Bishop Accountability

Dallas Resources – 2001

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Making Room for The Masses
Dallas Diocese Struggles to Meet Needs of Rapidly Growing Catholic Population

By Susan Hogan/Albach
Dallas Morning News
January 14, 2001

Remember when "Texas" was almost synonymous with "Baptist"?

Baptists are still strong. But Texas also is becoming a cradle of Catholicism. Catholics outpace Baptists in growth and outnumber them in many parts of the state, including Dallas.

Parking is such a problem at some area Catholic churches that Monsignor Kilian Broderick walked into Mass one Sunday and told some worshipers they might want to leave for a moment.

"If you're parked in the wrong spot, better move your car," said the pastor of St. Ann Parish in Coppell. "Last night, police gave out 24 tickets."

The 630,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Dallas make up more than a fifth of the area's population. But the diocese isn't keeping pace with demands for new churches and schools.

The struggles are multiple: land costs, a priest shortage and cultural challenges presented by a surging Hispanic population.

"It's a struggle, but a good struggle to have," said Bishop Charles V. Grahmann, who leads the diocese.

The diocese has tripled in Catholics since its boundaries were formed in 1987. An influx of immigrants from Latin America and white-collar workers from the North is driving the growth.

The growth has set off a building boom unseen in the diocese since the 1950s, officials said. At least 18 parishes and schools are seeking funds for nearly $ 130 million in new projects.

Here's a snapshot of what's happening:

*The church fills so quickly at St. Ann in Coppell that people are directed to two overflow rooms to follow worship on big-screen televisions. "If you don't get here 25 to 30 minutes early, you don't get a seat in the church," said Joan Harris, 39, of Flower Mound.

*Ten Masses are held every weekend at St. Mark Parish in Plano. At times, two Masses are going at once. "We have to have three of our liturgies in the cafeteria, which is not the best worship space," said Monsignor Glenn (Duffy) Gardner, pastor of St. Mark. "But we don't have a choice."

*Security guards are used to control crowds at the Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe downtown, where weekend Masses draw 10,000 Catholics. Every pew is packed, and people crowd the aisles and spill into hallways. Not long after the 1:30 p.m. Sunday Mass begins, people line up for the 3 p.m. service. "Nobody gives a thought about missing the Cowboys," said Juan Arriola, 49, a member for 23 years.

*A typical Sunday at Santa Clara of Assisi in Oak Cliff brings 20 to 30 baptisms. On Saturdays, priests lead rituals nearly every hour from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., including weddings, quinceaeras and Masses. "The limousines outside have to take a ticket just like a bakery shop," joked Father David Colella, the pastor.

Growing pains

The growth corridors are in the northern suburbs of Frisco, Plano and Coppell, as well as at the downtown cathedral and south in the Oak Cliff neighborhood.

The growth is more of a struggle for the economically strapped Oak Cliff churches, which largely serve Hispanics, the fastest-growing population in the diocese.

Santa Clara of Assisi has swelled to 12,500 parishioners in the eight years since it was started. But most members' incomes are limited, which restricts the ministries that the parish can provide, Father Colella said.

"There are no doctors, no lawyers, no teachers, no corporate executives," he said.

Santa Clara's weekly offering averages $ 7,000, just enough to afford a full-time secretary and three part-time workers. Money is so tight that the associate priest doubles as the director of religious education, music, finance and social activities.

In contrast, weekly offerings average $ 53,000 at the more affluent St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Plano. The 18,600-member parish has a staff of 33 and offers more than 75 ministries.

"People across the river aren't getting the same kind of attention as the people in the northern suburbs," the bishop said. "It's heartbreaking."

Catholics in the more affluent suburbs demand and receive more services because they can financially support them, the bishop said. "They want everything from counseling to day care to employment ministries to a ton of stuff for the kids," he said.

The diocese doesn't offer cash subsidies to the poorer parishes, though it tries to help in other ways. But many wealthier parishes offer financial assistance.

Even so, the bishop said he's at a loss on how to bridge the gaps between rich and poor parishes in the growth corridors.

