Sacred Heart Church

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The Braun-Sacred Heart Center is dedicated to preserving the history of the Old Sacred Heart Church in Phoenix. Executive Director Pete Dimas and Board Chairman Abe Arvizu Jr. talk about the history of the church.

Jose Cardenas: The Braun Sacred Heart Center was an important part of religious life for many people in the old Mexican-American barrio neighbors. The Braun Sacred Heart Center is an organization dedicated to restoring and preserving the history of the church. The center is also working on a documentaries that have been designated as an Arizona centennial project, focusing on the Latino role in Arizona's history. With me to talk about the center and church is Pete Dimas, executive director of the Braun Sacred Heart Center, and Abe Arvizu Jr., chairman of the board terror the Braun Sacred Heart Center. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." Pete, you've been on before to talk about other aspects of Latino history in Arizona. This has been around for a long time, it's important to the community I know Abe's been involved in it for a long time. Let's start by talking about father brawn. We've got some -- father Braun. We've got some pictures at various stages in his life with respect to the church I think this picture is, what, an outdoor mass when the church was being constructed?

Pete Dimas: That that -- in that time frame, yes, it is. The thing is that father Albert came from St. Mary's church.

Jose Cardenas: In downtown Phoenix.

Pete Dimas: Where he was teaching. And he brought a lot of students with him to work in the barrios of Phoenix. This is a period after World War II when our society was more inclusive. And when father Albert shows up, the people are already pushing for their own church. They started pushing for it in the 1930s. But the depression put it off and World War II came.

Jose Cardenas: And then he was actually physically involved in the construction of the church. I know we've got a picture of him in work clothes standing up on it looks like on one of the walls. Was he the -- he was the founding priest.

Pete Dimas: Yes, he was.

Jose Cardenas: And there's a picture we were talking about.

Pete Dimas: He has a history of building churches throughout the southwest, and he wasn't the kind of person to want to stay enclosed in one room. So he brought his people into the golden gate area. And once he did that, the golden gate people by the way were fairly united, they already wanted their church, but they wanted a priest they could trust. And they made him prove it, and he did, and they worked together. There was a synergy that came out of there.

Jose Cardenas: Abe, did you know father Braun?

Abe Arvizu Jr.: I was very young, but I do remember him.

Jose Cardenas: We've got another picture of him we want to show, a more traditional clerical garb. He was something special for the people in the community.

Abe Arvizu Jr.: Right. Because he was one that brought hope to the people at that time. We didn't have sidewalks, dirt roads. And he brought that to the community, getting the sidewalks and the roads put in. And he started to give them something to look forward to and to expand on, and realizing that they needed to have something to survive in life. And that was an education. He was a very strong pusher for education. Coming from St. Mary's in '49, and then in '51 he came over with us, so that was a thing he pushed very, very strongly.

Jose Cardenas: And the area we're talking about of this neighborhood and other churches is just west of the airport.

Abe Arvizu Jr.: Correct. It is just west of the airport.

Jose Cardenas: That was heavily affected when they decided to expand the airport and there's not much left.

Abe Arvizu Jr.: No, there's not. It was the Walla Acquisition, which is what took place in the west approach land acquisition. And that had been going on for 30, 35 years. I remember going to the meetings at skiff school back when I was in eighth grade, in the early '70s, and being a youth representative on some of the different committees of the CPAC committee. And the neighborhood association groups and the different -- our parish council. So all of the community was working together on trying to see what was the best if it for us.

Jose Cardenas: We have a couple of pictures of the church as it stand now. And that's basically all that's left. I think we've got a picture of the front and the side. The rest of the neighborhood is gone.

Abe Arvizu Jr.: Everything else is gone. I think the last standing building other than the church is the old Wilson gym, which was built after the fact. But other than that, the old sacred heart church --

Jose Cardenas: We've got a picture here, it's surrounded by fences. And that's pretty much the neighborhood now.

Abe Arvizu Jr.: That's it.

