In the early Valley Junction days, the number of Catholics was too few to justify a parish church. However, the spiritual needs of these staunch followers of the faith were served by the pastor of St. John’s, Cumming. Mass was first celebrated in Dyke’s Hall, located on the second floor of the building on the northwest corner of Fifth and Maple. Accommodations were crude and it was not uncommon for the priest to make it to this mission town only once a month to say Mass. Within a few years, the congregation grew and the need for a church resulted in the construction of a frame church building at the northeast corner of Fourth and Elm Streets in West Des Moines Valley Junction. Within ten years it was necessary to build a much larger church. The cornerstone for our first brick church was laid, and the building completed on that same site in 1905.
In June 1899, Reverend Matthew Gleeson was appointed pastor and continued serving Sacred Heart until his death January, 1936. Father Gleeson was succeeded by Reverend George J. Toher, who was pastor until his death in June, 1956. Many long-time parishioners recall that a good share of their life in West Des Moines was spent with these two great priests as their pastors. Sacred Heart School was constructed on its current site and opened in January, 1954, and staffed by seven Sisters of Humility (CHM). Three temporary classrooms had to be erected in the parish meeting hall in the lower level because more and more people moved into the parish when word spread that a school was being opened. An Activity Center was used for six new rooms. At present there are over 500 students enrolled in the elementary school.
In June 1966, Reverend H.W. Gaul came to Sacred Heart Church as pastor. It was under his leadership that the major expansion at the school, the Parish Activity Center and major remodeling in 1967 eliminated the three temporary classrooms and added six permanent ones. The addition of the new church in its current location took place in 1968-1969. The first services were conducted in our current church on December 14, 1969. In 1972, Father James W. Holden, the former Diocesan Superintendent of Schools, came to Sacred Heart as co-pastor. In spring 1990, the current parish center opened. Since that time, many priests have come and gone from our parish. We are grateful for their dedication and hard work.
In nostalgic conversation about the history of Sacred Heart Parish, there is an important lesson. The senior citizens of our parish today were youngsters at the time this parish was founded. They grew up with it, strong in their faith, devout in its practice and exemplary in their relations with the rest of the community. Sacred Heart Parish today is as strong, if not stronger, than it was in those by-gone days when the founders were in the midst of the activity. Today Sacred Heart Parish numbers about 2,000 families.