Danville, Virginia is often referred to as the “City of Churches” because it has more churches per square mile than any other city in Virginia. Father J.J. McGurk, a priest from Lynchburg, visited Danville and celebrated the first Mass in 1875 in a small tailor shop. During his short visit, Father McGurk selected a site and solicited the funds needed to establish the town’s first Catholic church. With a total of $800, a little white Victorian church was built at the convergence of Ross Street and South Holbrook Street. The parish was canonically established in 1878 under Father Augustine Habets, the first pastor of Sacred Heart Parish.
In 1886, Father Francis McCarthy became the first resident priest. For several years, Sacred Heart was a mission of Lynchburg and Martinsville at different times. As a result, the strength of the Catholic community began to waver. According to the annals of the parish, “A resident priest is needed here to hold the newcomers, for good Catholics do not desire to remain in a place where they are deprived so often of Sunday Mass.”
On March 17, 1915, Father Augustus J. Halbleib, the seventh and longest tenured pastor in the church’s history, took on the task of restoring stability within the church. His determination increased the membership from 95 to 172 during his first eight years. On May 21, 1939, Coadjutor Bishop Peter Ireton consecrated the new Sacred Heart Church on West Main Street.
Sacred Heart Catholic School opened its doors on September 13, 1953, at 344 West Main Street for 67 students in grades one through eight. The school was staffed by four Sisters of Mercy from Merion, Pennsylvania. In the 1960’s, under Father Charles Ferry, Sacred Heart became the first school in Danville to achieve integration. In 1966, Sacred Heart School relocated to its current site on Central Boulevard and in 1972 enlarged the school to include grades kindergarten through nine. By July 1980, the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore became the new staff.
In 1995, Father David McGuire spearheaded the plan to build a bigger church next to the school. Father McGuire wrote, “If we are to respond to our mission – to heed the urgent call of Jesus in our times – it is our turn to build for tomorrow’s community.” Sacred Heart Church relocated to its third and current site on Central Boulevard and was dedicated on September 23, 2001.
The church saw significant growth in the Hispanic community. From 2002 to 2007, Sacred Heart welcomed over 300 families, with the majority speaking Spanish as their first language. Currently, comprehensive ministry is provided in both English and Spanish.
Sacred Heart prides itself on being the only Catholic church and school in Danville. It brings together over 800 families of different cultures across Southside Virginia and North Carolina. In the 2002 parish directory, the pastor shared these encouraging words, “Let us look in the direction we want to go – forward into a future in which our parish becomes more and more a community of believers, with a shared spirit of faith, hope, and love of God and all God’s creatures.”