FLAGSTAFF — The new church building that serves San Francisco de Asís Parish is the culmination of years of struggle and hard work by Catholics in northern Arizona.
“Jesus Christ built this church in Flagstaff,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said in his homily during the Feb. 2 Mass of dedication. “No one but Jesus Christ Himself can lay the foundation if we want it to last. What we are building here is far more than the beauty that the eye can see.”
Fr. Patrick Mowrer, pastor of San Francisco de Asís, reminds the entire community of God’s love with, among other things, his license plate: “URLOVED.” Everything in the church, the bishop said, speaks to that.
“God is love,” the bishop said, focusing on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which will be offered on the consecrated altar. “Here we taste and see the goodness of the love of Christ.”
It is Christ who will baptize, who will inspire to faithful living, who will make faith part of marriages and families, the bishop said. It is Christ who will renew hope among the community.
“You don’t build a church like this unless you love God,” the bishop said. He also called attention to the large San Damiano cross above the altar. St. Francis prayed before such a cross when God asked him to rebuild His Church.
“God was asking him to build more than a physical building,” the bishop said. During the Year of Faith, the bishop challenged the congregation to reach out to fallen away Catholics and to continue to build up the church in Flagstaff.
Fr. Mowrer said it’s been a difficult process. San Francisco de Asís Parish is the result of a 1997 parish merger, which united Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Pius X, along with Holy Trinity Newman Center.
It was an emotional time for Flagstaff Catholics. Their family members in many cases helped build the churches. Some collected carts full of rock to build Our Lady of Guadalupe, for example.
“It’s still kind of hard,” said Fr. Mowrer, adding that he’s done a lot of listening in the eight years since he became pastor. “But we see this as a new beginning.”
Both Nativity and Our Lady of Guadalupe will remain chapels. Masses will be celebrated there for special occasions, like weddings and funerals. But all Sunday Masses will be at San Francisco. Holy Trinity will remain open, though the building needs renovation.
The new church is a new home for the parish families. Fr. Mowrer estimates the church seats
1,200. During a Christmas Eve Mass last December, 1,600 parishioners packed the church.
“There’s people coming back already,” he said. “It’s a new place; it’s God’s house. It’s bringing the community together as one.”
The community has more than 100 acres of land to work with. They’re still raising money for the church, and are working on building the parish offices and school on the property. There’s also been some talk of setting up a retreat house in the future.
“It’s been a time to grow, albeit with difficulty,” said parishioner Michael Vollmer, who served as director of campus ministry at Holy Trinity for years. “We’re united now. It’s good for Catholics in Flagstaff to have one voice instead of four. It’s good to see the community united in one church.”