As the faithful parishioners of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Denison gather for Easter, the words "resurrection" and "renewal" will take on additional meaning. Not only will they be celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the grave and the promise of a new life on earth and in heaven, but the ongoing "rebirth" of their beloved church building.

As the faithful parishioners of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Denison gather for Easter, the words "resurrection" and "renewal" will take on additional meaning. Not only will they be celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the grave and the promise of a new life on earth and in heaven, but the ongoing "rebirth" of their beloved church building.


Situated on the corner of Rusk Avenue and Sears, the building has been one of Denison’s most prominent and well-known structures since its completion and dedication on Feb. 1, 1914. Its soaring bell tower, ornate stained glass windows and Gothic-styled design inspire not just the church members who call the building their spiritual home, but the general public. The building’s high-visibility and central locale near the heart of downtown Denison draws admirers from all walks of life.


Maintaining the large, historic landmark the last 100 years has been difficult and the elements haven’t been kind. When parishioners began to notice water stains on the interior walls and ceilings of the building several years ago, they knew there was no choice. If the beautiful structure was to last another 100 years, extensive, expensive repairs had to be made. Enter Gary Williams of the Conley Group in Irving.


It was the fall of 2012. Williams, a 30-year veteran of building restoration, an enthusiast of historic buildings and a devout Christian, says he jumped at the opportunity to help save the church building. After a thorough evaluation of the structure, Williams knew the project would be massive but necessary. The root of the problem was that the mortar in between the tens of thousands of bricks and stones making up the exterior walls of the building was taking in water but not letting it seep out. Over time, the bricks had become saturated and the water was settling in the interior walls, causing what would soon be irreversible damage if not stopped.


Repairing the masonry would be a daunting task of intense manual labor. All of the mortar would have to be removed and replaced, all of what was left of past coats of sealant and paint would have to be scraped off and the entire exterior of the building seal-coated and waterproofed. Some of the bricks and guttering would need replacing and roof repair was a must, as well. A tree that had taken seed behind bricks near the top of the north wall was growing out of the side of the building. Even the one-ton-each crosses atop the church would have to be removed and flashing placed underneath. Fortunately, the developing damage had been noticed in time and the interior would require only a minor amount of plaster repair followed by painting. What Williams and the congregation considered a blessing was that the water damage hadn’t yet reached the carved woodwork framing the irreplaceable stained glass windows.


The cost of the repairs would come to just over $1 million.


Williams knew how much the congregation wanted to save the building, but didn’t see how they would be able to afford to do all of the restoration at once. To that end, he developed the project proposal to include several phases. He soon learned what faith and determination can accomplish.


"I remember presenting the evaluation to Father Mocio and it came up that we had a couple of phased applications. Father said, ‘Oh. That’s fine, but we really need to do this whole thing,’" said Williams. "I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, there’s no way. No way!’ What a testament that was to his (Father Mocio’s) faith to really put that into motion and believe that’s going to happen. To me, there’s a strong parallel between the parishioners today and the parishioners in 1911 and 1914 period. To come up with over a million dollars is pretty amazing!"


The church’s parishioners today have indeed followed the same path the past generation did. They not only donated their hard-earned money, but held fundraisers of all types. Parishioner Suzanne Broussard even wrote and published a book, "Reflections of Faith: The Windows of St. Patrick Catholic Church," with proceeds from the sale of the book going into the restoration fund.


St. Patrick’s parishioners have, from the church’s humble beginning in 1873, shown their true grit in the face of challenges and disasters. According to historians, Denison got its start in 1872 when the first lots were auctioned off. It’s believed that the city’s first group of Catholics also got its start that year. Land was being given free to any church congregation that applied, so the Catholic group did so, as did the St. Luke’s Episcopal congregation. The Episcopalians originally got the lot on the corner of Rusk and Sears, but relinquished it to the Catholic group in exchange for property on Gandy Street — the same site St. Luke’s Church sits on to this day.


The Catholics first build a wood-frame church in 1873 and expanded it in 1888 as the congregation swelled. As the church reached a membership of over 1,200, the leader, Father T.K. Crowley, began plans for a new church building. Due to a nationwide depression, known as the "Panic of 1893," the plans for the new, ornate church were put on the back burner until 1897. One of Texas’ top architects, Nicolas J. Clayton, was engaged to design the new church. His first plans were for a building that would cost more than the congregation could afford, so together, he and the group created a structure that was still grand, but more affordable. On July 25, 1897, construction began on the exact site the church sits on today and that building was dedicated on Dec. 11, 1898. The cost to the congregation at that time was $60,000 which, by today’s standards, would be roughly $2 million.


Disaster struck on Oct. 30, 1011 when the building was totally destroyed by fire, except for the church’s cornerstone and a few outer walls. Even more devastating, a young parishioner died in the fire, trying to help save at least some of the treasured items from inside the building.


