| By Alfredo E. Cárdenas | Correspondent

Renovations come to fruition in Copperas Cove

Bishop Joe Vásquez joined Holy Family Parish in Copperas Cove last August to bless the recent renovations to the church. After several years of raising the needed $500,000 through the Encountering Christ Campaign, the parish accomplished the upgrades.

“The renovations of the church are truly beautiful,” Bishop Vásquez told the congregation. “It is really outstanding what has been done. Hopefully, all of you will appreciate the beauty of this church.”

The renovations

Father Patrick Ebner Jr., the previous pastor, initiated the project and Father Augustine Ariwaodo, the current pastor, completed the renovations. Father Ariwaodo said the work started with refashioning the altar, which soon expanded to adding a choir room, a new organ, a new baptismal font, new confessionals and relocating the cry room.

He thanked Bishop Vásquez for his “no.” Three times, the bishop turned down suggestions for the altar, but the parish was not deterred. “That’s how God helps us perfect our work,” Father Ariwaodo said. “[Bishop Vásquez] saying no meant ‘you can do better.’”

Specialists in Spain designed the altar and then came to the parish to erect it. Bishop Vásquez told the congregation the altar is the focal point of the Mass, “where we celebrate the sacred mysteries and Eucharist.”

While the altar took a week to install, other renovations took a little longer. In years past, the choir sang in an open space at the rear of the church and sat in pews between pieces. The renovations gave the musicians a room with proper acoustics and a new high-tech organ and sound system equipment.

History of the parish

Many parishioners of Holy Family are soldiers from Fort Cavazos, and while the faces may change due to changing military assignments, the number of registered families remains constant. Since its founding in 1956, the parish has had close ties to the Army. The first Mass was celebrated at the home of retired Lt. Col. and Mrs. G. J. LaFountain. Soon, the worshipers purchased an abandoned mess hall from Fort Hood, as the encampment was then known, and a resident priest, Father James A. Donnely, was assigned.

After several temporary moves of the chapel, at the time a mission of St. Joseph Parish in Killeen, the congregation broke ground on a new chapel in 1967 and dedicated it on May 12, 1968.

Former parishioner Father Kurtis Wiedenfeld, a diocesan priest who is now pastor of St. John Parish in Luling, commented on Facebook as he watched the rededication, “I remember when there were no pews, only plastic chairs and little pillows for kneeling. It’s great to see what has been done by different pastors over the years.”

Father Ariwaodo prays the new look and enhancements will encourage people to return to Mass. While the number of Sunday worshipers has increased since the pandemic, from 700 to 900, they are still not at the level they were at before COVID.

Parish ministries

Also helping with returning to normal are the parish’s extensive ministries that work to strengthen the faith among parishioners of all ages. One unique ministry is Spiritual Direction. Deacon Tim Dorsey, a certified spiritual director, is available to individuals needing help to “uncover and discover the direction of God in their lives.”

Holy Family’s Religious Education program includes more than 180 students in first through ninth grades. Virginia Rodgers oversees 45 catechists who provide classroom direction on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The Arimathean Ministry focuses on attending Mass to honor the departed who may not have immediate family, as often happens in retirement communities such as Copperas Cove. Another ministry helping those who have experienced the loss of a loved one is Grief to Grace, a support group for those experiencing the loss of a loved one. The group offers Grieving with Great Hope, a workshop series that offers a prayerful, practical and personal approach for anyone mourning the loss of a loved one.

The parish offers an array of ministries that reach out to the spiritual needs of parishioners. Father Ariwaodo and his parishioners also visit with and take the Eucharist to the homebound and those in nursing homes and hospitals.

With joy and thanksgiving, Father Ariwaodo looks forward to sharing the changes at Holy Family with more people in the months to come.

Alfredo E. Cárdenas began as a freelance writer for the Catholic Spirit in 2000, writing histories of parishes. In 2010, he was named editor of the South Texas Catholic, a publication of the Corpus Christi Diocese. Upon his retirement in 2017, he returned to Austin, where he resumed writing for the Catholic Spirit.