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The city of Bellingham was formed in the consolidation of Fairhaven and Whatcom in 1903. Ironically, in the catholic community of Bellingham there was movement away from consolidation.
Apparently from the very beginning of parish activity on the bay, there was a strong desire on the part of "southsiders" to form their own parish, and they were never content to be part of a united parish. As noted, there were petitions to Bishop Junger to form a separate parish in Fairhaven, but those went unheeded. Furthermore, Fr. Boulet most likely opposed the division. He didn't believe the towns needed two parishes, despite the rapid growth at the end of the century. And he was anxious to neutralize the argument that the church was too small by adding on to the building.
Something must have happened, then, after the turn of the century to convince the new bishop, Most Reverend Edward J. O'Dea to grant the request of south side Catholics to create their own parish. Bishop O'Dea is remembered by most as a people's bishop. He was master of the art of compromise and he excelled at getting factions to work out their differences. He understood people and was willing to listen to opposing viewpoints.
In 1903 bishop O'Dea moved from Vancouver to Seattle, the new center of growth in the Northwest. this made him much more accessible to Bellingham Catholics. Also, the bishop had visited Bellingham a couple times and was hearing opinions other than Fr. Boulet's. Perhaps influential south side Catholics were able to make him see the need for a second parish.
At any rate, the decision to establish Sacred Heart Parish on the south side was made in late 1904 or early 1905. Approximately one third of Assumption parishioners left to form Sacred Heart Parish. The first Mass in the new parish was offered November 12, 1905, by the first pastor Fr. John A. O'Hagan. The first building to serve as a church was a vacant store at 14th and Mill streets. within a year another building, the former Bellingham Herald establishment, was purchased and it served as church until the present edifice was built in 1912-1913 at 14th and Knox.
Fr. O'Hagan was pastor at Sacred Heart until 1910 when Fr. Daniel A. Hanly was assigned to the position. He served only two years and Fr. Stephen Carmondy began his long tenure in 1912.
The name Sacred Heart church quickly became interchangeable with the name "southside church." One might be heard to say in casual conversation, "I went to the southside church Sunday... " Less frequently heard was the term "northside church" for Assumption. Some persons claim that the division between the two parishes was so great that parents prohibited their children from crossing town to attend the other church, or that Catholics on one side of town would sooner go to a Protestant church than to the other Catholic church.
More common, however, were suggestions that the split was simply a matter of loyalty to one's neighborhood. Indeed, many Catholics did cross the border to attend the other church, but until the early 1960's very few families moved from one parish to another.
Accentuating the rivalry was the fact that each side of town had its own high school until Fairhaven High School burned down in 1936. Parish lines at that time roughly followed high school boundaries. the consolidation of the high schools subsequent to the fire may have erased some of the differences between Sacred Heart and Assumption.
The original members of Sacred Heart Parish were very similar to Assumption people - immigrants from Ireland, Germany, French Canada, or states in the East or Midwest. Beginning about 1915, however there was a large influx of families from the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia. Fisherman in their homeland, they quickly established a Slavic fishing community based in Fairhaven. They also became the predominant group at Sacred Heart and many of the church's services reflected the Slavic influence.
- Excerpted from 1889-1989 Centennial HIstory Church of the Assumption by Joseph M. St. Hilaire