"It's painful," he said. "I go to some parishes and see a little old church that's run down and built for 300 people but has 1,000 people on Sundays standing all over the place."

Southern growth

Southern states - especially Texas and Georgia - are among the fastest growing for the nation's 62 million Catholics. But traditionally, the South hasn't been a stronghold for Catholics, who make up the country's largest denomination.

Early Catholic immigrants to the United States settled in the Upper Midwest and the Northeastern United States. "But as they've assimilated and gotten successful, they've moved South to the good jobs in the suburban areas," said Mary Gautier, a researcher at Georgetown University.

A surge in immigrants from Latin America also is reshaping the church. Hispanics now make up between 20 percent and 30 percent of the Catholic population nationally and two-thirds of the Catholics in the Dallas Diocese.

Many priests in the diocese are bilingual out of necessity, providing more than 45 Spanish Masses on weekends. Last year, two new parishes were formed to accommodate Hispanic growth: Blessed Juan Diego in northwest Dallas and Nuestra Seora Del Pilar in southwest Dallas.

The diocese's largest parish, Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe, serves 50,000 Catholics - more than twice any other parish. Twenty percent of the largely Hispanic parish regularly attend services.

"We'd be in real trouble if the people all came to Mass," said Father Ramon Alvarez, the Cathedral's rector.

Catholic schools

A few decades ago, many Catholic schools were on the verge of closing. Now the demand is so great that some schools are turning students away, diocesan officials said.

That's true across the country. In the last decade, 250 Catholic schools have opened - 37 in the last year.

"Climbing enrollment and longer waiting lists have fueled the school openings," said Dr. Leonard DeFiore, president of the National Catholic Education Association in Washington, D.C.

Five diocesan schools are expanding. But Bishop Grahmann said he wants every new parish to consider starting a school. Among the new school projects:

*St. Joseph Parish in Richardson is planning an estimated $ 12 million building project, including an elementary school.

*A $ 30 million capital campaign is under way for a new school in Plano, Pope John Paul II High School.

*All Saints Parish in Dallas is starting the first phase of a $ 6 million elementary school.

Most schools are long-term projects. The cost of land and the diocese's need to build churches first mean it may be years, even decades, before some school construction gets under way.

In October, Catholics starting a new parish in Plano asked for a realistic estimate of just how long it would take to build an elementary school.

"If you have a little Mortimer who's 2 years old, he most likely will not taste and see the goodness of a school," Father Henry Petter told them.

Church planning

Could the diocese have been better prepared for the growth? Yes and no, said Monsignor Gardner, also the diocese's vicar general.

"A few years ago, all the growth was south in areas like Duncanville," he said. "The diocese didn't realize Plano would grow that quickly. Nor did anybody else in Dallas."

Several priests also said that the diocese also was distracted from planning by clergy sex scandals. In 1997, a Dallas jury awarded $ 119 million to the victims of former priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos, saying that the diocese failed to protect them and covered up evidence of suspicious behavior.

It was the largest judgment ever in a clergy sex abuse case. The diocese and its insurers later reached a $ 30.9 million settlement.

Meanwhile, the rapid growth in North Texas made Frisco, Allen and McKinney among the fasting-growing cities in the country. From 1990 to 1999, Frisco's population grew from 6,517 to 32,101.

"Frisco used to be so dead that even the Dairy Queen closed," said Monsignor Leon Duesman, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish. "Now we're the epitome of Texas growth. We've got a big new mall. The population is booming. Even Starbucks is here."

St. Francis Parish started as a Spanish-speaking mission in 1966. The parish has been meeting in a public school since outgrowing its little church. It will soon move into a new multipurpose building.

Some parishes are turning to multipurpose buildings as a stopgap measure until they can raise the money for a permanent church. Even that process can take years because of land costs and the large acreage required.

"We are having to build farther north than we'd hope," Monsignor Duesman said. "But we had to go where we could find the chunk of land we needed."

St. Ann Parish in Coppell has worshiped in a multipurpose building since 1989. The parish is now building a $ 14 million complex that will seat 1,400 people. A school is still a long-range prospect.

