By Amy White
The Texas Catholic
Nine angelic figures, bedecked in blue and gold behind the sanctuary; magnificent ceilings, arched towards the heavens; brilliant, crystal light beaming through windows of green, blue, red; intricate Italian sculptures of faith giants, those who have gone to glory in the eternal kingdom—These are the features, not of some far away, ancient basilica but of the very near, very new church building at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Community in Plano.
The new building was completed this year, unveiled to the public during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Nov. 20, and dedicated by Bishop Edward J. Burns at a special Mass on Nov. 29.
“Inevitably, the first time someone walks in, they’re awed to absolute silence,” said Deacon Mike Seibold, chair of the parish’s building committee. “The visual impact is significant. People just stop. Their eyes get big; their mouths open; and they just stare.”
The new church building is the product of years of planning and effort. Prior to the construction of the towering edifice that stands today, a humbler structure housed the worshipers of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Father Bruce Bradley, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for the past 12 years, said that the previous church building had a “multi-purpose appearance, with earthen berms around it and some heavy concrete walls on the inside… It was a modern sort of design, not really big enough for what we needed.”
The church was originally intended to be a temporary structure, Seibold said. The building was designed to serve as a place of worship for less than 30 years, during which time funds could be raised for a more permanent structure. Instead, the building stood for over 40 years.
“The foundations were cracking; walls were cracking,” Deacon Seibold explained. “The building was beginning to show its age considerably.”
The church needed repair or replacement. Discussions about next steps commenced.
“In 2015, we had a town hall meeting; it was on a weeknight, and there was a tornado warning,” Father Bradley remembered. “I thought, ‘Nobody’s going to come to this meeting.’ We had 150 to 200 people there, in spite of the tornado; and they all said, ‘Yes, we want to have a new church, and we want it to look like a church’… We had another meeting in 2017. There were over 200 people there all saying they wanted a traditional church.”
So, the process began. Kevin Bird, president of Devcon Development & Construction and a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi in Frisco, was hired as project manager. Bird has 16 years of experience guiding Catholic churches within the diocese through large construction projects—including Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Prince of Peace Catholic Church, and his own home parish of St. Francis.
“I really believe in finding the right team members to help build it,” Bird said.
In 2020, a building committee formed, headed by Seibold and composed of highly-qualified parishioners and employees of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, including members with professional experience in architecture, construction engineering, and planning administration. Additionally, HH Architects and Crossland Construction Company were hired onto the project.
At that time, and throughout the construction process, fundraising efforts for the project were ongoing.
“Even before we had a design on paper, there was a significant percentage of funds raised because of the commitment the community made,” Deacon Seibold said. “We felt very comfortable moving forward.”
The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton community conducted multiple fundraising campaigns, to great success. The first campaign was followed by a PLUS (“please let us start”) campaign and a third campaign in the spring of 2022. The third campaign offered parishioners the opportunity to gift some portion of the art in the new church—the stained-glass windows, the Stations of the Cross set, the bell for the bell tower—as honorariums and memorials.
“The thing that we always remarked about Elizabeth Seton’s parishioners is that they’re not these super wealthy families… They’re generous givers,” said Bill Hollon, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton since 2009 and chair of lead gifts with his wife, Kasey Hollon. “Truly, the number of families who helped in raising funds did so because of their commitment to the parish and the ministries that our parish supports in the community and in the diocese.”
Kasey Hollon added, “By and large, it was very successful because people, no matter what their financial capabilities were, could find something that they could be a participant in.”
“A lot of the other parishes, they might have a couple million-dollar donors that help them raise the money,” Bird said, “but Elizabeth Ann Seton didn’t have any of those big donors. It was really a true combination of middle-size and smaller donations that just added up… Elizabeth Ann Seton was always the epitome of a community-build, where everyone really pitched in to make it happen.”
In October of 2020, the old structure was torn down and construction on the new building began. In the interim between the old church and the new, parishioners worshiped in the faith formation center and parish hall. Now, the completed church building is open to the public: a new home for the congregation.
New house of worship
Three large, bronze doors—representing the persons of the Trinity—welcome parishioners into the new church, where they can pray in the midst of quality marble fixtures, showered in the multi-colored light of Italian stained-glass art and sheltered under the arching, sky-blue ceiling.
The newly unveiled building is a grand, Romanesque church with an interior garden, a bell tower, and a spacious narthex. The new structure is larger than the old one, seating about 1,100 people where the previous church seated approximately 800—a helpful upgrade for a growing parish, Father Bradley said.
The design concept of the church campus is more centralized than it was in the past; rather than consisting of several smaller, outlying buildings, the new church includes the function of these old buildings—a nursery, social hall, kitchen—all within the church building. These spaces now connect internally.
A new narthex hallway adjoining the parish hall allows parishioners to convene in the building, and a grand glass doorway separates the hallway from the worship area, reducing the sound carried from the former into the latter. Parishioners can gather in the narthex to converse and engage in ministry without disrupting the spiritual atmosphere in the church.
“The narthex hallway… helps with community building. It allows the ministries to present themselves,” Father Bradley said. “Boy Scouts, Women’s Club, Men’s Club, Knights of Columbus—all these people have different things that they could present in the narthex hallway.”
The parish also has a new chapel. The chapel repurposes several pieces previously used in the former church building. With the capacity to seat about 200 people, the new chapel offers an intimate prayer space with an aesthetic that is more contemporary than that of the new church.
A place of beauty
Within the church, neoclassical art embellishes the worship space.
“This church building has a lot of old-world look to it, a European look,” Deacon Seibold said. “There’s stone. There’s marble. There’s tile. There’s a lot of hard materials—lifelong, permanent materials—built into this building. And I think that was the vision that a lot of folks had. They wanted a building that reminded them of the eternity of our faith.”
“We used stone carvings from Italy, from the Pedrini company, which is located in Carrara, Italy,” Father Bradley explained. “They’ve done major statue stations of the cross and the baptismal font, altar and ambo, and tabernacle pediment for us in marble… When you use fine materials, you’re saying that this is an important thing.”
Stained-glass windows feature prominently in the new space, including three large rose windows representing the theological virtues, four transept windows representing the four Gospels, and nine stained-glass windows behind the tabernacle depicting adoring angels.
“During the bright sunlight of the day, those windows just beam. The colors are so vivid,” Deacon Seibold explained. “These are produced by Mellini studios in Italy. The stained-glass is so realistic you think you’re looking at the figures of the bible stories. They’re just beautiful.”
He added, “It’s really impossible to take it all in. But it’s so exciting to see people when they first walk in and see it, because it is such a beautiful facility… This is a 100 year plus building. This building will be here long after we are gone, and we pray our grandchildren and great grandchildren will be worshipping in it.”