top of page


Under a New Bishop

In 1924, Father Walter O'Brien, O.S.B became pastor remaining only a year. "Father Walter was a man among men. Nature had endowed him with a charming character, noble features, and a most winning manner. His magnetic personality impressed one at once, and he soon won every heart in the community. With a great penetration, possessed by few, he took hold of each situation pending, allowing no one to dictate or intimate how he should deal with his people, or to choose his friends. His mind was cultured, refined and beautiful."* Father Walter would die suddenly of a heart attack in 1932 while he was serving as pastor of Saint Michael's in Gastonia. Father O'Brien died just days before serving as part of the golden jubilee Mass at Sacred Heart as a former pastor. 

In September 1925, Rev. Lawrence McHale became pastor and remained until 1928.  He was an efficient leader, and one saw a steady growth and envelopment during his three years as pastor. In 1928, he was sent to 

Richmond as an instructor in St. Benedict's School for boys, and Rev. William Regnat returned to Sacred Heart. "Father William is much of a student; he buries himself for hours in books, seemingly lost to the outside world. His sermons - touching the philosophical and scientific points that relate to theology - are scholarly and brilliant. His favorite relaxation is a round of golf each afternoon


"Sacred Heart Church is one of noble traditions, and Father William has preserved and deepened these traditions and the Catholic feeling, which have been characteristic of the congregation through its long history. The number of Catholics in Salisbury is small, but their influence is large, because of their sincerity; because of their devotion to Christian, Catholic ideas."

*Grandmother Dear, by Agnes Roueche Harris, p120

Rev. Walter O'Brien2.png

Rev. Walter O'Brien, O.S.B

Rev. Lawrence McHale.png

Rev. Lawrence McHale, O.S.B

Rev. William Regnant, 1937.png

Rev. William Regnat, O.S.B

A Trip Through Europe: 1938 by FAther William Regnat

From “A Trip Through Europe: June 19-September 2, 1938 written for the amusement of my friends” by Father William Regnat, one time priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Salisbury, NC.

Wednesday, June 22 – The long-waited day has come at last. Today I sail. Why do they still say “sail”? There isn’t a sail in sight anywhere on that steamer. I boarded the QUEEN MARY at 11 A.M. with Father T. of the Abbey who had never seen a large boat. We inspected the entire ship with exclamations of ah and oh from T. All in all, except for fancy touches here and there, first cabin is little more luxuriously furnished than tourist class. Anyway it’s good enough for me. There must have been at least 2000 visitors who left the boat at 1:30 pm, half an hour before sailing time. They all stood on the pier waving us good-bye. At 2:00 on the dot her ladyship QUEEN MARY backed out of her slip under own power – meaning no slur or unseemly jest on her Majesty the Queen.

RMS Queen Mary, 1945.

At 5:00 P.M. we were given an emergency drill. Each cabin has as many life belts as there occupants. When the fog horn gives six short blasts followed by a long wail, the passengers are to put on heavy clothing, grab the life belt and fasten it as demonstrated, while rushing to the top deck, following the green arrow: the odd numbers (of the cabin) to the port side, the even numbers to starboard: left and right to you land-lubbers…we treated this drill as quite a joke, but I have a suspicion that all offered a little prayer that we wouldn’t need the life belts. A young flapper next to me said: “aren’t we looking a sight?” I told her: “if we ever have to use them we won’t worry about our looks.”

Socializing on a Trip Through Europe

Supper was well attended. Not an empty chair, all hoping to distinguish themselves by regularity and punctuality to the end of the voyage. I don’t intend to miss a single meal: not after paying about $35.00 a day in this “Grand Hotel”.

I got chatting with my table mate and casually remarked how difficult it was to distinguish nationalities in a cosmopolitan crowd like the present. “You can tell mine, can’t you?” he asked. I had a suspicion but hesitated to commit myself. “I am Semitic”, he admitted. Then we drifted into the Jewish situation in Germany and particularly Austria, and I expressed my sincere sympathy with the deplorable state of his race in that unhappy country. He spoke of the cruelty and inhumanity inflicted upon his people and asked: “why doesn’t’ the Catholic Church voice a protest against it?” My answer was that the Catholic Church wielded no political power or influence and that we were very much in the same boat.

