One of the oldest parishes founded in the Los Angeles Archdiocese continues to connect its vibrant past with its ever-changing present. As the community of Sacred Heart Church in Lincoln Heights prepares for its 125th anniversary (including a 1 p.m. liturgy on June 24 with Archbishop Jose Gomez presiding), Father Tesfaldet Asghedom, pastor, says he won’t be surprised if some of the well-wishers that day attend from Rancho Cucamonga, Monrovia or other points far east of the venerable parish.“There are deep roots in this community,” he says adding that during his few years as pastor, he’s met numerous former parishioners living elsewhere who still make the trek back to their old church every now and then. Couples who were married in the church, children who attended the elementary and/or high school honor the history and their connection to the parish. The allure of the red brick Victorian gothic style church is very much alive.Maybe it’s because the church, pastor’s residence, parish office, schools, auditorium and convent are all together and located right in the middle of a quiet neighborhood. It’s a very familiar scene. Exit the stairs at the top of the church and you’ll see homes, front yards and people walking babies in strollers. Out with her two grandchildren one sunny morning is parishioner Olga Corza who stops to talk with Father Asghedom. “All my memories are on this street,” she says as she gestures to the sidewalk in front of the church about life long ago in Lincoln Heights. Corza has lived in the area for 60 years and says the memory of her first Holy Communion at the church is with her every time she attends Mass.“I remember on Easter we would come to this church and see all the people dressed up, all the Italian women with long gloves and big hats. It was so elegant,” she says. “You felt like you came to church to be at your best.”Settlers and recent immigrants have always been a part of Scared Heart. On either side of the altar are large statues of St. Joseph and St. Patrick which reflect the Italian and Irish heritage which had an enormous impact on the fledging parish. Back in the mid-1880s, Sacred Heart was a dream of pioneer Catholics who moved into the area; many were young entrepreneurs and ranchers. Back then, the nearest church was either St. Vibiana’s Cathedral or Queen of Angels (La Placita); often the pastor at the old mission church would trek across the Rio Porciuncula (the Los Angeles River) to minister to the faithful living on the outskirts of town.Then the population grew and people got tired of harnessing horses on hot and rainy days — and crossing the flimsy bridges over the river made people nervous. It was evident they needed a parish of their own. Led by an energetic committee who raised funds and purchased the land, the cornerstone of Sacred Heart was laid in 1889 with marching bands processing through the neighborhood. During the construction of the church, often times, Mass was celebrated in the basement of the new building. Sacred Heart Church was officially dedicated in 1893, by which time the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose had arrived to set up a parish school. Nearly 3,000 were listed as parishioners. The massive tower and spire of the church back then could be seen by Los Angeles residents miles away. Later, in the 1980s, the stately steeple and bell were removed as earthquake hazards, but the bell today rings on thanks to parishioners who contirbuted financially to re-install the 2,000-pound bell in its new home. And it’s still rung by hand.“I used to ring that bell by hand for many years,” says Rosalio Vidaurri who has lived in the area for 45 years. He also recalls, at the age of 15 in the 1950s, being with his father across town. “He said to me, “Stop and listen. Just listen.’ Sure enough, there in the distance you could hear the bell ringing at Sacred Heart. Today, you probably couldn’t hear with all the traffic, but maybe it’s not that impossible.”Vidaurri is looking forward to the 125th celebration when his grandchildren will serve as altar servers and the gifts will be presented by his daughter and son-in-law. He has watched his nine children attend Sacred Heart school and high school; now, he’s witnessing his seven grandchildren go through the same doors. “This is a community where you know each other; it’s not just a place to live,” he says.As the community has changed, so has the parish. When Vidaurri and his peers moved to the area 45 years ago, there were no Spanish Masses. Now, almost all the Masses are celebrated in Spanish.Now there is a new influx of Asian cultures — especially Vietnamese — arriving in the neighborhood. But then, ministering to newly arrived immigrants is part of the history of Sacred Heart community. Today, the parish offers ongoing citizenship classes, provides outreach to the poor and those in financial need, and unites when there is violence or civic issues in their neighborhood.With a new generation embracing their parish and school, there is still a place for the elderly who remember the old days and ways.Recently, Father Asghedom had the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist at the home of probably the oldest living parishioner at Sacred Heart, 101-year-old Alejandrina Nu√±ez. Her daughter Gloria Lizarzo recalls her whole family — with 10 brothers and sisters — all eventually made the church their home, after arriving in the area at different times. “If my mom is feeling good that day, I hope to take her to the 125th celebration,” says Lizarzo. On that day, the nearby street will be closed to accommodate entertainment, food, fiesta booths and the crowds of parishioners who will mingle and reminiscence. “The church has always been a part of our lives,” Lizarzo says. “It would mean so much to my mom — and our family — if she could help celebrate that day.”Sacred Heart’s 125th anniversary theme — “Rooted in the Heart of Jesus From Generation to Generation” — takes on a special meaning on this day. As Father Asghedom turns to go back into the church offices, a couple with their 11-day-old baby girl arrives. They are asking the pastor to bless their child, who quietly squirms in her mother’s arms. Indeed, it’s safe to say that the church community and heritage continues to be passed down from generation to generation at Sacred Heart.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0622/sgsacredheart/{/gallery}