The eastern edge of Brooklyn Heights has, over time, transitioned from a neighborhood of mostly workers for the old Texas & Pacific Railroad to a jumble of businesses, restaurants and empty lots.
During the 1940s and ’50s, the workers lived near the intersection of Vickery Boulevard and Montgomery Street — a place they called El TP — and their families worshipped at San Mateo Catholic Church, a mission established to serve the mostly Hispanic community in the area.
But that community has all but disappeared from the eastern edge of the neighborhood, which is now sandwiched between Interstate 30 and Chisholm Trail Parkway.
And the church may soon be going the same way.
Leaders of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth have decided to shutter the mission, and San Mateo is scheduled to hold its last Mass on Nov. 20.
Parishioners learned of the decision through an insert in the church bulletin, upsetting many of those who grew up at San Mateo.
“They basically put it in the insert,” Richard Rivera said. “It’s the bishop’s responsibility to approach the parish and the parishioners and let them know the reason behind the closing. The bishop has not reached out.”
In the statement to San Mateo, the diocese said, “Mass attendance at San Mateo Mission has greatly diminished over these years.”
Conversations about San Mateo’s viability go back years, the statement said.
Bishop Michael F. Olson and diocese spokesman declined to comment.
Fighting for their church
Parishioners and family members who grew up at San Mateo are fighting to keep their church alive.
“The community feels they’ve been cheated out,” said Emerico Perez, who was baptized and raised in the church. “There’s a lot of memories there.”
I believe the bishop and the church have made up their mind and I think that’s an unfortunate decision.
State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth
Church members created a Facebook page called Save San Mateo Church and have sent letters to the Vatican and the archbishop in San Antonio appealing the decision. They also made a formal appeal with the diocese with about 400 signatures, citing the Catholic Church’s canon law to try and overturn the decision.
“There is a specific segment in canon law regarding a decision to either close a church or to merge two churches, and there are certain steps that have to be followed,” said Ramon Guajardo, a former Fort Worth assistant city manager who has attended San Mateo for more than 40 years.
But San Mateo is not considered a stand-alone parish by the diocese. Instead it is a mission of St. Patrick Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth. It is not clear if the canon law rules regarding the closure of a church apply to a mission.
San Mateo’s members have staged two protests outside St. Patrick’s and even found themselves locked out of San Mateo for a planned meeting on the church’s future. Not to be deterred, they met on the church lawn and held another meeting at an American Legion Hall.
They are also upset that parishioners have been paying off the loan on a new church hall — there is still $79,943.49 remaining on the loan — but worry they will no longer have access to the building.
State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, said he has received more calls on this issue than any other since he became a state representative in 2014.
“There’s a lot of miscommunication right now,” Romero said. “There’s a lack of communication.”
But Romero, who has exchanged text messages with the diocese, said it may be too late to change Olson’s mind.
“I believe the bishop and the church have made up their mind, and I think that’s an unfortunate decision,” Romero said. “I absolutely believe there is still room to talk and open up those lines of communication. They should have the opportunity to have dialogue regardless if the decision has been made.”
St. Patrick financial woes
Although the diocese statement said there have been discussions about San Mateo’s future for some time, some parishioners believe financial troubles at St. Patrick are playing a role in the decision.
A financial report posted on the St. Patrick Cathedral website for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016, showed a total of loans and outstanding operating bills at $2.7 million.
Revenue was $174,630 less than operating expenses, the report shows.
“The financial status of our parish is not as healthy as we would want it to be,” wrote Rev. Sojan George, the rector of St. Patrick.
$174,630 less revenue than operating expenses at St. Patrick Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
“In the past four years our expenses have been more than our income which resulted in nearly half million dollars in unpaid Operating Bills,” George wrote. “Additionally, there are almost 2.2 million dollars owed to the Diocese for our Building project Loans. For the current fiscal year we have cut the costs to balance our budget. We have been able to pay all our bills for the month of July. Moving forward we will make sure that we pay all our current bills.”
Many current and former San Mateo parishioners say they believe money from the sale of the closed mission might be used to solve some of the cash-flow problems at St. Patrick. The Tarrant Appraisal District listed the market value of San Mateo at $1,350,649.
“Personally speaking, I would think so,” said Fred Flores, a local businessman who grew up in the church. “Even though they say it isn’t financial, finances always seem to be the number one issue.”
‘Church was very rich in culture’
San Mateo’s roots are deep in the neighborhood.
Star-Telegram archives show a building permit from Dec. 1, 1940, to construct a frame church called St. Matthew or San Mateo at 2930 Spring St., now known as Pulido Street.
For San Mateo members, it’s not just an issue of losing the church; there’s a sense that the old El TP neighborhood is being buried. Near the church, there are still five small houses scattered among the buildings of booming commercial development, though the old Brooklyn Heights neighborhood west of Montgomery Street remains intact.
The community feels they’ve been cheated out. There’s a lot of memories there.
Emerico Perez, San Mateo member
“The closing of the church, in the community’s eyes, is a matter of losing and allowing TP to die,” Romero said. “There isn't enough recognition for the value of the history of a church that served some of the poorest of the poor. In the Latino community, that church was very rich in culture.”
In announcing the closure to San Mateo parishioners, the diocese noted that there are a number of churches now that serve Spanish-speaking Catholics in Fort Worth.
Flores, currently a member of St. Andrew Catholic Church, grew up at San Mateo, and his parents still attend the church. He said he’s in the process of transferring to San Mateo.
Flores said a lack of discussion is the root of the problem between church members and the diocese.
“I think our main issue is communication,” he said. “Nobody from the diocese or the bishop himself is coming out to speak to San Mateo.”
Fort Worth Catholic Diocese statement
Fort Worth parishes that provide full and integral ministry and worship for Spanish-speaking Catholics include Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, All Saints Parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Holy Name of Jesus Parish, St. George Parish, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, St. Paul the Apostle Parish, St. Peter the Apostle Parish, St. Rita Parish, St. Bartholomew Parish, and nearby St. John the Apostle Parish. Mass attendance at San Mateo Mission has greatly diminished over these years.
Conversations about the viability and effectiveness of St. Patrick Cathedral’s mission community at San Mateo as a ministry for the Spanish-speaking community dates back to the administration of the late-Bishop Joseph Delaney, former Bishop Kevin Vann, and, currently under the administration of Bishop Michael Olson. During the last two years, Spanish-language religious education has been administered at the site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Therefore, after due consideration and consultation, for the greater and common good of the mission of the Diocese, with the salvation of souls in view, which is always the Church’s primary concern, Masses and other sacramental ministries will no longer be provided at the current site of San Mateo Mission effective after Mass on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016.
Beginning at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, the first Sunday of Advent, Mass will be celebrated in Spanish at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and at that time on each Sunday after that. All remaining ministries in Spanish not already provided at St. Patrick’s Cathedral will be transitioned to St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a full and integral part of the mission of the Cathedral parish.