Heavenly Hideaway

North Texas Catholic
(May 5, 2023) Local

A statue of St. Francis is seen at St. Francis Village on March 22. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Perched near the banks of Benbrook Lake, St. Francis Village calls to mind a tranquil oasis proximate to but sufficiently removed from nearby Metroplex clamor. Or, as many associated with the Village call it, “a little bit of heaven.”

“We hear that a lot,” Village Director David Tolson said. “Many have told me that, as they drive through the gates, they just feel a great sense of peace because here it’s like it was 50 years ago when we were all growing up and everyone knew everybody. Outside of here many people just live in their own little cocoons now. But the Village is like a big family. It’s just a different world.”

Longtime resident Judy Chesser agreed.

“I came here as soon as I could and have been in the Village 23 years now,” Chesser said.

The former Tarrant County court clerk retired in 1998 and quickly fell in love with St. Francis Village.

“Peaceful, quiet, private,” Chesser responded when asked what she most likes about the Village. “It’s an unusual place, kind of off the beaten track and you probably won’t find anything else like it anywhere.”

All homes and buildings in the independent senior living community are single level with no stairs involved, Chesser added while offering a tour of her two-bedroom cottage. Chesser mentioned garages or carports and ample yard space as additional pluses.

“I love it,” Chesser said, pointing out her back porch view of the lake.


Father Phil

Father Philip Marquard, OFM, founded the Village in 1965. The Village’s fall festival is named after Fr. Phil, who passed away in 1986.

“The concept was to establish an affordable retirement community with a Christian environment,” according to a remembrance of Fr. Marquard compiled by former Village residents who knew him. “The Fort Worth area was chosen because land in this area was cheaper.”

Fr. Marquard’s original mission — to provide affordable, safe, and active (both spiritually and socially) retirement options — remains in place today, Tolson said.

Although Fr. Marquard remained largely Chicago-based, where he founded homeless shelters, food banks, a transitional home for ex-offenders, and other projects, he paid frequent visits to the Village.

“You could tell by the way he talked the Village was special to him,” former resident Melba Buchanan said. “He loved this place.”

Fr. Marquard’s love of Christ proved infectious, former resident Dorothy Abbott said.

“Fr. Phil’s charisma and kindness made you want to get involved in helping others,” Abbott said.


Laid-back AND locked in

St. Francis Village’s bucolic, peaceful setting provides residents both a ticket away from it all and social opportunities galore to get involved.

“We’re basically our own little city here. We have our own water system, our own wastewater treatment plant, our own cable and internet system. The only thing we don’t do is generate electricity,” said Tolson, who plans to retire this summer.

About 540 seniors reside in the Village, which consists of just over 400 residences. Empty frontal acreage provides room for future growth as well as a buffer from encroaching development due to the opening of the nearby Chisholm Trail Parkway about a decade ago.

Affordable, safe living remains the goal. Rents — all utilities save phone included — range from $1,121 to $2,175 per month with square footage options ranging from 612 to 1,099 square feet. Security guards are on hand 24 hours a day in this gated community.

Wildlife abounds, especially deer and turkeys.

“They run the place,” Tolson joked.

And prove a big hit with residents.

“Yesterday I counted 20 turkeys in my backyard,” Chesser said. “Some by the fence, some were just pecking around.”

Walking trails, including lake access, wind through the Village.

“We have about a mile of lake frontage where people can walk or fish,” Chapel Administrator Mike Pierson said. “A number of residents have become photographers, taking pictures of sunsets, birds, the turkeys.”


Spiritual needs

Resident services manager Cat Karnezis, who also lives at St. Francis Village, pointed out Stations of the Cross arranged outside the chapel and the nearby rosary garden.

Now retired Father Ken Robinson, who lives in the Village and celebrates Mass daily (the Village also has a Protestant chapel) praised the residents who volunteer to help with everything from Mass needs to activity coordination to donating to the Village pantry. Fr. Robinson joked that, unlike his previous assignment as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Muenster, he provides sacramental ministry but performs no administrative duties.

“[Pierson] handles the administrative duties,” Fr. Robinson said with a laugh. “I did that before, don’t want to do it again.”

Resident Hortencia Laguna paints a baseball, a gift for her grandson, in the Village’s ceramics shop while touting life in the Village. Friend and fellow resident Mary Gillespie said she first heard of the Village while volunteering there as a senior at Nolan Catholic High School in 1973.

“Later, when we were getting ready to retire, I looked at my husband and said, ‘What about St. Francis Village?’” Gillespie said. “In my heart, that’s where I wanted to go.”

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