About Our Parish
In 2018 Sacred Heart Parish celebrated 135 years in Leicester. After 1829 when Catholics were legally allowed to worship openly, the numbers of Catholics in the city rapidly increased. Dr. Bagshawe, then Bishop of Nottingham, established the Mission of Sacred Heart and purchased a small house and a site in the southeast of the town in 1883. It was on Mere Road, then on the outer limits of the city boundary, with no roads, few houses, and opposite an old clay pit.
The first chapels in mission territories were often ‘school-chapels’ that served a double function. When that one room building opened as a school in 1886, its only teacher, Teresa Fagin, had 111 children on roll. Six years later, a corrugated iron chapel was built, supposed to be temporary, but the ‘Tin Tabernacle’ served the parish for thirty-four years, from 1891-1924.
Teachers were aided only by untrained 13-year-old ‘pupil teachers’. The records reveal a rapid turnover of parish priests and teachers, given the almost impossible task of sustaining a parish and a school. Poverty and disease forced parents to make tough choices to educate children who could be needed to bring home a wage from as early as ten. Gradually, the school became accepted and valued; the curriculum expanded, and non-Catholics began to join its rolls.
The best known priest of Sacred Heart, the ‘big Dutchman’, was Canon Henry Lindeboom who came in 1905 and stayed for thirty-four years. He transformed the parish, overseeing the building of a permanent church, and persuading Dominican nuns to teach in the school. Delayed by the Great War, the foundation stone was laid in 1923.
The Irish had been steadily arriving in Leicester since the Famine, with labouring jobs for men and jobs for women in the hosiery and footwear industry. What was unique about Leicester was that by 1891, 90 per cent of Irish men and women had non-Irish spouses. In other cities Irish tended to find Irish partners. Women naturally met local men in the workplace. Slowly, Leicester became a more integrated, tolerant place.
Fr John Lally has been our parish priest since 1988 and has worked tirelessly in the community to establish projects for the Irish Community, to refurbish our beautiful parish church, to build inter-faith dialogue as a key member of the Leicester Council of Faiths and contribute to the building of our Leicester Catholic Schools.
The nature of our parish has evolved over the years. Italians, Goans from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania came into the parish and established Goan clubs and societies and the annual feast of St Francis Xavier in December with hymns sung in Konkani. Families from the West Indes and other Caribbean islands made this area of Leicester their home and more recently families arriving from Daman and Silvassa in the Gujarat area of India have arrived in significant numbers forming the Leicester Daman Community and celebrating the annual feast of their patron St Anthony with hymns in Portuguese. The parish has a number of families from the countries of Africa and the Leicester Zimbabwean Catholic Community hold their weekly prayer group, sodality meetings and monthly Mass in Shona here. We also host the Eritrean & Ethiopian community who celebrate their Divine Liturgy regularly.
St John Henry Newman, recently Canonised, chose ‘Cor ad cor loquitor‘, ‘heart speaks to heart’, as his motto. It could well be the motto for this parish as well.