By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
Hundreds of people packed St. Monica Catholic Church on March 9 as Bishop Kevin J. Farrell celebrated the Mass of the Dedication, marking the completion of a $6.3 million renovation to the North Dallas parish’s sanctuary.
“We gather together to celebrate the Eucharist and to give thanks to God for this new beginning in the life of our parish community,” Bishop Farrell said. “I especially want to thank each and every one of you who have made this beautiful renovation possible at this time.”
Plans to restructure the sanctuary began several years ago in response to an aging interior and an increase in demand for the facility’s use. A capital campaign was initiated in late 2011 and the work began late last spring.
Father Stephen Bierschenk, the church’s pastor, said that the capital campaign consultants predicted that people who feel a connection to their parish or other endeavor will give if they know the clearly stated purpose of how their money will be used.
“People are willing to make sacrifices to help and to make this happen,” he said. “In spite of the economy that is still not good, the spirit of the people of St. Monica for their parish has been very generous.”
Because of the need for asbestos removal, the sanctuary had to be basically cleared to its steel and stained glass. Father Bierschenk said that for a fleeting moment he had doubts about what was to be accomplished in a short time, but that they kept to a “very aggressive schedule” and that “the contractors worked with us very hard.”
What followed were weekly meetings and time schedules. Masses were moved to other areas of the complex. And the internal teams and contractors and subcontractors got to work with the aim of getting into the sanctuary by Christmas.
They were able to get into the church by that time, but the pews did not arrive in time. They were installed last month.
Gone are the dark steel and dark chocolate hues and carpeting, replaced by lighter wood and paint tones, terrazzo flooring and marble and other features.
In the narthex, a vesting sacristy has been added along with a glass-enclosed area that can be used, for example, by brides or by families prior to a funeral. The baptismal font in the narthex has been moved inside the sanctuary.
The altar area was repositioned so that it would sit directly under a stained glass dome. The rectangular altar itself, with depictions of the Apostles, was reworked into a smaller altar, but with Jesus added to its base. Granite also was incorporated into its new design.
New acoustical enhancements in the form of hardwood panels and cloth have been placed around the sanctuary. New and better lighting, a new air-conditioning system and technology enhancements that include high-definition television monitors outside of the sanctuary to be used as marquees for parish event announcements and drop-down screens and projectors inside the sanctuary also are in place.
Two smaller chapels inside the sanctuary were converted into confessionals that are now enclosed by stained glass. The Stations of the Cross panels were lowered to eye level and now are lighted.
Perhaps the most striking change was the removal of the steel remnants of the enclosure that separated the choir from the congregation.
“The goal was to preserve as many elements of St. Monica as it was built as possible,” Father Bierschenk said. “When they come in everything that they see still reminds them of St. Monica.
“We have the Ascension mosaic, which is the most prominent feature and it is now highlighted because of lighting on either side,” he said. “The tabernacle was lower and not as prominent as it is now and now it is clear where the Blessed Sacrament is, and the old crucifix, which was small in proportion to the sanctuary, is now bigger.”
The church also features a new Eucharistic Adoration chapel with glass depictions of St. Monica on one side and her son, St. Augustine on the other side.
Jim Heck, principal at the architectural firm FisherHeck, said his team was careful to incorporate many materials from the old sanctuary.
“You don’t just throw that stuff away,” said Heck, whose firm was also responsible for the interior renovation of San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio. “It’s a continuation of the growth of the church. You change, but it doesn’t mean you disregard the past.”
British native and Dallas resident Josie Toogood has been a parishioner at St. Monica’s since 1959 and has witnessed the parish change over the years.
“It was a little emotional, but I’m always emotional,” said Toogood. “I love the way they’ve opened it up. It just complements the whole feel of it. It’s beautiful.”
Father Bierschenk said that the renovation has provided great opportunities for the parish to become even more welcoming.
“I see that this really has reminded people that we can accomplish things here in our parish, not just things you can buy with money, like renovating a church,” he said. “We have so many resources to reach out and to welcome people who do not have a church home and who are in need and so we hope to continue working to make that happen.”
Seth Gonzales, a frequent contributor to The Texas Catholic, added to this report.