Jose Cardenas: So Pete, what is the Braun Sacred Heart Center all about, and what purpose does it serve these days?

Pete Dimas: It's in the realm of symbols. Because that church symbolizes all those people's lives that were disrupted by this move. They had been how shall I say, relocated individual, but that's one symbol that reminded them of what their lives were like, the people that lived there, and you need to understand that when Father Albert shows up, it's also a major period of transformation. You were talking earlier about the last time I was here, dealing with --

Jose Cardenas: We're talking about post 41.

Pete Dimas: Yes. Father Albert was a lifetime chaplain at post 41, and a very active in community organizing. I think what we have here is a person who comes into the barrio, understands how politics and activism works in the United States with a group of people who have come back from war, who understand their role is much more than what they thought it was, to preexisting community. It was already tight. And what have you here is a synergy, and allows to you do something of the things that you are hearing. From Abe about getting the streets improved, the lights put in. Building a school. He started building a school before he got permission to do so. It's better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission.

Jose Cardenas: Even for a Catholic priest.

Pete Dimas: Yes.

Jose Cardenas: And Abe, that sense of community that Pete was talking about, I think is captured very beautifully in another picture that we have of a first Holy Communion class. I don't know if it's yours but you can see if you're in there. You see all these children who were impacted by him, many of them I assume are Groening grown adults now, active in the community. What has led you to spend the time you have, the years you have as chairman of the Braun Sacred Heart Center?

Abe Arvizu Jr.: I think it was a continuation of family ties. We were all a family together, maybe different names, different people, different races. But we were all golden gaters, we were all together, we did everything together. The continuation was just when the elders started to pass the baton on to the next group, the next group, when my dad passed away, I took up the baton and kept running. So that's the thing that I think is the continuation, is the actual having that history, and this is what it's all about, is the history.

Jose Cardenas: And a big part of that history, another major aspect of it was the involvement of the church with Caesar Chavez.

Abe Arvizu Jr.: Right. Cesar Chavez, that's all part of history. Arizona history. And it was very, very important. Because it's -- he came to sacred heart parish and we gave him the center to do his fast. And so his second fast was done there. Where else to pick it? He picked it with us. That was the movement, that was the start of the movement here in Arizona. The continuation of what was going on elsewhere. And that showed the people, the love the people had for each other and to do better and to better each other.

Jose Cardenas: Pete, you mentioned I think actually we mentioned in the introduction that this is going to be involved in some fashion in the Arizona centennial. It will talk -- there will be some involvement, Braun Sacred Heart Center, but also this documentary. We've got about a minute or so left. Tell us about it.

Pete Dimas: This documentary is one I think it's critical for our time. Because people don't understand how long the Mexican population has been in Arizona. And we've been designated as a legacy project for something that we call Arizona's Mexican Heritage and American story. That begin was a movement north from new Spain or central Mexico, up to Arizona, beginning in 1540 to the present. Up to the time of the railroad. And then taking it another section of it, taking it from the time of the railroad or the industrialization of the United States, and the critical role played by Mexican laborers in developing Arizona. I interviewed Joe Torres, who was with us for so many years, I asked him a question, why is history important, he said they, they have to know that we, the Mexican people, we built this town. That's a sense of these old-timers. Another aspect of the documentary is taking a look -- and this is statewide -- of the --

Jose Cardenas: I understand you interviewed former Governor Castro.

Pete Dimas: Yes, I did. He has his opinions about how things are today.

Jose Cardenas: You're going to have to give us a quick segment. We've got about 20 seconds.

Pete Dimas: He doesn't like the racial profiling, that's just straight forward. He feels it pretty deeply.

Jose Cardenas: I'm afraid that's about all we're going to be able to say about the documentary, but I promise you we'll have you back to talk more about it. Abe, Pete, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte."

Pete Dimas:Executive Director,Braun-Sacred Heart Center;Abe Arvizu Jr.:Board Chairman,Braun-Sacred Heart Center;

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