A humble start with great potential: Inaugural Mass celebrated at St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish
FORT WORTH — Could the 92nd parish in the Diocese of Fort Worth have a more suitable patroness than St. Teresa of Calcutta?
The first Mass at the parish who bears her name was modest, small, and humble, much like the diminutive saint who served the poorest of the poor. However, the celebration of Mass was joyful, prayerful, and holy — again like the saint — despite being held in a portable building with industrial carpeting and stacking chairs.
Father Brijil Lawrence, SAC, newly appointed pastor for the parish in far north Fort Worth, celebrated the parish’s inaugural Mass on September 4 with concelebrating priests Monsignor E. James Hart, diocesan chancellor and moderator of the curia, and Father Sojan George, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grapevine. Bishop Michael Olson was unable to be the principal celebrant as scheduled due to illness.
In his homily, Fr. Lawrence stated the purpose of establishing this parish community was identical to why the Apostles formed the first Christian communities: for the salvation of souls. “And our salvation is in Christ, crucified — the same message the Apostles preached, and the same message Christ taught His Apostles. Christ, crucified, is our wisdom today,” he said.
The Pallottine priest, who also heads the diocesan mission council, concluded the homily with a prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours that he found fitting for the community’s first Mass.
“May the Lord, who is the beginning and end of all that we do and say, come to our actions with His grace and complete them with His all-powerful help,” he prayed.
GETTING TO MASS
Deacon Daniel Zavala, the coordinator of parish life, has been working “fast and furious” to prepare for the first Mass even before Bishop Olson announced the creation of the 92nd parish in the diocese on August 1. The 31-acre property, at 13517 Alta Vista Road, was the former home of Our Lady of Grace High School and had existing portable buildings which required significant renovations to accommodate the celebration of Mass.
In working with contractors, city officials, and even the fire department, Dcn. Zavala said he encountered “lots of roadblocks, but all along I could see God working in this.”
Located north of U.S. Highway 170 and east of I-35W, St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish was established due to tremendous population growth in Tarrant and Denton counties.
The new parish is formed from areas within the boundaries of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Fort Worth, St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Flower Mound, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller, and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grapevine.
Dcn. Zavala spent the four weekends before Sept. 4 visiting those four churches to announce the creation of the new parish.
He said, “I’ve heard a lot of buzz. There’s a lot of people who live right here, literally, and they drive a long way. They love their parishes, of course, but they are very excited that we’re putting something closer to home.”
A GRAND CELEBRATION
Where does one find greeters, lectors, altar servers, and a cantor for the first Mass? Deacon Zavala recruited many of them from St. Patrick Cathedral, where he served previously.
Aaron Medina, director of music and liturgy at St. Patrick, is accustomed to playing the magnificent pipe organ in the cathedral’s choir loft. At St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, he played an electric keyboard from the back corner.
He found the unassuming liturgy impactful, saying, “I was touched and honored to play at the first Mass. To be with the whole community — it’s a wonderful place, a humble start. I want to see what it’s like as it grows.”
The pastor expressed a similar thought. Fr. Lawrence said, “The first Mass has been a blessing to us. First of all, to give thanks to God for bringing His people together in this part of the diocese to worship together as a family. It is the beginning, the first step in the building up of this place of worship, and to bring many more families together to learn, to practice [the faith], and to cherish each other’s company.”
He continued, “A new parish is always a blessing from God, to remind us that the Church is growing. For the entire diocese, it’s a very important moment. The very fact this parish is here is making our Christian presence [felt] in this place.”
The inaugural Mass filled the portable building, which seats 100, plus an overflow building, which seats 50. Many young families attended, including several parents with babies in arms, one of whom was Dcn. Zavala’s five-month-old grandchild, who had a Mother Teresa doll.
“Excitement is the word to describe the day,” said Julio Castillo, who participated in the Mass with his wife and daughter. Parishioners at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, the family has carefully observed progress at the property each time the parents take their daughter to nearby John M. Tidwell Middle School.
On Sept. 4, Castillo admitted that he checked what time the Mass started at least three times and arrived almost 30 minutes early for the 5 p.m. Mass, despite living only four minutes away. “It’s our first time to attend a first Mass,” he said. “We were nervous. We didn’t want to miss it.”
At the conclusion of Mass, Dcn. Zavala announced the next Mass will be on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 9 a.m. in the portable building.
Afterwards, Fr. Lawrence observed, “Seeing the crowd today, we will look for another place” for weekend Mass, and the portable building will serve as a chapel for daily Mass.
Dcn. Zavala has discussed with school administrators the possibility of using Tidwell Middle School as a temporary facility for weekend Mass in the short term.
Next steps, according to the deacon, include setting up a parish office, hiring staff, and holding a parish town hall to recruit religious education volunteers and to determine preferred times for daily and weekend Masses.
The first permanent structure to be built on the property will be a multi-use facility with an office, classrooms, and a parish hall where Mass will be celebrated. A church will follow in a few years.
Updates on St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, including a Mass schedule, are available at fwdioc.org/parish-finder.
The first Mass at St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish was held Sept. 4, the day before the 25th anniversary of the saint’s death.
Her patronage of the simple facility is noted with an eight-inch bust of the saint mounted on the wall near the altar and a large painting of her at the back.
This tiny religious woman began a humble ministry serving the dying and destitute of the slums of Calcutta, and the religious order she founded has grown to more than 5,000 sisters serving in 760 homes in 139 countries.
Dcn. Zavala said he studied and prayed with quotes from Mother Teresa during his diaconate formation. She was “totally in cooperation with the Holy Spirit in everything she did. It’s great we have a parish named after her,” he said.
Fr. Lawrence, who grew up in India, said, “Dedicating this church to her name and directing our prayers through her intercession is also a moment for us to know what she has done as a person and to relive the Christian charity in our own different ways, wherever we are. And so, it’s very apt that Mother Teresa is the patroness of this parish, standing as a model for all parishioners.”