Basilica begins year of celebration and restoration

By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor

On clear days, the stained glass windows in Sacred Heart Basilica pour their colors onto the pillars and trace a perfect arc through the church as the sun makes its way across the sky.

But while these colors have marked the same quiet path for over a century, the people in, around — and over— the Basilica are bustling with activity.

On Oct. 11, Sacred Heart will begin a year-long celebration marking its 10th anniversary of being designated a basilica.

The year begins with a Jubilee Mass to be celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham on Sunday, Oct. 11 at 12:30 p.m. A reception will follow in the parish center.

Msgr. Peter Gleba, pastor of Sacred Heart, said he expects a big crowd for the Mass. “The biggest reason we became a basilica was because of the faith of the people,” he said.

Sacred Heart parishioners are proud of their Polish heritage and the hard work  their ancestors put into the building. It was parishioners who did much of the work digging out the basement and putting up the walls of the church over a century ago.

So when the troubles with the Basilica’s roof kept getting worse, a big wooden chart was put in the church vestibule with a roof fund goal of $600,000. As donations came in, that amount had to be taped over, and a new amount written in its place: $1.2 million.

The roofers with the winning bid noticed significant structural damage to the two spires that reach 212 feet into the sky. The stones were cracked and crumbling, plants were pushing their roots further into the spaces in between.

“We had to do something,” Msgr. Gleba said.

He asked the parishioners for help, and along with some money from a landmark conservancy fund, the original $600,000 goal has been met and nearly doubled. The money is being used to repoint the stones and replace the shingle roof with slate tiles.

While tall cranes still tower over the church’s roof, the project is in its final stages. Work is scheduled to be completed as the year of celebration begins.

The calendar of events for the year includes a triduum to St. Jude Thaddeus from Wednesday Oct. 28 through Friday, Oct. 30; a Polish heritage wigilia supper in December; a bereavement Mass in March; a novena to the Sacred Heart in June; a concert at Pulaski Park in July and a parish festival in August.

A complete listing of Sacred Heart’s calendar of celebrations is available online at

One special feature of the Jubilee Mass to be celebrated on Oct. 11 is that priests who are from the parish or who have served in the parish will return to take part in the celebration. Many others who may have moved from the area are expected to attend the celebration Mass as well.

The Basilica’s towering spires and beautiful stained glass windows have drawn people from around the country and around the world. A tireless parishioner who leads tours through the church (but wishes to remain anonymous) points with pride to the guest book. It holds signatures from Florida, Arizona, and Washington as well as messages from people who have visited from as far away as Japan, Italy and Switzerland.

There is even a signature from Cardinal Edward Egan when he visited the Basilica during his trip to the Syracuse Diocese a few years ago.

“I was hearing confession and someone knocked on my door and said, ‘Father! Cardinal Egan is here!’ and I said, ‘Yeah, tell me another one,’” Msgr. Gleba laughed.

But walking through the Basilica, it is no surprise that it draws so many from so far away.

Msgr. Gleba said he can remember being drawn to the spires when he was a young man.

“When I was in the seminary I’d go by on the train to Rochester and I’d see those towers and I’d say to my friend who was with me, ‘See those towers? Some day I’m going to be the pastor there.’ And now I am,” he said.

He said he’s glad the work is nearly completed on restoring those towers, and he said he appreciates the generosity of his parishioners.

“They believe like all Catholics that God is the reason for all the blessings we have and the more you do for God, the more He’ll do for you,” Msgr. Gleba said. “We could never do what we’re doing now were it not for the power of God being here.”

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