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As people across Tampa Bay headed to Easter services Sunday, a few hundred worshipped in a place that barely survived an attack by a tiny threat.

Why do they call it Sacred Heart Catholic Church?

There was awe in Father George Corrigan's voice. "About a year and a half ago," he said, "we had a family that celebrated their sixth generation of weddings here in this parish."

Moments like that remind the Rev. Corrigan that the story ofSacred Heart Church goes far back -- back to before its magnificent building in Downtown Tampa was built -- and even before the church was called Sacred Heart.

"The original church that was built here, St. Louis Parish, was really a pretty simple structure. It kind of just fit the normal, kind of wood frame, sideboard, small steeple [design], and the community gathered," Corrigan said.

The small church survived the epic Civil War. But in 1888, something tiny nearly did it in. Mosquitos, spreading an evil disease.

"Theyellow fever epidemics in Tampa kept wiping out the local priests," Corrigan explained.

Short on people to serve as pastors, thetraditional priests called inJesuit priests to take over.

Less than a decade later, the Jesuits laid the cornerstone for a new, breathtaking building. In that finished building, polished stone columns rise to support attractive arches. Vast round windows scatter colors across the walls.

"This church is certainly bigger than us," Father Corrigan said.

"And so it's literally why the architecture comes in and it kind of lifts your eyes up. It's always meant to kind of draw your attention upward visually, and to draw your attention upward in prayer and worship."

This big new church got a bold new name, dedicated to the Sacred Heart -- the worship of the physical heart of Jesus and all it represents.

"The heart is the seat of mercy. The heart is the seat of compassion. The heart is the seat of forgiveness. And the heart is the seat of love," the Rev. Corrigan said.

"And so it became a popular devotion, which reached its zenith about the time they were building this church."

Speaking of the zenith -- the highest point... "People ask -- can you get into the dome? And the answer is yes, you can," Corrigan said.

"You walk on this gang plank in the attic. Wear your dirty clothes, bring a flashlight. But when you get into the dome, it really is kind of a spectacular view down."

A ring of paintings and their sky-blue background were added around the dome in the 1920's. When painters went to restore the murals in 2009, they stumbled on a surprise.

"There was this really, really small writing that even when you got binoculars and looked, you couldn't read it," Corrigan said.

"And when we got the scaffolding all the way up, and we could read what was on the 'sacred scroll' and on the 'sacred book' -- it was an [advertisement] for the original people who had done it, an art studio out of Dallas."

Those cheesy ads were replaced with quotes from scripture.

Priests from the Jesuit order marked the 100th anniversary of this stunning building's opening in 2005.

Then they handed over its care to a different order of priests -- the Franciscans.

Father Corrigan is a Franciscan -- he wears their ancient garb and lives a caring life. And he tries to carry on a tradition at Sacred Heart that he knows is much older and much bigger than any one of us.

"The name has changed, the leadership has changed, but many things haven't changed. It's still the same Catholic faith," he said.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

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