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20120525-Lady-of-Guadalupe-Church-Remodel-001Parishioners enter ‘new house of worship’ this weekend

MISSION — After a decade of fundraising and seeking approval to expand the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, work has begun and starting last weekend, Mass will be held in the church hall for the next nine months.

Last week, Rev. Roy Snipes stood inside the 85-year-old church as workers removed several church artifacts like the pulpit, saint statues and the Stations of the Cross.

“I’m too sentimental for this stuff,” Snipes said. “If anybody gripes at me I’ll be sure to understand.”

The expansion, which will move the walls on the east and west sides by 30 feet, will allow the church to welcome more of its parishioners inside for Sunday Mass. At the height of the winter months, Snipes said there could be 1,000 people attending church.

“It’s not big enough,” he said standing near the altar. “Our essential element of our spirit is to offer hospitality. It’s hard to offer good hospitality if there’s no where for grandma to sit down.”

While several people sit outside on park benches to hear the Mass on outdoor speakers and enjoy it, just as many leave because of the overflow.

“It does hurt to see people with no place to sit,” he said.

Over 10 years, the church has held major fundraisers, collecting $2 million. With approval from the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and the Texas Historical Commission, the expansion construction can start. However, because of the increased cost in construction materials and services, Snipes said the church only has three quarters of the money needed for the work. Another $1 million will have to be loaned to the church. Already the church has established the credit to borrow the funds.

The last major construction effort here was likely made in the late 1980s or early 1990s. That work was to replace the church’s slate roof with clay tiles.

“There are a lot of repairs we didn’t know were necessary,” Snipes said.

Some of those repairs include reinforcing the foundation and the dome of the bell tower. Those items along with other maintenance will be included in the expansion.

The expansion moves the eastern and western walls by 30 feet. Recently, church officials found extra floor tiles that will be used to allow the church look and feel to remain the same.

Additionally, the sanctuary floor will be made higher and moved forward.

“We want you to see what you always saw and feel what you always felt,” Snipes said.

When talk of the expansion started, Snipes said the church issued a survey to parishioners about the prospective change where a majority said they’d prefer the church change very little, if at all.

“For people who are sentimental, it’s disturbing,” he said. “And I know where they’re coming from, look, I don’t even want to get a new car.”

Before Winter Texans and migrant workers traveled back north, Snipes told churchgoers they’d return to church in the parish hall, as the expansion construction wouldn’t be completed when they come back.

“They were really just overjoyed,” the reverend said of Winter Texans. “They’re just as enthusiastic as we were, if not more. It’s exciting how attached they are to the church.”

Last week, Snipes celebrated several funerals in the church, but now all funerals, weddings and major church events will be held in the hall. In fact, last weekend’s first communions were to be held in the hall that’s expected to hold about 600 or 700 people.

“It’s going to take some getting used to, our new house of worship,” he said, adding that it’s been disappointing for families who expected to hold their “big family days” inside the historic church. “It’s not the old church and that’s hard.”

Last week, as parishioners still stopped by the church to pray while Snipes prepared to hear confessions, he said he was excited to see the positive attitude in the community, but sad to see changes that make up the character of the church.

“It’s comfortable like an old shoe,” said Snipes. “I won’t be charmed that it’s new-looking and spiffy, but it will charm me to have room for everybody.”

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