Sacred Heart receives basilica designation

Saints Peter and Paul church began in a small wooden building near what is now downtown Atlanta.

One hundred thirty years later, the church, later known as Sacred Heart Catholic Church, has been designated a minor basilica by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican.

The title changes Sacred Heart's name, to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,  confers certain ceremonial rights on it and elevates its place among churches. It's the first church in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the state to received the designation.

And it's the 67th basilica named in the United States, said the Rev. T.J. Meehan, pastor of Sacred Heart, which is at 353 Peachtree St. NE.

"The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is now a center for devotion and liturgy that will be a sanctuary for pilgrimages to Atlanta," said Patricia Chivers, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. "Many people will come to the basilica for spiritual celebrations throughout the year and will be encouraged to develop their faith through prayer."

There are two kinds of basilicas:  major basilicas, which are few in number and located in or around Rome;  and minor basilicas, which are spread out around the world.

The petition for the designation included a history of the church, the architecture, artistic importance and pastoral activities. The process was initiated by a letter of proposal by the pastor of Sacred Heart to the archbishop, who approved it and made the request to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The petition was then forwarded to the Vatican.

The architectural style of Sacred Heart is French Romanesque, with some additions and variations, according to the Archdiocese Web site.

In addition to its history and architecture, the church should have "a congregation that is active and vibrant," Meehan said. The church has about 1,300 registered households.

Several years ago,  Sacred Heart was entered in the National Register of Historic Places, in recognition of its "artistically significant architecture."