By Seth Gonzales
PLANO — Sacred Heart of Jesus Chinese Catholic Church celebrated 20 years as a parish during the month of September, but for countless parishioners their community’s roots are much deeper.
As early as 1982, Chinese Catholic immigrant families who had settled in North Texas occasionally gathered together in small prayer groups. As the prayer groups began to grow, the families petitioned their home church in Taiwan for assistance in formally establishing a Chinese Catholic community in Dallas.
In 1986, Father Moses Shiou-Hau Chen was dispatched to help the nascient community. By 1993, the group had raised enough money to purchase a small worship space in a Richardson business plaza. It was recognized by the Diocese of Dallas as a mission, and marked the official beginning of the Chinese Catholic community in the diocese.
“It is an impressive growth,” said Dallas Auxiliary Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel, who celebrated the parish’s 20th anniversary Mass on Sept. 15. “Because of their determination and their sacrifice they’ve been able to grow this very vibrant community that has lasted 20 years now, and so many of their young children are a part of the parish life.”
Father Reuben Chen was one of those children and is now a priest in the Diocese of Dallas.
“It’s really an incredible feeling that time flies and everyone grows up so quickly,” said Father Chen, who, in 2012, became the first Chinese-American priest ordained for the Diocese of Dallas. “To see kids who were babies when I was growing up now going to college, that has been a tremendous thing for me. To come back home is a great feeling. All of the families here are really, truly one big family.”
As that family outgrew its small facility in Richardson, plans were drawn up to construct the community’s first stand-alone church building. On Jan. 15, 2006, the present building in Plano was dedicated and by Aug. 16 of that same year, Sacred Heart was officially recognized as a parish by the Diocese of Dallas.
“I am very proud of this parish,” said Father Vincent Lin, current pastor of Sacred Heart. “We placed our trust in the hands of the Lord like Jesus said, ‘Lord into your hands I commend my spirit.’ This is the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon us.”
Betty and Tom Ling have seen the parish grow from the beginning. As part of the parish’s celebration, they were recently recognized, along with other couples, during a special Mass for those who have been married for 20 or more years.
“We came to the United States in a small group and this group grew into a big parish,” Tom said. “All the church members have enthusiasm and devoted their time to the church. During the past 50 years I have seen all the people grow up.”
In an emotional moment during a tour of the parish’s library, where official documents and artifacts from the church’s beginning are on display, Judy Chen paused and reflected on how far the parish has come.
“If we don’t have God’s presence, something like this is very hard to do,” Chen said. “This is my family, my house. It is very important to me and all the members. We have bonded together a lot.”