First things first: A year after its inaugural Mass, St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish looks to God for growth and direction

North Texas Catholic
(Aug 31, 2023) Local

Deacon Daniel Zavala and an altar server process out at the end of Mass July 30, 2023 at John M. Tidwell Middle School in Roanoke. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


ROANOKE- Milestones in the history of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Fort Worth include Franciscan missionaries arriving in the 1500s, a French priest establishing St. Patrick Cathedral in 1876, and early Catholic settlers offering their homes for Mass in the late 1800s in many towns, including Gainesville, Henrietta, and Weatherford.
History is still being made as the Catholic Church grows in the diocese. In September, the diocese’s newest parish, St. Teresa of Calcutta in Roanoke, celebrates its one-year anniversary.
Following the lead of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Father Brijil Lawrence, SAC, and Deacon Daniel Zavala have led the parish through the challenges and triumphs of its momentous first year.
The 92nd parish in the diocese celebrated its first Mass on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022, in an existing portable building which seats about 100 on 13517 Alta Vista Road. Located north of U.S. Highway 170 and east of I-35W, the parish was established by Bishop Michael Olson due to tremendous population growth in Tarrant and Denton counties.
Fr. Lawrence remembers the first Mass, saying, "The day of the parish's establishment itself is a testament to God's work, supported and advanced by the Bishop."
Within weeks of celebrating the inaugural Mass, the parish added a Saturday Vigil Mass and moved Sunday Mass to the cafeteria of nearby John M. Tidwell Middle School to accommodate a larger assembly, which now nears 200 on Sunday mornings.

From scratch

Since its first Mass, according to Dcn. Zavala, “People have just come out of the woodwork — ‘Can I help here?’” 
Deacon Daniel Zavala chats with parishioner Ariane Mortimer (center) and her daughters after Mass July 30, 2023 at John M. Tidwell Middle School in Roanoke. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)
From mowing the 31-acre property to washing altar linens, volunteers have stepped up to handle many of the practical tasks of maintaining a parish.
Sherrie and Chad Degner embody the cooperative disposition of parishioners. 
They visited the parish shortly after it opened and offered to assist where needed. Now she coordinates the Mass readers, and he serves as head usher and started a Knights of Columbus Council at the parish.
“I’ve never been on the ground floor of a new church before. All the people want to help. It’s uplifting,” Sherrie said, adding that volunteers have organized several social and charitable activities.
Still, Dcn. Zavala admits, he and the parish’s lone staff member, Mike Waldon, “wear 52 hats.” For example, removing wasp nests, cleaning bathrooms, and running wires through ceilings, to name a few. All the while, they are also planning for the future needs of the growing parish. 
“We’re doing what we can to start this [parish] from the ground, from scratch,” Dcn. Zavala said.
Introducing a faith formation program is a priority for this fall, especially sacramental preparation. Dcn. Zavala added, “We weren’t even thinking of doing RCIA, but then we had a lot of people inquire. So okay, we’re going to do RCIA.”
Waldon, a deacon candidate, meets frequently with individuals and families. He said listening to the needs of the congregation is paramount. “It’s the Lord’s parish; it’s the Lord’s church. We have to listen, to be open, to pray about what He wants, and to be patient,” said the deacon candidate, who was previously director of evangelization and faith formation at St. Patrick Cathedral.
Another objective is building an all-purpose hall that will seat about 400 and serve as a worship and meeting space until a church is built later. The hall would save the expense of renting Tidwell’s cafeteria, plus eliminate the time of transporting and setting up all the necessary items to celebrate Sunday Mass in the school.
Dcn. Zavala would appreciate having a larger, permanent facility, but he’s focused on building the church. He said, “People ask, ‘When are we going to have a church?’ Well, we are a church already. We’re building our church community right now, and that’s far more important than the building that we will end up in someday.”
The deacon takes inspiration from the parish’s humble patroness, St. Teresa of Calcutta, thinking “it is fitting that we have very little, and what we do have is old. We’re doing the best with what we have, and that helps connect me with her, because she did the same thing.” 
Waldon agreed. “What we’ve got, what we have or don’t have doesn’t limit us. The Lord will take us where He wants us to go,” he said.
“It’s daunting, but it’s God’s church. People have stepped in. God provides. We’ve never been without. The Lord multiplied the fishes and the loaves, so we bring what we have and He takes care of the rest.” 
A St. Teresa of Calcutta parishioner takes down a sign after the July 30, 2023 Mass at John M. Tidwell Middle School in Roanoke. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Build up

Each week, Dcn. Zavala notices new faces at Mass, some new to North Texas and others who used to drive 25 minutes to a different parish. He said, “So many of them say, ‘I live five minutes away.’ Just look around. You’ve got apartment buildings, and then you’ve got whole neighborhoods just for miles. I’m impressed that Bishop Olson pulled the trigger and got a church going.” 
Fr. Lawrence added that it's a blessing to make the sacraments available to the people in this part of the diocese.

Waldon commented, “Our diocese is an exception. So many dioceses are closing or consolidating parishes, and we are expanding. What the Lord is doing — developing and growing — excites me to no end.”
The parish leaders are careful to take their plans to prayer, seeking God’s will with every decision.
“One thing that Bishop Olson asked me when he gave me this assignment was to make sure that I build the community around Christ, and Christ in the Eucharist,” Dcn. Zavala recalled. “This is building God’s kingdom. It’s for the good of souls, and it doesn’t get more important than that.”
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