The growing Catholic flock

by Susan McFarland

North Texas Catholic

A view of Holy Cross parish in The Colony. (NTC/Ben Torres)A view of Holy Cross parish in The Colony. (NTC/Ben Torres)
A view of Holy Cross parish in The Colony. (NTC/Ben Torres)


The growth surge in North Texas, particularly Fort Worth, has led not only to this region being the fastest growing in the United States but also to an explosion of the Catholic population within the Diocese of Fort Worth, according to diocese officials.

Growth in the Church is a blessing and has prompted a vast array of projects. Data from the 2019 Ad Limina report reveals that in the 28-county area that makes up the diocese, the Catholic population has increased from 710,000 in 2010 to more than a million self-identified Catholics by 2018.  Since 2010, the diocese has added four more parishes for a total of 91.

Bishop Michael Olson and diocesan leaders aren’t shying away from evangelizing the growing number of self-identified Catholics, according to Steve Becht, diocesan director of real estate and construction.

“Basically he said, ‘We’re going for it. We’re going to build this thing and we’re going to serve our population and carry out our mission, which is the salvation of souls,’” Becht explained.

“So he recognizes to accomodate the growth and population, we’re going to have a lot of construction by necessity,” Becht continued. “And we have to be proactive and we need to go after this.”
 

Packing the Pews

To accommodate this growth, several parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth are expanding their churches.

“Buildings are necessary means for the purpose of evangelizing the people of God,” Bishop Olson told the NTC. “The large number of self-identifed Catholics in our diocese requires not just that we construct buildings for their faith formation and evangelization, but that we develop a strategy for that purpose and remain ever clearly focused on that goal.”

From newly designed altars and sanctuaries reflecting beauty and functionality, to facility add-ons for more classrooms and gathering spaces, parish leaders are putting a lot of thought into the details to make worship spaces reflect God’s beauty while being more practical.

In Grapevine, St. Francis of Assisi Parish renovated the church’s altar, sanctuary, and chapel, which was recently blessed by Bishop Michael Olson during a special celebratory Mass. Father Sojan George, the parish’s new pastor, spearheaded the effort with the aid of Father James Flynn, who helped kick off the building campaign before taking on the role of pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller.

Fr. George said the main difference in the design is “it brings the tabernacle to the center, where it should be,” rather than on the side, as it was built in 1985. The enlarged altar area is a scaled replica of the altar at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. 

Bishop Michael Olson is joined by Father James Flynn (left) and Father Sojan George (right) as he celebrates Mass in the renovated sanctuary at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grapevine. (NTC/Kevin Bartram)
Bishop Michael Olson is joined by Father James Flynn (left) and Father Sojan George (right) as he celebrates Mass in the renovated sanctuary at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grapevine. (NTC/Kevin Bartram)

“Bringing the tabernacle to the center, the focus is on the Eucharist, all of that is special,” Fr. George explained.

The new sanctuary is dressed up and more sacred, which will “bring that beauty and reverence and respect for the Eucharist,” the pastor said.

Sanctuary changes also involved relocating images throughout the church and adding images of the parish’s patron saint. In the center of the sanctuary, an image of St. Francis kneeling at the foot of the crucifix serves as a reminder of when the saint heard Jesus telling him to “rebuild my church.” The sides of the altar feature two images, one of St. Francis and St. Clare and one of St. Francis with St. Dominic. A special altarpiece made of hand-carved wooden images was shipped from the German village of Oberammergau. The next phase includes building a permanent space for classrooms and new atriums.

Meanwhile, to make room for a growing parish population in The Colony, Holy Cross Parish underwent an overhaul to the church’s façade, constructed a new 12,000-square-foot family life center that seats up to 400 people, and added a new vestibule and bell tower. The church also added new classrooms and a new choir rehearsal room and updated the kitchen, food pantry, and restrooms. Bishop Olson blessed the new space August 17.

“We’ve been without any place to gather for ministries,” explained Father Joy Joseph, TOR, the parish’s pastor. “Now we have classrooms, a kitchen, and a big place to gather for functions as a family.”

Fr. Joseph said that when he came to the parish in 2015, staff began educating parishioners about church needs and fundraising began. The church broke ground on the $6.1-million expansion project in 2017 and a year later had more than half the amount in cash donations and pledges. Fr. Joseph said that with the active parish community hosting “so many ministries that our calendars are full,” the space was a necessity.

“I have gratitude for the people who contributed and helped fund the project. They are generous and understanding,” Fr. Joseph said. “We hope more and more people will come to Holy Cross now.”

A view of the new facade and narthex of St. Andrew Parish in Fort Worth (NTC/ Juan Guajardo)A view of the new facade and narthex of St. Andrew Parish in Fort Worth (NTC/ Juan Guajardo)
A view of the new facade and narthex of St. Andrew Parish in Fort Worth (NTC/ Juan Guajardo)


Bishop Olson, also in August, blessed a newly completed church narthex, Adoration chapel, and pastoral center at St. Andrew Parish in Fort Worth. The completed renovation, phase one of their campus master plan, stands at $5.3 million. The improvements increased church seating and included a new cry room, a permanent baptismal font, new church offices, and a youth space. At the school, a larger, more secure entrance was added and the cafeteria was expanded.

