Fort Worth

Saving San Mateo Catholic Church just got harder. City issues code violations

Former parishioners hold makeshift service, pray to save San Mateo Catholic Church

"It's our history. This is where we grew up, in this neighborhood." Watch as parishioners pray for the future of San Mateo, which was closed in November 2016 by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
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"It's our history. This is where we grew up, in this neighborhood." Watch as parishioners pray for the future of San Mateo, which was closed in November 2016 by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.

For the last two years, the San Mateo Catholic Church has had an eight-foot chain-link fence barring anyone from entering the property.

But that barrier hasn’t been enough to stop vandals from punching holes in the drywall and removing electrical wiring from the shuttered church.

It is the latest chapter in a two-year saga over San Mateo’s fate.

It also comes as an online petition drive started by a Prosper Catholic church has gathered nearly 600 signatures asking for the Catholic Church to investigate the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and Bishop Michael Olson.

The long-time Hispanic parish was closed with diminished attendance cited as a reason. Parishioners complained that Olson never met with church leaders once the closing became public.

The last Mass for San Mateo occurred on Nov. 20, 2016. The fence went up a few weeks later.

On Nov. 14, the City of Fort Worth deemed the church at 3316 Lovell Ave. a “substandard building” with signage that said “do not enter or occupy.”

Diane Covey, a code compliance spokeswoman, said the building is not an “imminent collapse hazard” and all of the damage is repairable. The code compliance report gave the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth until Dec. 17.

Pat Svacina, a spokesman for the diocese, said it is likely they will ask for an extension.

“We are currently doing an evaluation of what it would take to fix the problem,” Svacina said.

But Covey said code compliance officers received a call from the diocese on Thursday indicating they would make the repairs.

Violations mentioned in the report were a severed electrical circuit box, a severed electrical panel on the building’s exterior and water from a side door on the west side of the building.

For the former members of the closed church, it is another obstacle in getting San Mateo reopened.

Svacina said the Congregation of Clergy in Rome stated that San Mateo is a mission and not a parish, essentially upholding the diocese’ right to close the mission.

San Mateo’s parishioners just filed their second appeal of the closure to the Vatican in late November.

Yolanda Hendon, a San Mateo member who filed the appeal for all of the former parishioners, said there are worries that the church will fall into such a deteriorated state that reopening it will become impossible. The parishioners have hired civil attorneys in an attempt to guarantee that the building is kept in a safe condition while their appeal through the Catholic Church continues.

The bishop agreed not to sell or demolish the building — at one point the diocese had obtained a demolition permit — until all of appeals through the church’s canon law have been completed.

“I hope he would agree to make the fixes since [the damage] occurred under his watch,” Hendon said. “I think it’s a stretch that he’s going to completely repair it but that’s my dream.”

Hendon said she recently received a letter from Olson that he intended to open the church for Mass on Sept. 21 for the feast of St. Matthew but could not do so because of the unsafe conditions.

“The Bishop is saddened that this is continuing but he respect their right to do so,” Svacina said. “He is open to meeting with members of the mission as parishioners but not as litigants which is how letters to the Bishop about San Mateo are styled.”

Andrea Martinez is 92-years-old and one of the oldest parishioners of San Mateo Church, scheduled to close Nov. 20, 2016. Saddened by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth's decision, Martinez attends her last mass at the church that started out in h

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Bill Hanna is an award-winning reporter who has covered just about every beat at the Star-Telegram. He currently covers Arlington but also writes about a variety of subjects including weather, wildlife, traffic and health.
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