One of Brownsville’s oldest churches is in trouble as the result of a shrinking congregation.

One of Brownsville’s oldest churches is in trouble as the result of a shrinking congregation.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, part of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was founded in 1913 at 602 E. Elizabeth St. to serve the city’s English-speaking Catholic community. At its peak, the church was holding at least three English masses every Sunday, each one of them packed to capacity.

These days Sacred Heart is down to one morning mass in English on Sunday mornings drawing 60 to 70 parishioners, according to a church spokesman who asked that his name not be used. The church also holds Latin mass each Friday evening and every other Sunday afternoon, he said.

As the city has expanded beyond downtown and new neighborhoods have been established, so have houses of worship proliferated, including Catholic churches such as the Lord of Divine Mercy, St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s.

“The downtown community dispersed,” the spokesman said. “The parishioners that were remaining for the most part at Sacred Heart were those whose families had long-standing connections that go back to 1913, those early years.”

Changing demographics, the lack of new, younger members and older parishioners dying off are among the reasons the number of congregants has dwindled to the point that survival of the parish is in doubt. Sacred Heart has an $18,000 budget shortfall for next year, and the building is in need of repair.

Father Michael Amesse said that when he arrived in Brownsville in 2005, Bishop Raymundo Peña told him Sacred Heart was “a dying parish.”

“And then all of a sudden it started to pick up, because it seemed like a lot of young people of the grandparents that were still there, they started coming, guys in their 40s bringing their young children,” Amesse said. “Now the children are getting to be in high school, and that’s sometimes the age where you stop coming, and so you might not see so many young people as much as before. Now we’re back to where we started. It’s a dying parish, and I don’t want it to die. And the people don’t want it to die.”

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