Building His Church: new churches, sanctuaries accommodate a growing Catholic population

North Texas Catholic
(May 2, 2024) Feature

bISHOP Olson at altar of St. Mark

Parishioners, priests, deacons, and faithful from across the diocese joined the community of St. Mark Church in Argyle as Bishop Michael Olson dedicated their new church building and altar on April 13. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


Designed to lift the minds and hearts of the faithful toward God, a Catholic church uses both architecture and religious art to convey the richness of faith and belief that Christ is truly present during the Mass. In a visible and tangible way, the building proclaims the Gospel to the outside world and is a sacred space where worshippers find solace, inspiration, and connection to the divine.

When the faith community at St. Mark broke ground for a church in April 2022, longtime member Margaret Stein never doubted the completed project would enhance the life and ministry of the parish.

“Catholic churches are all beautiful, and I knew this one would be too,” said the 28-year-old, who will be one of the first brides to marry in the new church after its April 13 dedication. She described the dark wood tone of the pews and altar wall, coupled with a cathedral-like blue ceiling, as majestic.

“It makes the wedding extra special,” the bride-to-be gushed. “I’ve grown up in St. Mark’s and always dreamed of getting married there.”

The challenge of growth

Building a stand-alone church for the 29-year-old St. Mark Parish community is just one of many projects helping the Diocese of Fort Worth meet the demands of a burgeoning Catholic population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the DFW Metroplex saw the largest population increase in the country between 2022 and 2023 with Collin, Denton, and Tarrant counties posting significant residential gains.

Bishop sprinkles water
Bishop Olson sprinkles holy water on the church and the people of Sacred Heart Parish in Comanche during the dedication Mass. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

“The diocese is one of the fastest — if not the fastest — growing dioceses in the country,” observed Tom Ross, diocesan director of construction and facilities. “In my department, we are currently running 40 projects that are either renovations or new builds along with continual maintenance needs.”

In addition to St. Mark, parishioners at Sacred Heart in Comanche walked through the doors of a new church in February, and Arlington’s St. Vincent de Paul Parish is undergoing a major renovation to make the sanctuary more inviting to prayer and the celebration of the sacraments. 

At St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller, a $15 million capital campaign is currently underway to fund an Adoration oratory, Family Life Center, and covered walkway. 

Nearby, St. Philip the Apostle Parish moved to Flower Mound and a new church in 2022, and the Blessed Imelda Convent was built for the Dominican Sisters on the grounds of Nolan Catholic High School the same year.

Responding to the rapid growth of Catholics moving to the far North Fort Worth area, Bishop Michael Olson announced the formation of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in August 2022. The planning process to build a permanent structure at the Roanoke site off US Highway 170 has begun, Ross said.

“Currently they have two temporary buildings, but the parish is attracting people to the point we have to rent a local school to hold services,” he pointed out. “The portable buildings are not large enough.”

St. Teresa of Calcutta is the 92nd parish in the Diocese of Fort Worth, which was established in 1969 and encompasses 23,950 square miles, 28 counties, and 17 schools.

“With all the growth that has come to Texas, our parishes have become very diverse,” said the construction specialist, noting some communities, founded by Czech or German immigrants, now include many Hispanic families. “Each community brings a personality to the parish, and that changes the way we respond to those needs.”

line of altar servers
Altar servers at Sacred Heart Parish in Comanche are eager to process into the new church Feb. 26. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Rising construction and land costs, as the diocese tries to accommodate both rural and urban parishes, is a continuing challenge. Between August 2020 and August 2021, the price of nonresidential building materials rose by more than 20 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Even though prices went up, we continued to build,” said Ross, who explained the cost of some materials doubled since the COVID pandemic. “The market is bearing those increases so costs are not going to come down, and that’s a problem for us.”

Worshipping together

When the price of a new church for Sacred Heart Parish in Comanche grew from $1.5 million to $4 million during 15 years of planning and fundraising, neighboring rural parishes stepped in to help.

“It was a team effort of all four parishes — Sacred Heart, St. Mary in Dublin, St. Brendan in Stephenville, and Our Lady of Guadalupe in De Leon,” explained David De Jong, chairman of the building committee. “Even some non-Catholics supported this project. If it wasn’t for the support we received, this never would have happened.”

Additional funds came from the Knights of Columbus Council #10816, an anonymous $100,000 donation, and a $1 million grant from the All Things Possible campaign. Remaining costs were covered by a diocesan loan.

Bishop Michael Olson dedicated the new larger church with donated pews, statues, and tabernacle on February 26, 2024.

