By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
TERRELL — A local diner, some thoughtful questions and a priest willing to listen led Justin Fivecoat to take a leap of faith three years ago that set him on a path to become an impactful parishioner at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church.
“One thing I’ve always sensed about Justin is that I see him as a man after God’s heart,” said Father James Orosco, pastor of St. John the Apostle. “He truly wishes to do his work in a way that really glorifies God.”
Fivecoat, 36, is among the 144 honorees who will be recognized during the fourth annual Bishop’s Awards for Service to the Church on Feb. 7 at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, where Bishop Kevin J. Farrell will celebrate Mass to give thanks for outstanding parish and diocesan volunteers.
A devout Southern Baptist for the first 33 years of his life, Fivecoat said a Baptist pastor’s sermon inspired him to examine his faith more deeply.
“The preacher said about growing your faith that ‘You’ve got to quit acting like a baby and start feeding yourself,’ ” Fivecoat said. “I started taking my faith more seriously, started reading and really started trying to absorb everything.”
As he delved deeper into his studies, Fivecoat said more and more questions arose about his faith and his church.
“I started feeling like the church I was attending was more focused on how many people it could get through the doors,” he said. “It was more of a numbers game and a feel-good game than a way of life.”
Foundation of faith
That is when Father Orosco entered Fivecoat’s life.
“I really believe that my getting to know Justin was providential,” Father Orsoco said, adding that he first met Fivecoat at a Terrell diner.
“I would have breakfast there a couple of times a week. I’d always see this young man there having his breakfast and reading his Bible,” Father Orosco said. “We’d exchange good mornings and move on.”
On one occasion, Fivecoat told Father Orosco that his sister went to St. John. A couple of months later, he told the priest he’d like to sit down and ask him some questions.
“Later, I saw him again and reminded him he hadn’t called,” Father Orosco said. “We sat down then, talked and he told me he had been doing a lot of personal study and prayer. He was trying to seek out what the Lord wanted for him.”
Father Orosco answered Fivecoat’s questions about Catholic teachings, eventually convincing him to join the church’s faith formation classes.
“I wanted something that had deeper roots. Once I started learning about the lineage and the history of the church, it just set me on that path,” Fivecoat said. “If you are open-minded and your heart is open, I don’t know where else you’d go. I don’t think there is any other place to go, but the Catholic Church.”
Fivecoat praised St. John the Apostle’s pastor for playing a part in helping him make that journey.
“I thank God all the time for Father James,” Fivecoat said. “I think his influence, presence and willingness to speak to me beyond my conversion and through these first couple of years of being Catholic has had a tremendous impact on me. I couldn’t think of having another priest involved in my life.”
For a lifelong Southern Baptist, though, the decision to convert to Catholicism wasn’t taken lightly. Fortunately, Fivecoat’s former college roommate at Texas Tech University, Brandon Barker, had recently done the same thing.
“My conversion was a long process,” Fivecoat said, crediting Barker’s patience and guidance in helping with that process. “I’d call him and hammer him with questions. He understood because he went through this process. He’d really talked me through it and helped me understand the Catholic faith.”
Barker, who now serves as the parish catechetical leader and youth minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, said Fivecoat has a servant’s heart.
“It’s really neat to see the Lord work in his life,” Barker said. “He is blessed and God is truly using him in a way that he can work hard and serve others.”
Once Fivecoat joined St. John the Apostle, Father Orosco said his love and passion for the Terrell parish were immediately evident.
“From the very beginning, he had a deep love for this particular parish community,” Father Orosco said. “He knew that at that time we were having discussions about renovating the old church. He asked if he could be of help.”
The parish’s original sanctuary was constructed in 1876, just three years after the city of Terrell was incorporated and 14 years prior to the establishment of the Diocese of Dallas. While the facility was in use for more than a century, time began to take its toll.
“There was a period for about two years when there was a lot of damage to the old church and for safety reasons we decided not to use it,” Father Orosco said.
A servant’s heart
Learning of discussions to renovate the sanctuary, Fivecoat, who along with his father runs a general contractor business in Terrell, stepped up to offer his services.
“Construction is one of those things that I love. I think it is my best opportunity to be at the Lord’s beck and call,” Fivecoat said. “I think we are best at serving in a way or in a capacity that involves our gifts and strengths. I love the idea that I’m able to do that with my work experience benefitting my parish.”
Over the course of three months, Fivecoat and crews worked to breathe new life into the original sanctuary, repairing the roof, sanding and finishing the hardwood floors, solidifying a foundation that once had been anchored by bois d’arc stumps, and weatherproofing the facility’s stucco exterior.
Eighteen months ago, the sanctuary re-opened to the parish, which now uses it for daily morning Masses, a first Friday holy hour, baptisms and small weddings.
“This church for our parish community is an inheritance. We have been given this by the founding families,” Father Orosco said in praising the renovation efforts that Fivecoat helped spearhead. “It is a gift that has been given to us, and I think we had a responsibility to take care of that heritage that has been passed on to us.”
For Fivecoat, who along with his volunteer work is a devoted husband and father of two, using his professional skills to benefit the parish is an ongoing vocation. Currently, he is helping Father Orosco oversee repairs of damage to the church that occurred in October 2014 when a suspected tornado touched down in Terrell.
From a chance meeting as strangers in a diner, Fivecoat has become someone Father Orosco said he knows he can trust – whether it is for just advice or rolling up his sleeves and working.
“I have told people that I truly believe that he is very sincere and very trustworthy,” Father Orosco said. “You can’t say much more about a man than that.”