Georgetown church to reopen next month

Sacred Heart Church, Georgetown, Guyana
Sacred Heart Church, Georgetown, Guyana

Catholics in Guyana are eagerly looking forward to the reopening of the historic Church of the Sacred Heart in Georgetown. And while the Jesuits in the country see the rebuilding of the church as a sign of what can happen when people come together and work for a common goal, they are also excited by further developments for the Catholic community in Guyana.

Formerly staffed by the Jesuits, the wooden, 155-year old Sacred Heart Church was devastated by a blaze that started when electrical flashing lights in the Nativity crib at the altar sparked a fire on Christmas Day 2004. In addition to the church, the priest’s house and parish hall were completely destroyed, along with the Sacred Heart public school, which stored irreplaceable records dating back to the 1930s. After almost 11 years, the church is due to resume services on 6 December 2015.

Review of pastoral ministries

Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church was once referred to as the Gem of Main Street and it has played a significant role in the historical and religious development of Catholicism in Guyana. The original church was built by the Jesuits and opened in 1861 as a "Church for the Portuguese". Over the ensuring decades, the congregation became more racially mixed. The parish continued to be served by the Jesuits (until 2004), although the land and the property belonged to the diocese.

Over the years since the destruction of the church building, the Diocese of Georgetown has carried out a thorough review of its parishes and pastoral ministries. Fr Peter McIsaacs SJ from Jamaica was invited by Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB to facilitate a visioning process, in response to which he established ‘clusters’ of parishes under a ‘named pastor’. The Cathedral, Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Fatima became the central Georgetown Cluster, with Monsignor Montrose appointed as the ‘named pastor’; he is assisted by Brazilian Jesuit Fr Cristóvão Primo SJ and Fr Keith Hardless.

Rebuilding the people of God

The Jesuit Regional Superior sees the rebuilding of Sacred Heart as a testimony to the strength of feeling people have to their parish community, but he says that – like the Jesuit missionary St Francis Xavier – it is important that support for the people of God truly represents the rebuilding of the Church, not just a structure of bricks and mortar. “It is exciting to see how the whole Church under the leadership of Pope Francis is in a process of renewal,” says Fr Paul Martin SJ. “Here in Guyana, good things are happening. A group now gather regularly for Sunday mass in Sophia, an area where a large number of people have lived for years but who, up till now, have gone unattended by any priest. The Jesuits are also beginning to explore how we might start parish ministry in the new housing areas springing up along the East Bank."

During the reconstruction of Sacred Heart Church, which was one of the oldest in Guyana and was recognised as a national monument, Mass and other ministries continued mainly at the Ursuline Convent on Camp Street. On 6 December, the Sacred Heart Catholic community will officially re-occupy their new facilities at the Main Street site, with the celebration of Mass.

The Jesuits in Guyana are supported through Jesuit Missions in the UK.