Image: U.S. Navy photo 80-GK-5645; U.S. Defense Visual Information Photo HD-SN-99-03026; via Wikipedia, licensed Wikimedia Commons ( accessed 5 Feb 2021).

Golden Jubilee

On November 6th the parishioners of Sacred Heart gathered to celebrate a Solemn High Mass in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the dedication of the humble, little church in Salisbury. The Most Reverend Bishop William F. Hafey of Raleigh preached the sermon on this festive occasion.  A note of sadness marked the event in the absence of Rev. Walter O'Brien who passed away a week before. Rev. O'Brien was set to be deacon for the Mass. Rev. John Smith, O.S.B, a native North Carolinian, was celebrant of the Mass, Rev. Benedict Rettger was deacon, and Rev. John Roueche, who was to be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Raleigh, was sub-deacon. The children's choir under the direction of Mrs. R. M. West rendered the "Children's Festival Mass". The entire sermon given by Bishop Hafey can be read here.* The beauty of the Bishop's words are still as applicable today as they were in 1932. There were five members of Sacred Heart who attended both the dedication of Sacred Heart as well as its Golden Jubilee: Mrs. E. A. Lewis, Miss Fannie Roueche, Mrs. L. M. Roueche, Miss Fannie Roueche, Mrs. L. H. Harris, and Mrs. Bernard Roueche.

* The Bulletin (Augusta, GA) Nov 19, 1932, p10

Father John Roueche

Sacred Heart Church was the scene of a historic event on Sunday, June 11, when two young men, John Francis Roueche and William John Kuder were ordained to the priesthood by the Most Rev. William J. Hafey, D.D., Bishop of Raleigh. 

An ordination ceremony usually takes place at the Cathedral Church of the Bishop of the diocese, but the Most Rev. Bishop, wishing to honor the young seminarian, who is the first native son of Salisbury to be ordained to the priesthood, and his relatives who were among the pioneers of Catholicity in North Carolina, decided to confer holy Orders in the local church.

Rev. John Francis Roueche, born in Salisbury November 7, 1906 is the son of the late John Patrick Roueche and Margaret Taaffe Roueche, and grandson of Francis Richard Roueche who, coming from France, made Salisbury his home nearly one hundred years ago - 1838. The John was baptized, received his first Holy Communion, and was confirmed in the same little mission church in which he is now to offer his priestly vows to God and dedicate his life to the work in the Master's vineyard, his native state of North Carolina. After finishing the grades in the local parochial school he made his classical studies at Belmont College, Belmont N.C., and completed his theological course at St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore Md. Of the number relatives, descendants of Francis Richard Roueche, of whom over one hundred are living in North Carolina and other states, many were present on this occasion to see one of their own raised to the dignity of the priesthood. The young priest celebrated his First Solemn High Mass the following Sunday, June 18, at St. Matthew's Church, in Washington, D.C., where his immediate family have been making their home for some years.*

* The Bulletin (Augusta, GA) June 17, 1933, p7

Father John Roueche_edited.jpg

Rev. John Roueche

Rev. John F Roueche.jpg

Within a New Church

In 1939  the parishioners of Sacred Heart and Father William Regnat came to the conclusion that the church was no long fit for worship. The foundations of the 55 year old church were rotting away and it had to be abandoned. It was time to look toward the future and build something that the parishioners in Salisbury could be proud of. In Spring of 1939 the plans officially began to build a new church, with Father William Regnat as pastor. This would not be an easy task. As Father Regnat stated in a letter to a potential loaning agent "our 50 families, none of them well-to-do will be hard put."


