By Msgr. Walter Murphy
The Fort Greene area and its Catholic parishes have undergone drastic change over the past 60 years, in particular Sacred Heart parish, now part of Mary of Nazareth parish. Through the years, Sacred Heart has always had its movers and shakers – laity, religious and clergy who moved the parish along, keeping it up-to-the-minute and always an anchor in Fort Greene in the lives of parishioners and the community-at-large.
Beginning with Father Matt Foley in 1956 who gave new life to the changing parish as Sacred Heart began the transformation, reluctantly at first, from an Irish-American-Italian parish to a Latino parish beginning withthe Puerto Rican migration in the late 1950s.
Then, in the early 1980s, as the Puerto Rican parishioners were aging and their children moving on, Mexican and Central American families began coming into the parish and becoming a vital part of parish life. A few were the new mainsprings and the leader among them has been Alfonso Sanchez for all these years.
Alfonso always has been a catalyst in the liturgical and social life of the parish, bringing together the Puerto Rican, Mexican and Latin American parishioners who share the same language, although different in culture, and with the non-Latino parishioners. He has been a leader in the Comite, a group of Mexican parishioners who come together when a compatriot is in distress and in need of family, employment, and financial help.
Alfonso has been a leader in planning and implementation of our great Our Lady of Guadalupe feast each year. The celebration begins in September with Rosary street processions every few days and then on the eve of the feast, there is a great street procession followed by the mananitas and an early morning Mass in the church which was decorated by, you guessed it, Alfonso and his assistants.
For many years, the parish celebrated a grand Mariachi Mass in honor of St. Cecilia. Many Mariachi groups would come from all over the metropolitan area and play for the Mass. Then the groups would play for hours in the auditorium. Alfonso was always the catalyst, the entrepreneur.
Another example of his leadership was in the mid-1990s when the church was in need of a ramp for easy access for the handicapped. Mention it and it gets done. Alfonso and friends built the ramp at the south side to the church.
Alfonso and his leadership goes and on. During fiestas in the school yard, he was the organizer and master of ceremonies. He is energy personified.
As Alfonso relocates with his wife, Isabel, and their six children from Fort Greene to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, our prayers and best wishes are with him and his family. We know his new parish will never be the same, once he arrives and becomes an impetus, a la Sacred Heart, in his new faith community.
Alfonso Sanchez – Adelante Siempre!
La Parroquia del Sagrado Corazon will always be your raíz!
Msgr. Murphy, now retired, is a former pastor of Sacred Heart parish, Fort Greene.