"The waiting is frustrating, but you can't do everything at once," Monsignor Broderick said.

Catholic experts in church growth say members will tolerate the overcrowding and inconvenience as long as it's a temporary condition. But Hispanics may not be as loyal as the church assumes.

A new study by the Barna Research Group said that the number of Hispanic adults who say they've attended a Catholic church more frequently than any other church dropped 15 percent in the last decade, to 53 percent.

"The real battleground in church growth is over Hispanics," said Patricia Sullivan Vanni, director of the Catholic Leadership Network in Eden Prairie, Minn.

The land

Parishes estimate that they will need 20 to 30 acres for a church campus that includes a school. That's different thinking from a few years ago.

When St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Plano was established in 1976, the parish acquired 6.5 acres. Now it doesn't have room to build a school, though the parish plans to expand its church facilities.

A spinoff parish was started in December. Terry Wooliscroft, the parish's business administrator, estimates that it will take $ 1.4 million just to pay for land for a church.

"How quickly construction goes up depends on donors," he said.

Before construction can start on any project, the diocese requires parishes to raise 70 percent of the cost in cash and pledges, he said. At least 20 percent has to be in cash.

In most cases, money for new schools and churches must be raised by the parishes. Bishop Grahmann helped to raise money to build Santa Clara; the diocese also has made start-up loans to parishes.

Years ago, the diocese used to buy parcels of land as an investment and then use the land for new churches, Mr. Wooliscroft said. But that land has largely been sold to pay costs stemming from the Kos case, he said.

Bronson Havard, the diocese's spokesman, said the land sold was "surplus and unsuitable for parishes" because it was too small or too close to other parishes. "You couldn't build a parish on that land today," he said.

Obstacles to growth

Bishop Grahmann said the biggest hindrance to starting new churches isn't money; it's a lack of priests. The diocese has one priest for every 3,580 Catholics, a ratio three times more severe than the national average.

The clergy shortage is so acute nationally that 13 of every 100 Catholic parishes are without a resident priest. Dallas doesn't have any priestless parishes, but officials say that day may soon come.

"It's not a dire shortage, but it is a shortage," Bishop Grahmann said.

Not every priest has the skill or desire to start new parishes, which also is slowing the process, the bishop said. "It takes the right talent, and right now our talent is stretched to the limit," he said.

Protestant observers have suggested that Catholics address overcrowding and clergy shortages by building megachurches with 5,000 or more seats. Catholics balk at that.

"Catholics don't want to worship in Texas Stadium," said Father Andrew Greeley of Chicago, a sociologist and the author of numerous books. "You don't know the people next to you. You don't get much chance to talk to the priests."

Besides, he said, that approach comes from the wrong end. "It assumes we're not going to get more priests," he said.

New churches in the diocese will be bigger than before, Bishop Grahmann said. Instead of seating 500 to 800 people, they will seat between 1,000 and 1,500.

Unlike mainline Protestant churches, such as Presbyterians and Lutherans, the Catholic Church in the United States has grown significantly over the past 30 years. As they have for many years, Catholics make up about 23 percent of the U.S. population.

So with fewer priests and more Catholics, what does the diocese foresee in the next decade?

"More of the same," Mr. Havard said. "It's going to be a struggle to keep up with the growth."

[Photos and Captions: 1. (VERNON BRYANT/Staff Photographer) Father Salvador Guzman celebrates Mass at Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe in downtown Dallas. About 10,000 crowd the church for weekend Masses. 2-3. (DAMON WINTER/Staff Photographer) 2. Paul Winkler, 7, waits outside one of two overflow rooms at St. Ann Parish in Coppell that feature big-screen televisions. "If you don't get here 25 to 30 minutes early, you don't get a seat in the church," says one woman of the 15,000-member church, which has operated in a multipurpose building since 1989. Paul was at church with his parents, Omana and Kevin Winkler. 3. Parishioners walk past the frame of the new church building at St. Ann Parish in Coppell. The $ 14 million complex will seat 1,400 people. 4. Father Henry Petter.]


Bishop Accountability © 2003