Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a stately brick building at 10th
and Madison Sts. which dates to the 1870s, is Sacred Heart
Village, a 78-unit apartment complex for the low-income elderly.
Six of the units now fill the preserved shell of what used to be
the parochial school.
residents, who occupy 31 of the apartments, have moved in since
the complex opened Oct. 1.
the senior housing is a U.S. Department of Housing & Urban
Development-sponsored project and open to all qualified
applicants without regard to religious faith, Sister Mary
its director, said that providing dignified care in
comfortable and secure surroundings is very much a
don't require that anyone participate in services or
anything like that, but there is definitely a Christian
attitude here. That's what the residents themselves
bring," she said.
a resident who is about to turn 70, agrees. "I can
feel the presence of God," she said. She explains
that she comes from a Protestant, not Catholic,
tradition, has been a Bible teacher and worships at
are celebrating their first Christmas in Sacred Heart
Village in downtown Wilmington.
Temple of Truth. But she adds that her association with the
Ministry of Caring has been nothing but a positive
people are different. They help people without bothering about
what they're going to get out of it," she said.
Ministry of Caring is an interdenominational charitable
organization established in Wilmington about 25 years ago by
Franciscan Brother Ronald Giannone, who still serves as its
executive director. Beginning with the establishment of a 'soup
kitchen' in an abandoned city fire station, the ministry has
grown to something of a human services conglomerate.
Heart Village, a $10 million project, is its most ambitious
venture and, in many respects, is a good illustration of why the
almost stereotypical Franciscan friar from The Bronx has a
reputation around town as being unstoppable, despite the odds,
once he identifies a need and sets out to address it.
original parish was founded by Benedictine monks to serve
Wilmington's German-speaking population at a time when the
U.S. Catholic establishment was predominantly Irish. It was
actually the first of the city's ethnic parishes. When the
original need passed, it went on to provide for a thriving,
mostly blue collar, community in west center city. That lasted
until the suburban migration and the construction of the
Interstate 95 freeway changes the character of the neighborhood.
the 1990s, the Benedictine order no longer could sustain the
parish and the Diocese of Wilmington had no purpose in
attempting to do so, according to James Van Alstine, Ministry of
Caring's communications and projects director. It was widely
supposed that the building, with its skyline-piercing steeple,
would likely be imploded and the property, which occupies all of
a city block except for a row of house along Ninth Street,
turned into a parking lot until a developer came along to put a
commercial building there.
Ronald thought differently.
a grant from M.B.N.A. Bank, his organization was able to
purchase the entire property in April, 1997, nearly a year after
Sacred Heart church was closed and its parish dropped from the
need was for accommodations for people age 62 and older with
limited incomes who were capable of living independently.
However, the first two applications to build such a facility
under the federal department's program were rejected on the
grounds that there were vacancies in existing subsidized housing
in the area. With the support of the Delaware congressional
delegation, the project was approved on the third try.
said that may be so, but that "some of those who have come
to us [include] some who were homeless or doubling up with
relatives." Federal income guidelines are complex but,
essentially, those eligible have incomes limited to Social
Security and modest pensions.
in keeping with the Ministry of Caring approach, Sacred Heart
Village has been designed to include features comparable to some
in its more upscale counterparts. Although the living units are
limited to 540 square feet, they have been designed to get the
maximum from that space. The building has a state-of-the-art
security system and includes such amenities as a small
cafe-style and a hair salon operated by an outside
has the rest of the former parish property been neglected in the
large church is again being used, albeit on a limited basis so
far, for both Catholic and ecumenical services. The diocese has
granted it what is known as oratory status -- which allows some
of the activities associated with a parish.
sooner had work on the L-shaped apartment building which wraps
around the church been completed when workers began gutting and
rebuilding the church basement. It is to house the Francis X.
Norton Center. Once a popular facility for dances, receptions
and other activities Van Alstine said that it is intended to
resume a community center roll.
immediate area is now known as Trinity Vicinity -- after an
Episcopal church at Delaware Ave. and Adams St. -- and the
broader neighborhood includes a population with a wide economic,
social, ethnic and age mix.
said there is a need in the area for a senior feeding program,
which would be different from what is offered at the two Emanuel
Dining Rooms. A difficulty recruiting drivers willing to come
into the area has limited the availability of delivered meals in
that part of town.
the opposite corner of the property, the convent which once
housed the Benedictine sisters who taught in the parochial
school and later was the site of an alcoholism program is about
to be converted into Il Bambino, a daytime infant-care facility.
Christmas is the feast of birth, it would seem appropriate that
this one also be considered a feast of rebirth, at least
in so far as it applies to what several generations of
Wilmington-area residents once regarded as one of the signature
houses of faith.