Father John Mark Klaus, TOR, said even the atmosphere of the church has changed, with the front of the church adding various windows and much more light. “It’s very welcoming,” the parochial vicar continued. “This has energized our community in getting involved in more things.”

Fr. Klaus added that the young adult ministry is growing and is making use of the new youth/young adult space.

“They are so fired up about things,” he said. “The church is doing so many things for the youth to help them grow their faith.”

With the new Adoration chapel, more people are signing up for time slots and the church has plans to bring in a priest to speak about the importance of Adoration.

“It’s made us a family, and that is what we are striving for,” he said. “Evangelism is what we are working on, what it means to be a Catholic.”

The remaining construction phases will include an expansion of the church into the existing chapel, creating a new chapel that will seat up to 200, adding a new middle school wing, storage building, pantry and outreach center, a multi-purpose center, more classrooms, and a 700-seat event center.

 At the same time, St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Flower Mound is in the planning phase for a new church, which will sit on a 40-acre property. As the parish welcomes more people, facilities will also expand, allowing seating for up to 1,800. The church will be designed in the Tudor architectural style.

Father Raymond McDaniel said the project is still in the early stages, with a site plan recently submitted to the Flower Mound City Council.

“We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and are looking forward to the next step, to actually starting the process,” the pastor said.

A rendering shows the future home of St. Philip the Apostle Parish. ( Courtesy/St. Philip Parish)
A rendering shows the future home of St. Philip the Apostle Parish. ( Courtesy/St. Philip Parish)

The design of the proposed church began with a focus on the altar and sanctuary, Fr. McDaniel said.

“We wanted a building that reflected its purpose through various signs and symbols that make up the structure,” he said. “We wanted every detail to reflect our sacramental faith and our journey that begins in Baptism. All these signs and symbols can help us, even in subconscious ways, to continue that journey.”

Fr. McDaniel said signs, symbols, and visuals are all given to us for a reason. “God made us that way. He knows what we need.”

Fr. McDaniel said the beauty of the church and ornate visuals creates another opportunity to evangelize. “A building that looks like a church can be a silent message, a nice remembrance of God and eternal things.”

Sara Fritcher, pastoral assistant for communications, also stressed the importance of making a church beautiful. “That’s one of the ways we evangelize and one of the ways we reach God,” she said. “It’s very important that it is as beautiful as we can make it.”

But There’s More

Steve Becht, the director of real estate and construction, said other projects in the works include St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, Good Shepherd in Colleyville, St. John the Apostle in North Richland Hills, and Our Lady Queen of Peace in Wichita Falls. St. Peter the Apostle Parish in west Fort Worth is in a capital campaign for a building project that will create more room for churchgoers and add a narthex.

Room to Learn

Another exciting venture is happening at Nolan Catholic High School. What started off as a security audit led to a $38-million project that adds unique elements to the campus.

Leah Rios, president, said much-needed renovations were made to improve campus safety, including enhanced security at the front gate and an entryway with a holding section for visitors to wait for an employee escort inside the building. Each hallway now has doors that lock down classrooms during emergency situations.

The theater at the school (which was built in 1961) was restructured to allow for the school hallways to be closed off during events and performances and received additional seating, new sound systems, a new stage, and a baby grand piano, which was donated.

The school has new furniture, new flooring, and has been redesigned to show more beauty at every turn. Courtyards in the center of campus were upgraded to be used as outdoor learning centers. Now students can study literature outdoors and participate in science lessons.

A rendering shows the lobby of Nolan High School's IDEA building (Courtesy/Nolan High School)
A rendering shows the lobby of Nolan High School's IDEA building (Courtesy/Nolan High School)

“The whole idea is getting them outdoors, experimenting and appreciating God’s beauty,” Rios said.

Another need the survey found is keeping students on campus. Rios said students are already competing on a national level and bringing home state and national titles in athletics and extracurriculars, but with some programs — such as swimming or robotics — they must go elsewhere to train. In the works are a natatorium, multi-purpose center, and IDEA building, all scheduled to open in early 2020.

The IDEA building (Integrated Design, Engineering, and Art) will take the typical Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum one step further by combining all elements into one building.

The first floor has spaces for robotics, welding, building, graphic design, and computer-aided design. The second floor has a new broadcast center, art classrooms, visual art spaces, sculpting, painting, and an art gallery.

“It’s all a part of educating the whole person. Having those aspects in the same building promotes creativity,” Becht said of the school’s renovations.

Rios said the architect and construction company “totally embraced our vision, bringing in the Catholic faith and making sure the students have it all around them in their environment.”

 

Holy Cross Parish

The growth surge in North Texas, particularly Fort Worth, has led not only to this region being the fastest growing in the United States but also to an explosion of the Catholic population within the Diocese of Fort Worth, according to diocese officials.

Published