San Francisco Javier Parishioners Helping Make New Church a Reality
A simple fundraising strategy enabled working families at San Francisco Javier Parish in Austin to raise $427,002.44 in 21 months, exceeding the $420,000 goal needed to make a new church a reality. Their efforts will result in a sanctuary that meets the growing parish’s great need for space to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments.
The parish has come a long way since its first Mass in 1941 when it had 450 families. Today, pastor Father Abraham Puentes Mejía said the parish has 1,080 families. At least 1,500 people attend Mass at the four celebrations held each Sunday, and the number continues to grow.
The current sanctuary, while functional, only seats 300, so the 8 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Masses in Spanish are celebrated in a pavilion because more than 300 attend each of these Masses. The 10 a.m. Mass in English is celebrated in the church. While having the open-air pavilion is a great option, this venue comes with challenges, such as hot or cold weather, rain, wind and noise from the traffic on US 183 that passes within a couple of hundred yards of the pavilion.
Father Mejía explained the proximity to the highway is a constant challenge to the parish. The road’s heavy traffic has made it impossible, for several years, to hold the annual jamaica, a crucial revenue source. More severe is the danger of auto accidents. Recently, a large truck veered off the highway and crashed into the sacristy, causing severe damage and injuring a parishioner who was praying before the Blessed Sacrament. On a separate occasion recently, a vehicle swerved off the road and burst into flames.
An additional obstacle is that families at San Francisco Javier are not inclined to contribute online; consequently, revenue slowed to a trickle during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Father Mejía and the construction committee charged with helping him bring about the new church developed a plan that could succeed against the existing obstacles. Committee members include Ricardo Vallejo, Clemente Dávila, Sylvia Zachman, Gracie Alarcón, Alejandro Acosta, Blanca, Laura and Billie Vallejo, Luis Alvarado, Katy Martínez, Lula Lujan, Reyna García and Josefina Vázquez.
The core of their fundraising effort was to ask every family to donate one hour’s wages to the church every week. This action, while simple, seemed like a reasonable request. It proved a winning strategy in a parish composed almost exclusively of working families. Additional revenue for the project comes from a breakfast fundraiser held every Sunday after two Masses. In addition, the parish sponsors a lunch sale once a month. Finally, those with the financial means, including church ministries, were asked to purchase 52 pews for the new church.
San Francisco Javier was founded in 1941 as part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Archbishop Arthur J. Drossaerts assigned the Holy Cross Order to take charge of the missionary field covering 2,000 square miles south of the Colorado River, inhabited overwhelmingly by Mexican Americans. San José in south Austin, Santa Cruz in Buda and San Francisco Javier on the road to Lockhart were established to provide the sacraments.
Eighty years later, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin launched the Eastern Ring Project, as part of the Encountering Christ Capital Campaign. Thanks to the generosity of campaign donors, three small but quickly growing parishes that minister to predominantly Hispanic Catholics will build new sanctuaries. The three churches are St. Joseph in Manor, Santa Barbara in far east Austin and San Francisco Javier in southeast Austin. As a cost-saving measure, all three churches will follow the same architectural design and the same contractor will build them. The front design of each church is unique to the parish.
Father Mejía expects the new church to bring all parishioners indoors to a safer, more comfortable environment and he thinks those who have chosen other options will likely return to the parish. He said relocating the parish to a less populated area offers even more additional growth and other improvements.
The new location of San Francisco Javier will be about 4.5 miles southeast of its current location on a 25-acre tract on Burkland Farms Road east of SH 130. It is a remote rural area away from the traffic of US 183, and existing roads are in excellent condition. The church will seat 650 worshipers and will have room to add 400 additional seats. In addition to the church, the new campus will include a parish hall and a rectory.
In addition to the pews, parishioners will also provide the furniture needed, such as the altar, baptismal font, ambo and windows. The parish will continue their fundraising through mid-2022. Father Mejía is confident the parish will continue to grow, and he remains grateful to the Schoenstatt priests who help him celebrate Mass.
The foundation for the new church was recently poured and parishioners are looking forward to Bishop Vásquez consecrating their new church at the beginning of 2023.
For more information on the parish, visit sfjccaustin.org.