Anniversary offers look into Sacred Heart

It looks like a castle. It has been mistaken for a cathedral.

Visitors can get an up-close and personal look at Sacred Heart Cultural Center, one of Augusta's most recognizable landmarks, at the church's 110th anniversary.

The celebration will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. Dec. 2 and will feature guided tours, a slide show and displays of early church memorabilia.

Local history authors Jean Strickland and Helen Callahan will sign their books, and an anniversary welcoming ceremony will be held at 4:30 p.m.

"It's just a big birthday party, really," said Sandra Fenstermacher, the executive director of the center. Cake and punch -- refreshments typical of the church's early days -- will be served.

Sacred Heart's great appeal is its beauty, Fenstermacher said. Bearing 15 distinctive brick patterns, it is considered one of the best examples of Victorian masonry work in the state. Handmade bricks came from the defunct town of Hamburg just across the South Carolina border. Stained glass windows were crafted in Munich.

"It has 94 stained glass windows. That's very unusual in a Southern church," Fenstermacher said.

The Sacred Heart Parish was organized in the late 1800s to accommodate Irish immigrants who moved to Augusta during the Great Famine.

Jesuit priests built Sacred Heart Church and opened it Dec. 2, 1900. For 70 years, parishioners attended church services, received sacraments and went to school there. But in the 1960s many Augusta residents moved to suburbs and church attendance waned. Sacred Heart closed in 1971.

Sixteen years of vacancy and vandalism followed, and at one point the church was in danger of being torn down.

In 1987, the Peter S. Knox family restored the building, and a nonprofit was formed to maintain it as a cultural center. Today, Sacred Heart is used for choral concerts, art exhibits, Christmas events, silent movies, weddings and an annual garden festival.

What's ahead

What's ahead at Sacred Heart Cultural Center, 1301 Greene St.:

110th Anniversary Celebration: 3-6 p.m. Thursday

A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7; $25; annual Christmas event features the Augusta Collegium Musicum, guest choirs and readings of prayers and lessons from the Old and New Testaments

Memories from Gascogne: Jim Gensheer's Workshop Group from Mezin, France: 5-7 p.m. Jan. 6; art exhibit opening and reception; exhibit will run through Feb. 28

Richmond County All-Elementary School Choral Festival: 7 p.m. Feb. 15; elementary students from Richmond County schools' choral groups will perform; free

The Augusta Opera presents The Passion of Puccini: Feb. 25-27; a presentation of the Sacred Heart Cultural Center stained glass windows followed by Puccini's Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) for strings and the opera Suor Angelica; (706) 364-9114

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