Early on in the planning process, Mr. Frank Frimmer was chosen as the contractor to build the church. Mr. Frimmer was an architect by trade, he designed St. Patrick's in Charlotte, which would later become the Cathedral, as well as 30 other liturgical buildings. As an architect, some were concerned that he did not have the proper knowledge or background to be the general contract for this project. Mr. Frimmer's bid for the entire project, at $15,000, was so low that Father Regnat felt he could not pass up on the opportunity. Father Regnat came to second guess this decision later on.


Father Regnat worked tirelessly to fundraise, obtain loans, and finance the project. He even wrote an article titled A Romance of Faith as an indirect appeal that was published in Our Sunday Visitor. As of November 10, they had raised $2,763 for the building project and had been approved for a loan of $15,000 from the Diocese of Raleigh, with some hesitation from Bishop McGuinness. However, Father Regnat would spend the next several months trying to procure the loan. He finally was able to obtain a loan from American Trust Co. at $15,000 at 4%. With the loan secured, and now $6,000 in hand, there all in number was $21,000. Father and the financial council felt very secure with that number, since they had raised $6,000 more than the estimated cost of the project, as a safety net. Thus, with excitement in their hearts, the building began on April 16, 1940.  The cornerstone was laid one month later on June 16th by Bishop McGuinness.


However, joys soon turned to worry, by July 1st the $21,000 that had been raised by Father Regnat was already down to $5,578. As Father stated in a letter to Bishop McGuinness dated July 1, 1940 "So the question arose, after this balance is gone: WHAT?". A fitting question to ask as the money "melted away like last winter's snow." On July 10, it was made known to the Bishop that the cost would be more than expected. The Bishop agreed to see them through to build both the church and the rectory but he responded "For God's sake keep the cost down!" Also it was agreed at the time to change the name of the church from Sacred Heart to St. Madeline Sophie Barat and plans were set into place to change the statue that would be located over the entrance of the Church. This was to remain a secret until the day of dedication.


Things were beginning to get drastic for Father Regnat and those of Sacred Heart. On September 25, he reported to Bishop McGuinness that Mr. Frimmer had not been in Salisbury for 6-7 weeks and their project had now reached a total of  of $27,500, a total of $6,500 over budget, even after selling back the stained glass windows that had been previously commissioned. In October, the secret of the new name was out and the Bishop was petitioned to allow the church to keeps its name sake, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He said the name was to be retained and purchased the statue of St. Madeline Sophie himself. The church was none the less dedicated as planned on November 3rd, by Bishop McGuinness.


In the end, it was a miracle that the church was ever completed. In total, Mr. Frimmer spent $36,000 on the building of the church and rectory, 70% more than his original estimation of $21,000 the parish had originally planned for. Mr. Frimmer, who had not been around Salisbury since September of 1940, did not show his face around Sacred Heart again. He even left $1,000 of his services left unpaid for, with the threat of a possible law suit due to terrible miscalculations regarding the cost of the building project.


Unfortunately the problems for Father Regnat and Sacred Heart did not end there. Just 6 months after the dedication, several projects were yet to be completed and the estimated cost was $1,500 to finish the construction properly. As Father Regnat wrote to Bishop McGuinness on April 25, 1941, "It's a pity to have one of the most beautiful churches in N.C. yet feel ashamed of the unfinished condition." But with a debt of already $27,500, $12,500 of that being owed directly to the Chancery Office, Bishop McGuinness did not allow Father Regnat to take out another loan saying, "The only thing I can say is to make the necessary improvements and additions as you have the cash". 

Architect's Sketch of New Church.png
00000001 (6)_edited.jpg

Below is a slide show of 260 different dated documents during the time of the building of the Church. Many of the documents are correspondence between Father William Regnat and the various contractors, donors, or vendors that participated in building the church. Also several letters are correspondence between Father Regnat and Bishop McGuinness, this narrative is of special interest. These documents were saved in a scrap book that was located in the archives at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. We hope these documents provide an interesting snap shot into the life of the parish and the life of Father Regnat as he worked tirelessly to build a new church in Salisbury. While all the documents are located here in this slide show, you can also seem them on our photos albums page.

bottom of page