Safe Haven: Bishop Michael Olson blesses new rectory at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish

North Texas Catholic
(Jan 4, 2024) Local

Bishop Olson poses with Father Benjamin, Hembrom, TOR, and Father Ignatius, Hembrom, TOR, in the new rectory at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth on Dec. 23. (NTC/Joan Kurkowski-Gillen)

FORT WORTH — The Franciscan friars who shepherd the faith community at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth are ushering in the new year in a new home.

Bishop Michael Olson blessed the recently constructed rectory on Dec. 23 after celebrating the fourth Sunday of Advent vigil Mass with parishioners.

“I’m happy to be with Father Benjamin [Hembrom, TOR], Father Ignatius [Hembrom, TOR], and all who have gathered here this evening,” the bishop said, welcoming the congregation at the start of the liturgy. “We are going to bless the new rectory so the Lord will protect all who live there and to pray for more priests.”

The 4,200-sq-ft. ranch-style building, located behind the church at 5953 Bowman Roberts Road, was designed with an oratory and three private suites to accommodate the pastor, associate pastor, and a visiting priest. Each bedroom is adjoined by a small sitting room, closet, and bath.

Bishop Olson blesses the kitchen of the new rectory at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Fort Worth on Dec. 23. (NTC/Joan Kurkowski-Gillen)

“The kitchen is huge with a table that can seat eight people comfortably, a counter with six bar stools, and tons of storage,” explained Patrice Fitzgerald, business manager. “Except for the Last Supper and a few crosses, the wall decor is simple, keeping with the Franciscan way.”

The parish is considering a gift registry so the rectory can acquire needed table lamps and kitchen mats.

In previous years, priests serving St. Thomas the Apostle Parish lived in a Lake Country residence several miles away from the church. The house was sold in 2022 and the money funded construction of a rectory on church property.

Franciscans of the Third Order Regular have served the parish since 1981. During the blueprint and construction process, priests lived in rented properties.

Founded in 1937 to meet the needs of a growing Czech community in north Fort Worth, the original St. Thomas the Apostle Church and rectory was built on the corner of Macie and Azle Avenues. Over the decades, with more families moving to the area and joining the parish, plans were devised to build a larger church to seat more worshippers.

In 2010, the parish purchased 31 acres on Bowman Roberts Road in northwest Tarrant County, five miles from the original church, and raised more than $3 million in cash and pledges. Bishop Olson dedicated the new sanctuary, which can accommodate 1,300 people, in 2016.

Having a rectory on church grounds increases a pastor’s accessibility to parishioners and community events as well as providing security for church property. Vandals damaged and stole outdoor statues at St. Thomas in March 2021.

“I love being so close to the church building,” said Fr. Hembrom, pastor of St. Thomas. “Every morning and evening I walk to the chapel and spend some time with the Lord praying for our people and peace in the world.”

Being on-site also adds an extra layer of surveillance, the friar admitted.

“We have had some damage in the past but, at the end of the day, we have to depend on our Savior because He is the one who takes care of us.”

Having the parish priests living on church property has several advantages, according to longtime St. Thomas parishioner Mary Hawk.

“The priests are now part of the neighborhood which makes them more accessible and welcoming to people who may want to learn more about our Catholic faith,” she commented.

Land surrounding the rectory also provides space for gardening — a favorite pastime of Fr. Benjamin Hembrom. Horses, sheep, and goats, part of the parish’s 4-H ministry for young people, graze in a nearby pasture.

Bishop Olson blesses the doorway of the new rectory at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Fort Worth on Dec. 23. (NTC/Joan Kurkowski-Gillen)

“The priests will be able to keep an eye on those animals,” Hawk added. “So there’s a safety aspect. Having someone on the property is a deterrent to crime.”

Addressing parishioners at the end of Mass, Bishop Olson introduced Father Brett Metzler, director of vocations and chaplain at Nolan Catholic High School. He urged his listeners to pray for vocations.

“I’ve known your parish for a long time as you moved from your old site to this new site,” the bishop said. “You look like the Church in all its diversity and beauty. Please pray for vocations from this parish and pray for people by name.”

In the Order of Blessing a New Rectory and Oratory, Bishop Olson prayed the house would be a place of meditation and tireless service to others for its residents.

“May God, who brings you together to live in this house, keep you safe within and without from all distress, give you the Holy Spirit as our strength, and make you steadfast and faithful in the religious commitment by which you have bound yourself to God,” he said before blessing the rooms with holy water.

Franciscan friars, St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth, new rectory, Father Benjamin [Hembrom TOR], Father Ignatius [Hembrom TOR], 5953 Bowman Roberts Road, Franciscans of the Third Order Regular, trending-english