A Church for the Nations

The Shrine of the Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic parish in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Built by German and Irish immigrants at the end of the 19th century, the parish is now home to people from sixty nations. The majority of the parishioners speaks Spanish. The Mass is celebrated each weekend in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Haitian Creole. "We are the church of the immigrants here at Sacred Heart," says Fr. Andre Pierre, who leads the Haitian Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Washington. "We hear the drum as well as the guitar; at the same time the violin in one liturgy and the Vietnamese gong. See, it makes it really the church of the nations."

Fr. Andre Pierre
Fr. Andre Pierre, from Haiti, is in residence at Sacred Heart parish

Fr. Francis Xavier Russo
Fr. Francis Xavier Russo

Fr. Stephen Carter, OFM Cap. - one of the Capuchin Friars at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart.
And it's a church of service, too. Many people in the neighborhood have low incomes. Sacred Heart is place many of them find help: emergency food for their pantries, or a hot meal for those living on the streets of the nation's capital. The parish works with other service agencies in the neighborhood, including Neighbors Consejo, Anchor Mental Health, and

-- to a large degree -- the Spanish Catholic Center to provide people in the neighborhood primary health care, dental care, a day treatment center for people with addictions who have other mental illnesses, housing assistance, employment referrals, adult education (ESL and GED) and legal advice with a focus on immigration law.

These are not the sorts of services churches traditionally have provided, but the Shrine of the Sacred Heart is a place that has embraced radical change: just one example of the Changing Face of America.

Listen to Part I our our report. Listen to Part II of our report.

Links & Resources:

  • Shrine of the Sacred Heart:

  • Spanish Catholic Center:
    The Spanish Catholic Center was founded by the Archdiocese of Washington in October, 1967 to provide services to newly arrived immigrants in the areas of education, health and social needs.

  • The Order of Capuchin Franciscan Friars

    The Changing Face of America is an 18-month-long NPR series that tells the stories of regular, everyday Americans and the issues they face at a time of rapid and dramatic change in the U.S. This special series can be heard on NPR's Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered and Morning Edition.

    The Changing Face of America series is sponsored by The Pew Charitable Trusts.