Saturday, December 6, 2014

A tour of the new St. Mark Catholic Church in Denton, Texas

Old parish location, 2800 Pennsylvania Dr., Denton. (Photo: St. Mark Catholic Church.)
The way I've heard it told, almost as soon as the doors of the church at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Teasley were opened, the parish formed a committee to build someplace else. And that was over fifteen years ago. Two-thirds of that time was spent finding suitable land — or, rather, not finding suitable land, because not available or too expensive. Another few years were spent fighting a parish priest whose tastes ran more towards Southern Baptist "big box" churches; strange to say, the parish building committee wanted something more Catholic.

Then came Fr. Baby George. (No kidding; that's his name.) And things started moving.

Father George does the smiling, happy, nice-guy bit very well; but make no mistake: if you stand still within ten feet of him and look like you've got nowhere to be just now, he's likely to give you something to do, and give it to you very abruptly. Many's the time I've seen people pass out flyers with a slightly befuddled, how-the-hell-did-I-get-here look in their eyes. Obviously, the flyers were in Fr. George's hands just three or four minutes before. That's how you get churches built.

That, and incessant fundraising. A native of India, Fr. George's accent almost thick enough to require subtitles. And like many immigrants with noticeable accents, he jokes about it. Recently, he told of a woman who approached him and said, "Father, people tell me two things about you. They say they can't understand you, and that you're always asking for money. What I want to know is, if they can't understand you, how do they know you're asking for money?"

When Fr. George arrived, just shortly before my brother Bob's death in September 2011, the effort was pretty much at a standstill. On December 7, the Second Sunday in Advent — 3½ years later, and only about six months after groundbreaking — Bp. Michael Olson will formally dedicate the new parish plant.

This and all following photos © Anthony S. Layne.
This building, on the west side of the central courtyard, is a dual-purpose structure: while it will act as the parish activities center, it will also serve as the church until a separate, "real" church is built.

This is the central courtyard as you approach it from the parking lot. From above, it resembles a Celtic cross. The arrow points to the location of a brick we purchased to be inscribed as we saw fit:

"As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15). No, not an original sentiment; but then, we were going for fitness, not literary dash.

The building to the east is the religious education center. It replaces seven rather decrepit trailers. Clean, commodious and fully wired, the interior is so functional as to be aesthetically uninteresting. Therefore, let us go inside the church/activities center. (By the way, yes, when the new church is finally built, I expect it'll follow the Spanish-mission style of the other two buildings.)

Inside the narthex. On the north side, in front of me, is the Adoration chapel. Behind me is the cry room.

This is the nave, looking from the main entry towards the sanctuary. Check out that ginormous crucifix! The statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph haven't been transferred over yet; but their pedestals are in place. The sacristy, where the sacred vessels and linens are kept, is through the open double doors on your left. I'm not sure what's through the open doors on the right.

As I was coming in, workmen were busy replacing the plate-glass windows originally installed during construction with stained-glass windows. Alas, the noontime sun prevents the patterns from being seen. The contractors are pretty frantic to get things finished up, because the church has to be ready for the dedicatory Mass at 10:00am Sunday, or they pay a hefty penalty.

Off to the right as you face the altar is a conference/dining room doubling as extra worship space; over 1,000 people are expected to be present for the dedication. If this were a traditional cruciform church, it would almost correspond to the south transept (despite being on the north side of the nave).

Here, I believe the workmen are installing a relic from St. Mark. I was rather alarmed to note that the altar is of composite board covered by an oak veneer; let's hope it's very temporary. Father George is the sweater-clad gentleman on the left.

The double doors on the "Mary side" of the altar lead not only to the sacristy but also to a corridor that runs behind the sanctuary and the dining area. In a medieval cathedral, this hallway would be called an ambulatory, and would have at least one chapel along its length. Here, instead, we find a commercial-grade buffet kitchen with all-new appliances, including a six-burner stove, a griddle, an oven and a warming cabinet — all the equipment that brings out the short-order cook in me. (I believe cooking is like auto repair — you gotta have the right tool for the job; so there is no such thing as "too many tools".)

Coming back outside, you can see where the church will be eventually built.

Finally, this is one of my favorite design features: A driveway leads from the main parking area to a circle, where you can drop people off at a covered walkway.

How do I feel about it? It's a promise.

Yes, in some ways it feels like we stuck the accoutrements of a church inside a basketball court. Then again, the church of the parish in which I grew up was originally located beneath the school gym; I know there was more than one basketball game some bonehead or other scheduled to coincide with one of the Masses. (Which made for some distraction, especially during the consecration of the Host: "Father, we ask You to bless these gifts and—" THUMPA!-THUMPA!-THUMPA!-squeak!-squeak!-squeak!) When St. James finally got their church built, thirty-nine years after the founding of the parish, it was well worth the wait; it's absolutely gorgeous, both fully modern and fully Catholic.

Come to think of it, there were occasional overflow Masses celebrated in that gym, too.

Just as one day I finally attended Mass at the beautiful new St. James Church, so one day, if God gives me so much life, I will attend Mass at the beautiful new St. Mark Church. In the meantime, I will take what is as a promise of what will be ... just as I take the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of my Lord.