parishes.”
Leaders from area municipalities were also a part of the celebration and recognized the contributions of the school and its people in a special way. The mayor of Southaven, Darren Musselwhite, declared Sept. 17 as ‘Sacred Heart School Day’ and honored the school with a special proclamation. In addition, Sister Virginia Reinl and Sister Margaret Sue Broker, OSFs, were recognized with proclamations from Keidron Henderson, mayor of Walls, Mississippi (the original location of Sacred Heart) for their contributions to the school and the people of the community.
The newly completed Sister Margaret Sue Broker Walking Trail was dedicated by Bishop Kopacz following Mass, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebratory lap by many in attendance. Named for the sixty-two year veteran of the school and a champion for its creation and construction, the walking trail is a fitting tribute for a woman who has taught and inspired generations of students.
A delicious barbeque dinner followed the dedication, carefully crafted by another Sacred Heart alumnus and restaurant owner, John David Wheeler. After sunset, everyone was treated to a spectacular fireworks show, a DJ, and live music performed by the Christian Brothers High School Jazz Band and several Sacred Heart School alumni bands.
“Without a doubt, Sacred Heart School began the education of my mind, my heart and my soul. I am forever grateful for this threefold foundation that was provided to me, and I am thankful that I see this foundation still being provided to my children,” said David Delgado, municipal court judge, local attorney and Sacred Heart Alumnus.
Ed Savage, an alumni and former employee of Sacred Heart Southern Missions, shared his thoughts on the celebration and the school. “As a former student I have long understood and appreciated the tremendous blessing Sacred Heart School was for me personally… In four short years the arch of my life was transformed by Sacred Heart School,” Savage said.
“The 75th celebration of the school brought into even clearer focus the tremendous impact Sacred Heart School has had on generations upon generations of people from all walks of life here in North Mississippi,” he continued. “Catholic and non-Catholic, rich and poor, Black and White, Hispanic and Asian have all been blessed. The celebration reminded me to thank God for all those past and present whose work and generosity has made this marvelous school possible, and for the long line of teachers who have shared a dedication to bring out the very best in every child that comes through the doors of Sacred Heart School.”