By Deacon Ed Clark
RANCHO CUCAMONGA—From the Low Desert to the West End, from Hemet to the High Desert, traveling through Riverside and San Bernardino maybe no Solemnity touches more of the Diocesan parishes and religious communities than the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The celebration this year, on June 8, may have been felt strongest in the parish community of Sacred Heart, Rancho Cucamonga.
In a multicultural liturgy, celebrated by Bishop Gerald Barnes and attended by representatives not only of the parish community but of the Diocesan offices and local civic leaders, the parish came together to symbolically relieve itself of the debt incurred for the construction of the church building and infrastructure upgrades by burning the mortgage, sending it heavenward in the sweet fragrance of incense.
From the gathering procession, led by liturgical dancers and members of the parish staff who lit the 12 ceremonial dedication candles lining the walls, through the acknowledgments by pastor, Father Benedict Nwachukwa-Udaku, VF, of those past and present who contributed to the evening’s events the parish demonstrated the unity within its multicultural diversity from which they proclaim a signature phrase; “Sacred Heart, One Family – One Family, Sacred Heart.”
Sacred Heart Parish began as church bells tolled across the vineyards of Etiwanda on Easter Sunday, 1953, with the founding pastor, Rev. Francis Horvath, leading the Mass. Horvath would go on to oversee the construction of the first church building, a 300-person sanctuary (which still stand as a historical site and honors him with the title Horvath Youth Center). The explosive growth of the area overwhelmed the building by the early 1990’s and the Rev. Fred Gaglia looked to relocate the parish campus, which proved to be an impossible task and so plans began to build a larger structure on the existing campus. In 1997 Rev. Steve Porter became pastor and began an intentional phase of planning. Mr. Paul Foley headed the planning committee and Mr. Joe Ferenchak led the fundraising efforts. Before ground was broken a new form of pastoral leadership was introduced as Dr. Peter Newburn was named Pastoral Coordinator.
Newburn began a capital campaign, named the Kingdom Campaign, and oversaw the beginning of a first phase of construction improving the campus infrastructure to support the new church building.
As this phase was nearing completion the committee went to the Diocese and, through the generosity of the Bishop, a loan of $5 million was granted allowing for the present sanctuary to be dedicated as a “house of prayer for all nations” in August 2006. Through the efforts of Fr. Nwachukwu Udaku, who was named pastor in 2012, when the parish was entrusted to the Diocese of Ahira, Nigeria, and Laura Clark, Chief Financial Officer of the Diocese, an agreement to retire the debt was signed.
Fr. Nwuachukwu-Udaku introduced a four-year campaign in in 2014 to finally accomplish this, dedicating the years to God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, and finally the Year of the Family. Each year was represented by a giving tree, the Tree of Life, the Tree of Love, the Tree of Holiness and the Tree of the Holy Family. The final year also saw the dedication of an Icon of the Holy Family designed by local iconographer Vivian Imbruglia. The rooting of the faith community in those trees brought the parish to this celebration.
In his closing acknowledgements Fr. Nwuachukwu-Udaku thanked the Bishop, the numerous priests who concelebrated, the liturgical ministers, those priests whose past ministry had created a vibrant faith community, and most especially the parishioners whose hard work and sacrifice made the building possible. Moving from the ambo to in front of the Altar, symbolically bridging the Word of God proclaimed and the Eucharist which brought the people into communion with God and one another, as Foley and Newburn brought forth a charcoal fire and a candle lit from the Paschal Candle, he placed incense on the burning charcoal and as the sweet aroma wafted heavenward he used the candle flame to ignite the promissory note, freeing the parish of its debt.
“I am humbled and honored to have been a small part of the journey that has enabled our faith community to grow and prosper in miraculous ways,” said Foley. “Thanks be to God now and forever!”
“Our new church was a dream come true for all,” said parishioner Lydia Hanna, but it “came with a big responsibility of paying off the debt. By the grace of God...the Sacred Heart Family came together and worked...to achieve our goal...this beautiful place of worship.”
As in the past, church bells toll, not over the vineyards but rather the growing community of people so that as parishioners Lito and Angel Mangaser noted “we greatly anticipate new doors opening for even greater work of evangelization.”
Deacon Ed Clark is assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Rancho Cucamonga and also serves as the Director of Diaconate Formation for the Diocese of San Bernardino.