“It’s a metal structure made to look unlike a metal building,” Ross said, recalling the stone columns and 3.5-foot-high limestone wainscoting that surrounds the church’s exterior. “The construction method was altered to accommodate the size of the building and what the economy can bear in a particular area.”

Before the new church was built, the predominantly Hispanic congregation experienced divided worship. Half the people at Sunday Mass were in the sanctuary with the priest. Others sat in an adjoining room and viewed the liturgy through a window.

“We’re all together now instead of being separated in two buildings,” enthused Martina Sierra, director of religious education. “People are really enjoying it. The church has been full since we opened.”

The early stages of construction concerned some parishioners.

“But it turned out better than what people expected,” she continued. “It’s beautiful with plenty of room.”

Ushers at Sacred Heart are greeting people Deacon Tommy Diaz hasn’t seen in a long time. Sunday Mass attendance is up by one-third.

“The church seats about 400, and we’re almost at capacity,” he observed. “The new church has really made a difference. The feedback is all positive.”

Dcn. Diaz, who grew up in Sacred Heart, said the parish boasts 250 families of mostly modest means. The tight-knit community centered its fundraising efforts around bake sales and fellowship dinners.

“We’re very grateful for the help we received,” Dcn. Diaz said. “The design of the church, with a new altar and tabernacle, really enhances worship.”

Creating a more sacred space

Reviving the worship space to make it more reverent is the purpose behind a $3.2-million renovation project for St. Vincent de Paul Church in Arlington. Work began in July 2023 and is targeted for completion by the May 7 dedication date.

Completed in 1984, the church lacked the warmth and aesthetics that invite reflection and lift spirits.

“It was built in the 70s-era, auditorium style,” said Wendy Perez, remembering the drab green fabric wall and white drywall that served as the sanctuary’s backdrop. “The idea is to move toward a more traditional look to bring out the rich beauty of our Catholic faith.”

men assembling pews
Jorge Camejo (left) and Michael Gutierrez of New Holland Church Furniture assemble a pew inside St. Vincent de Paul Church in Arlington on April 5.  (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

White and beige stone blankets the wall behind the altar, which now features niches for a tabernacle and statues. Using similar stone and dark wood, a local craftsman created a matching altar, ambo, and baptismal font. Parishioners also will appreciate new seating, lighting, and HVAC system. The old pews were donated to several rural parishes — St. John Vianney in Cleburne, St. Mary in Graham, and Sacred Heart in Comanche.

The church’s footprint is unchanged, but new pews provide seating for about 1,180 people, a 10 percent increase.

“All the work was done in the interior, except for the cupola which was added to bring more light,” Perez explained.

Lined with windows, the eight-sided dome adds architectural interest to the outside of the church.

“The narthex was very dark before,” she continued. “The cupola brings natural light and makes the environment more welcoming.”

Original blueprints for St. Vincent de Paul Church reflected the minimalist, modernistic style of the late 1970s. Designed for a dual purpose, the church was intended to serve as a worship space and meeting room.

“The idea was to rent it out for large group meetings but that never happened,” Matthew Crocker, parish facility manager, explained. “But because it wasn’t always going to be a sacred space, the tabernacle wasn’t kept inside the church.”

One of the key elements in the renovation is relocating the tabernacle to the main sanctuary.

“We were one of the churches that didn’t have that,” said Crocker. “The tabernacle was kept in the 24-hour Adoration chapel.”

Another change is the placement of a crucifix behind the altar to replace a wooden cross that hung on an adjoining wall with a chiseled image of Christ.

Father Brembah with baptismal font
Father Philip Brembah, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, looks at the church’s new baptismal font with parishioner John Anton, who built the altar and ambo. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Desiring a sanctuary that resembled other Catholic churches, more than 575 families contributed to the renovation project.

“People are excited about the new look,” noted Crocker. “I think they will be overwhelmed when they step inside. It feels like a Catholic Church should. It feels like home.”

Improving and maintaining the church building for today’s members and keeping it beautiful for the next generation of families was the impetus behind the renovation project, according to Father Philip Brembah, pastor.

“It reminds us of the presence of Christ who is the builder and cornerstone,” he said. “Without Him, we can do nothing. He uses us as His instruments to continue building His Church here on Earth.”

Conversations about improving the church environment began when Fr. Brembah arrived at St. Vincent de Paul in 2017.

“A church should be a welcoming place where everyone can have a special encounter with the Lord,” the pastor expressed. “The doors are always open to anyone who wants to experience the joy of being with Him.”


Diocese of Fort Worth, growth, property, St. Mark Parish, Sacred Heart Parish, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, trending-english