St. Joseph, St. Stephen parishes unite as ‘one community in faith’
May 24, 2016
HOUSTON — Following almost two years of consultation and planning, the parish communities of St. Joseph and St. Stephen have come together in name and through faith.
On May 8, a Merger Mass was celebrated by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo at St. Joseph-St. Stephen Parish, which is located at the site of the former St. Joseph Parish at 1505 Kane St. in Houston. More than 500 families of the new community were in attendance.
The celebration started with a procession from the site of the former St. Stephen Parish to the new site of the St. Joseph-St. Stephen Parish.
“What a beautiful community of faith in St. Joseph and in St. Stephen,” Daniel Cardinal DiNardo said during his homily. “And what a beautiful community of faith in this new parish we have.”
Cardinal DiNardo referred to the merged parishes as “one community in faith,” also referencing the “one Lord in the Eucharist and one Ascended Lord into Heaven.”
“He has given a multitude of gifts to His Church, a multitude of languages, a multitude of cultures,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “In that multitude, though, there is only one Lord, and that is the one Lord who governs and guides us today on this Festival of Ascension to establish a new parish.”
Acknowledging both communities’ initial uncertainties with the merger, Cardinal DiNardo expressed his hope and optimism for a “wonderful and magnificent” future.
“I would like to see the same kind of confidence and determination that has marked you in the last 20 months,” he told the congregation. “When that happens, it will be beautiful.”
In August, 2014, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo informed parishioners at St. Joseph and St. Stephen Churches about his intention to merge them after receiving feedback from pastors and lay leaders from both communities. During Masses in February of this year, parishioners at St. Joseph and St. Stephen received an official decree announcing the merger of the two parishes.
“The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is committed not only to the history of the communities of St. Joseph’s and St. Stephen’s, but to their future as well,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “By uniting these two parishes into one, we can assuredly provide a spiritual home to the faithful long served by both St. Stephen’s and St. Joseph’s. St. Joseph-St. Stephen stands as a confident witness of hope and dialogue in the very heart of the neighborhood it serves.”
The new parish of St. Joseph-St. Stephen will be staffed by the Priests of Missionaries of St. Joseph (MJ). During the Merger Mass, the former pastor of St. Stephen Parish, Father César Lomelí Flores, MJ, was installed as the pastor of St. Joseph-St. Stephen Parish by Cardinal DiNardo.
“I want to thank God for allowing us to start this new community of St. Joseph-St Stephen,” Father Lomelí Flores said. “Today we are beginning more than a new parish, we are beginning a new story as a new family, the St. Joseph-St. Stephen family. Do not be afraid to open your hearts to others, and remember that we are united in Jesus Christ forever.”
Bichlan Thai, a former St. Joseph parishioner, said the St. Joseph-St. Stephen merger is “God’s answer” to the community’s prayers.
“Although the merger may not have been in either of our plans, I am convinced that it is His design,” Thai said. “I believe that God has provided a beautiful opportunity for us to open our arms to each other to share our faith, our languages, our cultures, and grow.”
Gloria Melchor, a former St. Stephen parishioner, believes the St. Joseph-St. Stephen merger is God’s way of reminding us all that “He is in control.”
“We cannot live in the past, we must move forward, with a focus on what we all have in common – our love of our Lord and our faith,” she said. “Without a doubt, we will face challenges, compromises and frustrations; however, I pray that working together to face them will unite us and make St. Joseph-St. Stephen stronger. We are all here to serve Him and love one another as Jesus commanded.”
The merger is the culmination of 22 months of collaboration between parishioners and clergy of both former parishes, which were located within a half-mile of each other in the Sixth Ward, near the Washington Corridor north of downtown Houston.
The union was prompted when planned real estate development in the area required St. Stephen’s to relocate from its former site on Center Street. When the property of the former St. Stephen Church is sold, all proceeds will be transferred to St. Joseph-St. Stephen Parish.
“The people of St. Stephen are physically losing a building, but not their church,” said Juan Aguirre, a former St. Joseph parishioner and member of the merger committee. “The people are the church and the people are moving to form a new, united church with St. Joseph. The building will be home to the united parish for many years to come.”
Raul Oviedo, a former St. Stephen parishioner and also a merger committee member, views the communities coming together as one as a “big community to create a new and strong Catholic Church in the Sixth Ward,” where everybody can worship united in a single faith.
“We must be guided by the Holy Spirit in this new journey,” Oviedo said.