The first Mass was celebrated in Emporia by Jesuit Father Paul Ponziglione in March 1870 at the home of T. L. Ryan at 6th Avenue and Exchange Street. Father Ponziglione made periodic visits to Emporia for a couple of years until Father Joseph Perrier was officially assigned in 1872. Money was donated for the first church by both Catholics and non-Catholics from the community. Two lots of land were purchased at 2nd Avenue and Cottonwood Street. The first church, a wood frame structure, was built in 1874 and was approximately 30’ x 30’ in size. The church was built without debt, costing $3,500.
The church grew in those early years, and in 1880 the Franciscans from Cincinnati assumed responsibility for parishes in and around the Emporia area. With continued parish growth, the second church, a two-story brick building was built in 1881. The first floor served as a rectory and the second floor as the church. In that same year, the Order of Sisters of St. Francis of Lafayette, Indiana, came to Emporia. Since there was no school, the church was also used for teaching classes. The first parochial school was built in 1883, and by 1887 there were 120 children attending school at Sacred Heart. The Sisters of St. Francis were also credited with the opening of St. Mary’s Hospital in 1884. This structure was damaged by floods in 1926 and a new structure was completed in 1928. The hospital was on the current church grounds until it was destroyed by fire and the hospital was moved and constructed at 15th Avenue and State Street.
The Franciscans left in 1993 to return to the Cincinnati area. At that time, Archbishop Ignatius Strecker assigned the first Diocesan priest, Father Peter O’Sullivan, as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish. Father O’Sullivan served both Sacred Heart and St. Catherine Parishes for seven years, followed by Father Dan Gardner, then Fathers Darren Henson, Rich Warsnak, Tom Dolezal, Brandon Farrar, and on July 1, 2021, Father Carter Zielinski was appointed Pastor by Archbishop Naumann.
This church community has been blessed with many faithful followers for more than 125 years. We will continue to strive for peace, wisdom, and a deepening of faith through the presence and love of Christ.