By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
DENISON, Texas—St. Patrick Catholic Church parishioners easily recognize newcomers by their wide-eyed reverence as they admire the Gothic revival architecture and absorb the atmosphere of the century-old church.
“You can tell non-parishioners by the way they look around the church and look at all the stained-glass windows,” said Bob Wilson, a St. Patrick parishioner since 1961. “It’s a beautiful church.”
On March 16, St. Patrick Parish will celebrate its patron saint and parish, which dates to1872, with an old-fashioned Irish “hooley,” or lively party. The event will launch a countdown to the church’s 100th anniversary next year. The party’s proceeds will help fund the church’s restoration.
Denison’s Catholic community grew up around the 19th-century railroad workers, many of whom were from Ireland and Italy.
St. Patrick is among the ecclesiastical designs of Irish-born architect Nicholas J. Clayton, whose works include the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas.
“I love my church,” said Janet Ciaccio, a native of Italy who grew up in New York City, married a Denison native and joined St. Patrick Parish as a newlywed in 1959. “My biggest joy is that all three of my children are Catholics. This is all that I asked.”
Ciaccio and her husband, Bonnie Paul Ciaccio, live two blocks from St. Patrick in the Grayson County town of about 23,000.
She said that as a young mother, she and her children would walk to church every day.
“I gave my life to the Blessed Mother and Jesus,” said Ciaccio, who has belonged to many parish committees and ministries. “What keeps me here is our faith.”
Wilson, a Dallas native and Jesuit High School graduate, and his wife, Jeannette, who grew up in Georgia, said that their 50-plus years as St. Patrick have endowed their life with blessings.
Jeannette Wilson said that their children received all their sacraments at the church.
St. Patrick pastor Father Stephen Mocio said that Sunday Mass attendance averages between 750 and 800.
“I believe that the parish has a cohesiveness that’s very beautiful and very special,” Father Mocio said. “The community is growing. There is pride and a sense of ownership.”
Parish secretary Cathy Haraldsen said that a welcoming aura greets visitors, and no one remains an outsider for long.
“When they walk into St. Patrick, they’re at peace,” she said. “We have people come into our church from all walks of life. You go inside, and you know you’re with Christ.”
The first St. Patrick Catholic Church, a wood-frame building, was completed in time for Christmas Mass in 1873.
Dallas Bishop Edward J. Dunne dedicated the Clayton-designed church in 1898.
According to the current church’s Texas Historical Commission marker, a fire destroyed the Clayton-designed church in 1911. The building’s reconstruction, completed in 1914, retained much of the original design.
Parishioner Suzanne Broussard researched the families associated with the Gothic-style church’s stained glass windows for a book published by St. Patrick Parish as a fundraiser for church renovations.
“I read wonderful stories and found insights into what life was like in Denison in the 1800s,” Broussard said. “Every day that I spent working on the project was a gift from God.”