From a building to a church

North Texas Catholic
(Feb 29, 2024) Local

Parishioners packed the pews for the dedication Mass of the new Sacred Heart Church in Comanche on February 26, 2024. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Photo Gallery

COMANCHE — The pews and the tabernacle were empty, but outside, almost 400 people waited to enter the doors of the building. Did it take two hours or 15 years to witness the dedication of a new church for Sacred Heart Parish in Comanche? Both.

On Feb. 24, Bishop Michael Olson celebrated a Mass of Dedication for the long-awaited church. Father Matthew Sanka, SAC, the pastor of Sacred Heart; Father Claudius Mndolwa, SAC, parochial vicar; and Father James Amasi, SAC, former pastor, concelebrated the Mass.

The liturgy began outside, and after the architect and project manager presented keys to Bishop Olson, the clergy and faithful processed into the building singing a psalm. Shortly afterwards, the bishop blessed the building and the congregation with holy water before the Liturgy of the Word.

During his bilingual homily, Bishop Olson reminded parishioners on this “day of great joy … we began this celebration in a building, and even as we speak these words, this building, through God’s grace in the mercy and love fully revealed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is becoming a church.

“Not only is this building transformed, but it becomes a sign of our transformation to the Body and Blood of Christ, to the mystical Body of Christ that is the Church. A reminder that the presence of this building — this church now, this temple, this sacred place — is a reminder that God is always among us and always calling us and enabling us to be converted with His love,” the prelate continued.

The liturgy continued with the Litany of the Saints and the prayer of dedication. Then, Bishop Olson anointed the altar and walls of the church with Holy Chrism, designating the altar and church for sacred use for all time. This same Holy Chrism is used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders to consecrate the recipients to God’s service and ask for God’s blessing.

The altar was dressed with linens and flowers, and the dedication rite concluded with lighting candles and turning on church lights to remind the congregation Christ is the light to all nations, and His light shines forth from the Church.

After the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the bishop incensed the ciborium and empty tabernacle before placing the Holy Eucharist inside its dwelling place in the sanctuary.


Worshipping together

The original church, dedicated in 1964, seated about 120. About that many more would crowd into the parish hall on Sunday, listening via speakers and watching the Mass through a small window into the sanctuary.

“One side of the community would see through the window to participate in the liturgy or hear the Word of God. That was always a challenge — sometimes we had families split,” said Fr. Sanka. “This [new church] will bring us together and have a worship space that is common to all.”

Because the parish shares clergy with St. Brendan Parish in Stephenville, St. Mary Parish in Dublin, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in De Leon, adding a second Mass to relieve overcrowding was impractical.

An exterior view of the new Sacred Heart Church in Comanche on February 26, 2024. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

With the new worship space, attendance and participation will climb, proposed Deacon Tommy Diaz, who grew up at Sacred Heart. The parish welcomed about 50 more people than usual to the Sunday Mass following the dedication, he said, and afterwards he met with individuals and families wanting to increase their involvement in the parish. 

Martina Sierra, the parish director of religious education for ten years, also anticipated the unity of worship will spur more parishioners to volunteer in youth, liturgical, and women’s ministry as well as the RCIA program. 


Group project

Bishop Olson offered the dedication Mass for the repose of the soul of Father Philip McNamara, SAC, who served the south deanery of the diocese for 37 years.

When the late Irish priest was pastor, he identified the need for a new church at Sacred Heart and began fundraising about 15 years ago. 

The Sacred Heart congregation comprises about 250 families of modest means, according to Dcn. Diaz. The parish held fundraising events including bake sales and dinners, but as the years passed, the initial cost estimate of $1.5 million grew to about $4 million, putting the goal out of reach. 

The other three parishes in the cluster, the diocese, the Advancement Foundation, and an anonymous donor provided financial support.

The Knights of Columbus Council 10816, which includes the four-parish cluster, has devoted most of its fundraising efforts to the construction fund for several years. The Advancement Foundation contributed $1 million from funds donated to the All Things Possible campaign. 

An anonymous donor with a heart for rural parishes heard of the need and gave $100,000 “for our fellow rural Catholics who will enjoy this parish for years to come.”

The diocese loaned the parish the remainder of the construction expense.

David De Jong, a member of the building committee of the new church, addresses the congregation outside the new Sacred Heart Church in Comanche at the dedication on February 26, 2024. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

The eight-acre property was purchased five years ago, and groundbreaking was held June 18, 2022.

Dcn. Diaz, Sacred Heart’s deacon for 13 years, said, “We've had a lot of support from the other churches. They've helped us tremendously. We couldn't have done it by ourselves, and they continue to support us. We're in it together. We will complete it.”

To reduce construction costs, the builders looked for savings where possible. Pews previously used at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Arlington were refreshed and repurposed in Comanche. The crucifix was owned by the diocese, used previously for special occasions, such as the celebration of Mass in a convention hall. Statues, the tabernacle, and stations of the cross were donated.

Ongoing improvements

A parishioner at St. Mary, David De Jong is the building committee chair, having served in that role for St. Mary’s new church 22 years ago and its family life center in 2011.

De Jong explained, “The future is bright for Sacred Heart Comanche, but the work is far from done. We have a debt on this new sanctuary, and we are still gladly accepting donations. Just outside the door is the completed groundwork for a new classroom building that we had to put on hold due to lack of funds; a parking lot that we hope to fully pave one day as funds allow as well.”

The work ahead didn’t dim the excitement of the church dedication, however.

While Juana and Savino Esquivel presented the gifts at Mass with their daughters, Savino remembered his late mother, who helped fundraise for the church and encouraged the Esquivels to become active parishioners.

“This meant a lot to her,” he said. “It’s something she always wanted to see.”
His wife added, “This is a dream, but it’s never going to stop. We still have a lot to do; it’s not over — it’s a journey.” 

Comanche, Sacred Heart Parish in Comanche, Bishop Michael Olson, Mass of Dedication, Father Matthew Sanka SAC, Father Claudius Mndolwa SAC, Father James Amasi SAC, St. Brendan Parish in Stephenville, St. Mary Parish in Dublin, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in De Leon, Deacon Tommy Diaz, trending-english