Sacred Heart Music Center has a rich history – one that’s built on passion and dedication, not just neo-gothic brick and brownstone. Volunteers have saved this beautiful building from the wrecking ball, allowing it to be enjoyed by the community as a premiere venue for musical performances and special events.
Thanks to Rev. John Chebul, who founded the first Catholic parish in Duluth, the first Sacred Heart Church was built in 1870. A small wooden building, it burned down in 1892. Just two years later, the cornerstone was laid for the current Sacred Heart building, which was dedicated in 1896.
The pipe organ, built by A.B. Felgemaker, of Erie, Pennsylvania and installed in 1898, completed the magnificent cathedral. With an impressive sound created by its 1,493 pipes, the organ created many memorable moments for parishioners. One person with a very special connection to the instrument was Joan Connolly. Joan became the cathedral’s organist in 1930, when she was a sophomore in high school.
Fifty-five years later, when the Diocese announced Sacred Heart’s congregation would merge with St. Mary Star of the Sea, she took action to save her beloved building and organ.
“The whole thing started because I have a big mouth,” Connolly told “North Life” magazine in April 1998. “It was something I needed to do. I couldn’t bear the idea of the organ being dismantled and moved someplace else. Once you take it out of the original space, it just isn’t ever the same. After all those years of playing that instrument, I had a lot of motivation.”
Joan recruited other dedicated volunteers, and bought the structure from the Diocese of Duluth for one dollar. Since then, a non-profit organization has worked hard to preserve the historic space, and to find new uses to promote the enjoyment of the building – most notably, as a venue for eclectic musical performances.
Massive renovation projects have proven to be challenges over the years, but volunteers have continued to overcome these obstacles. In 2007, visitors took their first steps on an attractive new wood floor that greatly enhances the space. Today, concert-goers can enjoy the striking stained glass windows and the many other architectural details that make the building unique. And they can enjoy the amazing acoustics that can take a musical experience to a new level.
Sacred Heart board members would like to express their deepest appreciation to everyone who has supported the efforts to preserve this beautiful facility. That includes Joan Connolly’s daughter, Mary Jo, who sits on the board today and helps to fulfill her mother’s legacy.