U.S. Rep. Cummings’ service stirs memories of our time at Sacred Heart in S.F.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings’ recent funeral at the Baltimore church where he worshipped for about four decades was memorable for us.

Besides honoring the legacy of the civil rights advocate, the service at the overflowing New Psalmist Baptist Church reminded me and my wife Shannon of the period when we began our courtship in the late ’80s, attending services at an iconic Western Addition church in San Francisco.

Before we were married, we attended services at Sacred Heart Church in San Francisco, one of the city’s few predominantly African American Catholic churches. This church, in S.F.’s Western Addition, was in the neighborhood of Shannon and her best friend Laura’s apartment in the Hayes Valley.

Shannon is Catholic (I am Episcopalian), and we met with the priest of Sacred Heart — Father Ken— to arrange for “engaged encounter” classes. We enjoyed the meetings, and learned more about the church and its history — as well as each other. We had homework too!

Sacred Heart was a phenomenal church, built in 1897 at the corner of Filmore and Fell streets. The yellow brick church featured Roman-style columns, big stained-glass windows and ceiling frescos, the handiwork of architect Thomas Welsh. It provided food and shelter for the homeless after San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake.

“The Western Addition was once made up of mostly Irish immigrants who filled the church every Sunday,” as a former colleague Peter Fimrite wrote in The San Francisco Chronicle in 2004. “The area changed dramatically in the 1930s and ’40s, when thousands of African Americans came to San Francisco looking for work.

“As the Fillmore District changed, so did Sacred Heart,” it continued. “Filipinos and other immigrants joined the church and attended the adjacent elementary school during the 1960s. The city’s Nigerian Ibo community was welcomed into the fold several years ago.

“The church services took on a gospel style as more African Americans joined, and the choir is now widely considered one of the best in the city.”

We found the services refreshing and inspirational. The church closed in 2004, citing the need for a multimillion-dollar seismic retrofit, stemming from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, but our memories of going there have lasted a lifetime.


Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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