The square block on which Sacred Heart Church is located was donated by the L&N railroad. The building on the property began with the church, a small house for the pastor, and a small convent. The first church was wooden and the first school was a two-story wooden building.
Sacred Heart Church began its existence in 1877 under the leadership of Fr. James Meurer, a German-speaking priest, the first resident pastor. Benedictine priests began their tradition of service as parish pastors in 1888, three years prior to the founding of St. Bernard Abbey.
The stone church was built during the pastorate of Rev. Ignatius Mayer, O.S.B. and dedicated in 1916. The matching stone school was built during the pastorate of Rev. Marion Schwallie, O.S.B. during the late 1940’s. Rev. Louis Funk, O.S.B. was pastor during the building of the present rectory in 1961.
Sacred Heart Church exemplifies a rather late example of the German Revival of the Romanesque style. There is a slight indication of the popular cruciform style, in that the sides near the east end of the nave, at the crossing, are somewhat wider than the rest of the side walls. Native sandstone was used on the exterior. The original roof was asbestos shingles.
The stained glass windows were designed by the Von Gerichter Ecclesiastic Studio of Columbus, Ohio in 1914. Twenty-four of the windows were built in Munich, Germany and when a couple of them were ready to be shipped to Cullman, the outbreak of World War I necessitated their burial to protect them. They were dug up and shipped to Cullman after the war, and installed in 1920.
The pipe organ (Austin Organ—Opus 1029), one of the largest in North Alabama, was built in 1921 and was acquired by Sacred Heart in 1959. It received a major overhaul in 1988.
Rev. Cletus Meagher, O.S.B., the current Abbot of St. Bernard Abbey launched the Family Life Center Program in 1991. The year was spent refining the design, visiting numerous churches from Birmingham to the Tennessee line. The “Best of all Possibilities” included offices, classrooms, conference room, youth room, kitchen, locker rooms, gymnasium and stage. (Something for every group in church). Some of the building’s features include standing seam roof, table & chair storage under the stage, kitchen located between conference room & gymnasium, electric retractable basketball goals with center curtain and a truly remarkable fireplace designed by Brother Jude Johnston, O.S.B., of St. Bernard Abbey. The Center is a beehive of constant activity and is utilized by nearly every member of the parish.
In the fall of 1999 an extensive repair and restoration project was begun on the church steeples and roof, including gutters and downspouts. Sacred Heart's most prominent feature, the gold crosses atop its steeples, came into being as part of the restoration project. They are a recognizable landmark to Cullman residents and visitors. Twenty-three (23) tons of zinc, and 600 pounds of solder were used by Copperworks Corp. of Decatur for the job. A fish-scale pattern of shingles was used on the steeples and the high roof. There are 4,000 shingles on each steeple; each held in place with five nails. The lower roof is standing seam design.
The latest cleaning and restoration of the stained glass windows was begun in 2011 under the leadership of our current Pastor, Rev. Patrick Egan, O.S.B.. He began studying for the priesthood in 2003 after retiring as a Colonel in the United States Army and was ordained in June, 2008. He was assigned as Pastor in August 2009. The restoration ended with the installation of three new rose windows in the sanctuary and a new rose window in the school building. A new, elevated pulpit or ambo; as well as a display cabinet for the sacred oils were also installed.