Diocese prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of new Catholics into the Body of Christ

By Juan Guajardo

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

August 18, 2014

Large photo show area east of I-35 toward Alliance Airport in 2011; inset picture shows area east of I-35 toward Alliance Airport in 1999. (Photos courtesy of Hillwod Development Company, LLC)

EN ESPAÑOL

The number of Catholics within the 28-county Diocese of Fort Worth has skyrocketed, and many more are coming to North Texas, according to demographers.

The burst of growth is recent. When Pope Paul VI split the Diocese of Fort Worth from the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth in 1969, the Catholic population was a mere 67,000. By 1986, the diocese had doubled in size to 120,000 Catholics.

Since then, the diocese has grown rapidly, to an estimated 720,000 Catholics today with a million forecast for the not too distant future.

“This is good news,” said Bishop Michael Olson, “and it is necessary that everyone understand that responding to this growth is the responsibility of every person and facility in the diocese.”

To assist the diocese as it prepares for and manages the growth, expert local lay members and diocesan leaders, along with expert planning professionals, are being called upon to develop a growth strategy.

“This is not a crisis, but rather an opportunity for everyone in the Diocese of Fort Worth to evangelize,” Bishop Olson observes.

Planning for growth has been ongoing since 2009 when the diocese commissioned a study to look at population trends, the diocese’s demographic makeup, and to evaluate recommendations from diocesan and parish leaders.

Armed with recommendations from the 2009 Meitler Consultants study, the dirt has been flying the last few years.

A new school opened in 2012 in Frisco. St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth is in the process of relocating to a larger and more central site in Saginaw. St. Mark Parish in Denton is moving south to better serve a growing Catholic population. And St. John Paul II Parish has been established to serve Denton’s university communities.

Meitler has projected that 12 to 14 new parishes will be needed in the next 20 years to keep up the with diocese’s growth. The growth also will create demand for new Catholic schools.

While the diocese was without a bishop, the Meitler Consultants updated and verified its 2009 data. The Meitler update concluded that growth of the diocese will accelerate, if the North Texas economy continues to boom.

In the face of “exceptional growth,” the challenge is daunting: Continuing to serve the needs of the 720,000 faithful already here with safe and inspirational places to worship which are adequately staffed by priests and religious while erecting new parishes and providing the priests and religious necessary to properly serve the new North Texas Catholics.

“We now generally know where parishes need to be placed, but we need help to determine the best location for a new parish, [and] whether existing parish sites need to move or be developed in some other way,” Bishop Olson said.

The process of where, when, and how to start a new parish requires extensive planning, research, and discussion to “make sure all of the voices involved are properly consulted.”

This effort ensures that we line up our brick and mortar needs with the programs for vocations and evangelization and outreach to the poor,” Bishop Olson explains. “We want to make sure we don’t exclude any group by the placement of a parish, most especially the economically disadvantaged.”

Because the cost of establishing or relocating a new parish or school is in the millions of dollars, diocesan leaders sought advice and counsel.

The advice is coming from a new advisory group, the diocesan Land Subcommittee. It is developing a 3-step strategy: Tackling immediate needs, addressing needs in the next three to five years, and forecasting needs for the next five to 15 years.

Supplementing the Land Subcommittee are the renowned Fort Worth-based demographic and site selection experts, the Buxton Company.

“Taken together,” Bishop Olson explains, “we are engaged in comprehensive, practical planning rather than incremental planning.

“We have learned that we must think outside of the box” in providing for the spiritual needs of a rapidly growing Catholic community, the bishop explained, “but we cannot think outside the Church.

“We cannot start all of the new parishes that are needed all at once. The information from this effort will help us to prioritize. All the proposed parishes are important. But which is the most urgent, and which has the most possibility of being successful for growth initially?”

Buxton is a recognized industry leader in “customer analytics.” Since 1994, more than 3,000 organizations in the retail, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, private equity, and public sectors turned to Buxton to guide their growth strategies. Buxton describes its service as providing help to its clients in understanding who their customers are, where their customers are located, and the value each customer brings to the organization.

“This is a company you would use if you owned a restaurant or a retail company, a Lowe’s or a Dillard’s,” explained Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Peter Flynn. “Buxton would advise a company, ‘Here is a growing area, where should we have a store located?’ Buxton specializes in doing this kind of placement.

“The diocese is using Buxton’s vast capabilities to help determine where our parishes, our schools, and other diocesan facilities should be located to serve the members of this diocese.”

Flynn said the diocese will develop a strategic initiative for both existing and future parishes and sites. The preliminary plans will be completed sometime between October and December of this year.

Bishop Olson is striving for a “clear consensus about what is the right next step to take in moving a parish site or establishing a new parish for the sake of the mission of the Church — which involves the sanctification of God’s people, formation in the faith, and the living of the Good News in particular ways. My hope is for an outcome that will inspire evangelization and help to recognize and encourage growth and development in the life of our faithful people.”

The growth strategy also will become a driving force in the diocesan Pastoral Plan.

“We must practice our faith in a focused way, based on actionable information, so we promote vocations and don’t leave the poor or any other segment of our growing community behind,” Bishop Olson said.

Residential-Growth-2011-BUTTON.jpgThe number of Catholics within the 28-county Diocese of Fort Worth has skyrocketed, and many more are coming to North Texas, according to demographers. The burst of growth is recent. When Pope Paul VI split the Diocese of Fort Worth from the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth in 1969, the Catholic population was a mere 67,000. By 1986, the diocese had doubled in size to 120,000 Catholics.

Published (until 12/12/2031)
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