How a church became a hub for Uvalde’s grief

In Uvalde, a predominantly Mexican town, Catholicism remains part of the cultural bedrock of the community, offering charitable support and advocating for poor families and undocumented immigrants.

Yet some families drifted, driven by ancestry from evangelical congregations, discontent with leaders as the global Roman Catholic Church was engulfed in scandal or wider societal shift away from institutional religion. Parishioners said weekend Mass attendance, which had plummeted due to the coronavirus pandemic, had recently picked up.

Sacred Heart, which was established in 1908, spans a large lot in a neighborhood of modest family homes. There’s the gray brick church, which was built at least 40 years ago, and the parish school, which serves students from kindergarten to grade six and has been run by the same order of sisters for 110 year. Statues and murals of the Virgin Mary are scattered outside the church.

The congregation reflects a cross-section of Uvalde. There are local college administrators, an optometrist, machine shop workers, a bank president, truckers, ranchers, and service industry workers. The parish is deeply rooted in their lives and their families. This is where babies are baptized and grandparents are celebrated. It is there that they confess their sins and that the pupils of the parochial school learn long division and grammar.

Faustino Gonzales, 76, has lived a few blocks from the church for most of his life. He attended the parochial school, as well as his children. Now her granddaughter is in her second year there. “I got married here,” he said. “Wonderful thing. Beautiful.”

His daughter is decades removed from her years as an elementary school student, but he still remembers the letter he wrote her for one of his class assignments. It was the Sacred Heart. “I would trade my shotgun, my car, even my house,” he recalled writing. “But my childhood and my years at Sacred Heart – I would never, ever.”

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