History of Sacred Heart Parish

The first recorded Mass celebrated in Gettysburg took place in 1888 when Father Steffens, the priest assigned to Ipswich, traveled by horse and buggy to the community and said Mass at the Buffalo House. Eight years later, in 1896 the parish was officially founded and a church was erected on the Western side of Gettysburg. A few years later a rectory was constructed on the same site. Fr. Hugh Fox was appointed the first pastor in 1905.

The parish continued to grow along with the community. Ten additional pastors served the parish between 1905and 1950 following the departure of Fr. Hugh Fox. The Sacramental records of the parish indicate an ever growing number of baptisms, confirmations and marriages. Along the way, a second church was constructed several blocks further east placing the parish in a more central location in town. Little else is recorded about the events of those 45 years.

In 1950, Fr. Francis Dillion was appointed pastor and he soon undertook the task of replacing the existing woodframed church with a new brick structure. In 1958 construction was begun on the new church. The wooden church was lifted off its foundation and moved to the north end of the parish lot to allow the new church to be placed along US Highway 212. A buff colored fought-face brick was chosen for its exterior. The church also featured gray slate-like shingles and a bell tower. The interior had a laminated beam ceiling designed to give the interior a feeling of space, peace and to help to uplift the spirit. The peaked stained glass windows from the old church were moved to the new structure; a number of the windows were modified to fit the new rectangular window openings. The church was completed in 1959. The old church was eventually sold to the Beringer family and moved to their farmstead northwest on Gettysburg where it stood for many years.


Fr. Joseph Mardian became the next pastor in 1961 and immediately set out to build a new rectory and a more suitable parish hall. It was constructed out of the same brick as the church and was attached to the northeast side of the church building. The rectory was on ground level and the parish hall was located on the rectory’s lower level. The building was completed in 1963.  It was the mission of Fr. Paul Quinn, pastor from 1964-1968, to build Religious Education Center to the Catholic Doctrine for the young people of the parish. It was built on the old Sacred Heart parish hall site, just west of the present church. Fr. Thomas Connolly was pastor from 1968-1976. He is remembered for the annual Christmas CCD program and his extensive Christmas displays.

The Knights of Columbus was established in our parish with the help of Fr. Donald Molumby during his assignment here from 1976-1979. It was at this time and with his help that the church sanctuary was updated to meet the needs of the revised Mass following Vatican Council II. The communion railing was removed and a new granite Table Altar was fashioned from pieces of the railing to allow for Mass facing the people; the remaining granite from the communion rail was stored at the parish cemetery.


Fr. Marvin McPhee came to minister in 1979. Church renovations and upgrading continued during his ministry. He was charged with closing the mission of St. Mary Parish in Lebanon. During his tenure he began the practice of having a Saturday evening Mass at West Whitlock Bay during the summer months to serve the ‘fishing communities’ at South, East and West Whitlock and vacationers to the State Park . He served our parish until 1989.


Fr. Tad Bocianowski was pastor from 1989-1991. During his tenure the church oil-burning furnace blew up and covered the interior of the church with soot. During the cleanup Mass was held in the former Brown Pharmacy building. Fr. Michael Schneider, who served our Gettysburg parish from 1991-1997, beautifully nourished the parishioners, as well as the lawn and flower gardens. He sent out the challenge for anyone to have more Christmas spirit or lights than Sacred Heart Parish.


Fr. Charles Mangan's tenure at Sacred Heart Parish 1997-1998 was short but very industrious. The shrine to the Unborn was erected and the Legion of Mary was formed. Father Mangan inspired everyone to make prayer a part of our everyday life. In 1998 Father Chester Murtha was welcomed as our new priest. He quickly began tending to the spiritual needs of the parishioners as well as the church's physical necessities such as the sidewalk and parking lot updating to make our church readily accessible for the handicapped or elderly. In that year we were doubly blessed as Father Marvin McPhee came once again to be in our midst, this time in retirement, and as Monsignor McPhee, Episcopal Vicar. He continued his ministry, assisting the priests in our surrounding parishes and filling in wherever he could help.


Fr. Ken Lulf was appointed pastor from 2001-2004. Due to growing concerns with the inadequate size and accessibility issues with the basement hall under the rectory, plans were drawn up to construct a new ground-level parish hall  to the north of the existing church and to flip the church’s interior, moving the sanctuary from the north end to the south end, to allow for easy movement from the church to the hall. A vote on this proposal fell short of the necessary support to bring this plan to fruition. He was succeeded by Fr. Mark Axtmann in 2004 who served Sacred Heart Parish until 2008.

Fr. Jerry Kopel was named pastor in 2008. Shortly after his arrival he was approached by a delegation of parishioners wanting to resurrect the vision of Fr. Lulf – to build a new ground level hall north of the current church. After a year of discussion, a pledge drive was conducted to determine the interest in, and a willingness to pay for, such a project. By the time of its completion the capital campaign drive raised over $750,000. This amount, combined with $350,000 in savings, made the construction of a new hall and the renovation of the Church possible. A series of parish meetings were held to determine the type of structure, its seating capacity, basic layout and rooms required, etc. Puetz Corporation of Mitchell, SD, was then hired to take the fruit of our discussions and develop a building plan that met our needs. After many revisions and much tweeking – a plan was selected and construction began in late 2010. Early progress was slow due to a harsh winter. The new building was completed in late 2011. It features a large
lobby/gathering space usable for both the church and the parish hall, a hall with seating for 240 at round tables, a commercial-grade kitchen, bathroom facilities and storage rooms. 


Shortly after the completion of the new hall, work began on the remodeling of the church which included flipping the interior 180 degrees – moving the sanctuary at the south end of the church. This ‘flip’ renovation was met with ‘skepticism’ by some parishioners. As plans for the remodel developed the Parish Council decided that more extensive work should be done than was originally planned. A steel roof should replace aging shingles on the church, parking areas would be installed using long-lasting concrete instead of blacktop, a new tiled ceiling and insulation would be added to the inside the church to replace tiles that had fallen or were water stained. These changes led to a second capital campaign. This raised $330,000 to help defray the cost of these added expenses. Fr. Kopel developed several 3-D computer models of the church allowing people to ‘walk through’ the remodeled church. This computer modeling allowed different finishes and colors to be applied to surfaces and was helpful in determining the final choices made for the sanctuary’s floor, back wall, carpet, etc.


Rausch Brothers’ Granite of Big Stone City, SD, who built and installed the high altar for the church in 1959, was called upon to remove the altar and rework it into a new table altar for the new sanctuary. Additionally, granite from the old communion rail, stored at the cemetery since 1978, was collected to construct pedestals for a new celebrant’s chair and pulpit, and helped to form most of the new tabernacle altar (a granite altar top had to be purchased). During this time the pews were removed and completely refinished and the kneeler pads replaced. As part of this renovation – in addition to a new sanctuary and refinished pews – the old slate roof shingles were replaced with a steel roof which matches the parish hall, the interior ceiling was insulated and new interior tile applied, new lighting was added to quadruple the brightness of the interior, the sound system was upgraded, walls were painted, carpet replaced and new glass and oak doors installed. The primary entrance was shifted from the south church doors to the lobby entrance on the west side of the facility. A new parking lot was also constructed across the street to the west of the main entrance – just south of the Religious Education Center. The first Mass in the almost completed church was held on Christmas Eve 2012 using folding chairs. The carpet and the pews were installed after the first of the New Year.

Both the construction of the parish hall and the remodeled church have been widely supported and accepted. These facilities are regularly used for many parish activities and community events. They stand as a testament to the vitality of Sacred Heart Parish and its members.

Hall Construction

Church Remodel