Unfortunately, the congregation hadn’t thought about a brick building being able to burn, thus had only insured the structure for $14,000. However, they were undaunted. According to a local newspaper article, the congregation immediately gathered in the old, frame building they’d first used and, at that very meeting, raised almost $5,000. The day after the fire, the devout and determined group announced publicly that not only would they rebuild their church, but they would make it even larger and more beautiful and that’s what they did. Using the original plans and the same foundation which wasn’t destroyed by the fire, a new building took shape and, as promised, it was grander, the bell tower soaring almost twice as high — 112 feet — as the original bell tower and stained glass windows going into the expansive openings on every wall of the building. That ornate building was dedicated on Feb. 1, 1914 and is the same building that is now being renewed and restored, thanks to the generosity and dedication of the current congregation.


"We’re calling this the second century restoration which is really apropos because it’s this generation who did exactly what the first generation did," said Frank Ventura, a St. Patrick parishioner who headed up the campaign to raise the funds. "When asked, they (the parishioners) came forward. They stood up. This is not a wealthy church, but the people just came forward. It was amazing. We didn’t think we were going to get the reception we got, but in a little over a year from when we started the official campaign, we raised our money for this project, so we couldn’t be more pleased!"


Ventura laughed when he recalled how he came to be involved in not just the fundraising, but all of the other committees dealing with the massive project.


"Father (Stephen Mocio) asked me and I said no. Then he said, ‘Oh, Frank. I really want you to kind of head up the campaign,’ and I said, ‘Oh, father. This is going to be very difficult when you’re asking me like that because I’m afraid now that when I leave the room, if I say no, then lightening will hit me right there,’ so I said OK. I’d do it," said Ventura with a giant grin.


Heading up the construction end of the project is parishioner Kit Broussard who, like Ventura, said the project has been a labor of love from day one. Broussard, with an extensive background in waterproof coatings, has used his contacts in and knowledge of the industry to help get the best possible products for the job. He explained that they went so far as to have the original mortar analyzed and then had the new mortar made identically.


"We knew it (the mortar) had stood the test of time for that long, so we wanted to duplicate it," said Williams.


Tom Carron of Frontier Waterproofing is overseeing his crew as they climb up and down the maze of scaffolding that envelopes the building. The workers are removing the old mortar around each brick, scraping off any layers of sealant or paint, and replacing bricks as needed. He smiled as he remembers panicking after applying the first waterproofing coat to the bricks. .


"When we saw crystals forming on our new mortar, we were all freaking out," said Carron."I called the manufacturer and he said that’s typical. It means that it’s drying out (the inside of the walls) — meaning, it’s breathing."


The committee and workers have striven to keep as close as possible to the materials and look of the original building.


"Every detail was looked at and everybody said we want to stay with that, so we are," said Ventura.


Not only has the mortar been matched, but so has the style in which it’s being applied — a "rope" style in lieu of recessed. In addition, the construction committee searched for replacement brick as close to the original brick as possible.


Carron said, to date, they have only had to actually replace about 700 bricks. Considering the many thousands of bricks used on the building, that number is relatively insignificant to Carron and the construction committee.


"We actually found almost identical bricks (solid bricks, not hollowed out) in Oklahoma City," said Broussard.


"It’s a good thing they didn’t use identically matching bricks originally," Ventura added with a laugh.


Father Mocio smiled softly as he listened to his excited church family talk about the project. After giving kudos to Ventura, Broussard, and Carron, he briefly discussed what the cost might be if the congregation hadn’t opted to do the repairs.


"I think the task that we understook was to guarantee that this church will be here long after we are no longer here," said Mocio. "I think there were a number of reasons that we went forward, but I want to impress upon the people that we couldn’t have replaced this building because the current building mindset is not to do any gothic or any type of structures like this one. They built a new church in Frisco for $36 million. To replicate this building, we’re talking about $50 million or something. The art here is the stained glass and you can’t duplicate that. The artist who did that is no longer here. We feel like we are definitely very privileged to be part of this portion of history — the second generation!"


Broussard and Ventura said the outside work began in July of 2014 and should be completed in June or July, depending on the weather. Once done, the painting of the inside will commence, along with the refurbishing of the church’s 100-year-old Pilcher pipe organ which sits prominently in the choir loft. At present, the congregation plans to hold a dedication ceremony in October. In the meantime, they happily circumvent the scaffolding and other construction obstacles daily as they enter and leave their spiritual home, knowing that the awe-inspiring structure will remain for future generations to cherish.


Broussard and Ventura both added that any other congregations or others with similar historic structures are more than welcome to talk to them about the preservation techniques being used, should they need the same type of work done.


For historic photos and details about the church, the book Reflections of Faith, written as a church renovation fundraiser by St. Patrick parishioner Suzanne Broussard, is available.