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History of Sacred Heart Church

History of Sacred Heart Church

Sacred Heart Church began in a small store front in Palm Desert on November 1, 1956 with Fr. Edwards as pastor. Bing Crosby, who at the time was Honorary Mayor of Palm Desert, hosted a fundraiser in April 1958 to benefit the construction of a permanent church. Performers and attendees at the event included Buddy Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Commare, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Manzo, Mrs. Major Slater, Mrs. Mon Walgren, Mrs. Olga Sutherland, Robert Coates, John Moran, Joe Biccino, Daniel Ryan, and A.C. Pelletier.  On December 21, 1958, the Church's permanent location was formally dedicated. Since these times, the Church has grown enormously in size and scope.

In its early years, Sacred Heart was a popular church among the celebrity and wealthy visitors to the Palm Springs area. Most notably, President John F. Kennedy attended Mass at the Church whenever he visited the desert. Today, you can see a dedicated pew where President Kennedy used to sit when he attended Mass. Others, such as Bing Crosby, were regular attendees. The Desert continues to be a popular vacation place for people from Los Angeles County and the world.

Throughout the years, the desert population continued to grow and, by the 1970s, it became a popular retirement location. During that time, Fr. McNellis, pastor of Sacred Heart from 1968 until 1982, sought to serve this older population at Sacred Heart. He constructed a community of duplexes rented to low income Catholic senior citizens, called La Paz.  It was located directly adjacent to the Church property and served its intended purpose into the 21st century.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the desert continued to attract year-round families, weekend visitors from Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and-- most significantly-- a deluge of "snowbirds" from the north, Midwest, and eastern states every winter.  Sacred Heart grew and evolved to serve these parishioners and visitors.

The Pastor of Sacred Heart during this time (1982 - 2001) was Fr. Anthony Timlin. Father Timlin accommodated the increase in parishioners at the Church by expanding the original Church. A new office building was added on the property, as a larger staff was needed to facilitate the numerous ministries, programs, and religious education classes offered. 

Fr. Timlin also built a kindergarten and elementary school on the church property in 1984.   The school continued to add a new class each year. Today, the school serves over 620 children from preschool through eighth grade, offering a science lab, technology lab, library, and large gymnasium. In 2006, Sacred Heart School was one of 250 schools in the nation to be named by the U.S. Department of Education as a No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon School.

From 2001 to 2021, Pastor Monsignor Howard Lincoln continued the growth of the church, its outreach, and the school.  During his tenure, six new buildings were constructed along with two large parking lots.  The school's square footage more than doubled, an adoration chapel was constructed, and the configuration of the church offices was significantly changed to accommodate an ever-growing parish.

In June 2021, Father Gregory Elder, Ph.D. became pastor. He brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience. He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest by Bishop Gerald Barnes under the Pastoral Provision for married Anglican Clergy in 2006. His authorization for ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood as a married Anglican priest was decreed by St. Pope John Paul personally, at the request of Bishop Gerald Barnes and (then) Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. Fr. Elder and his wife, Dr. Sarah Elder, have two grown children and two grandchildren.

Today, Sacred Heart Church serves over 6,000 families and more than 9,000 people attend weekend Masses in person and online during season. Roughly 600 parishioners are active in ministry service, volunteer work, and outreach programs. Parishioners also participate in the sacramental ministry as Eucharistic ministers and lectors, catechists, and visitors to the sick. There are over twenty active ministry groups, such as the Women's Guild, Music Ministry, and Scripture Study. Parishioners reach out to the Coachella Valley and beyond through very successful programs including the Mecca Reading Program, East Valley Outreach, and Kairos Prison visitors. The Church has always been popular among vacationers making it their "Church Away from Home." Sacred Heart Church is grateful and blessed to have such a vibrant and dedicated community who worship in English, Latin, and Spanish. For over 60 years, the Church continues serving God with a tradition of ministry and outreach to all in need.


Pastors Emeritus

Rev. A.G. Edwards 1956 - 1967

Rev. John Desmond 1967-1968

Msgr. Hugh McNelis 1968-1982

Rev. William J. Marcott (Administrator 1982)

Rev. Anthony J. Timlin 1982-2001

Rev. Msgr. Howard Lincoln 2001-2021

Rev. Gregory Elder 2021-present

  • CLICK HERE to read the Bishop's letter to the parish regarding Msgr. Lincoln as well as a letter from retired pastor, Howard Lincoln.