DALLAS — When architects set out to rebuild St. Cecilia Catholic Church, they made plans to accommodate more people.
The new sanctuary was designed to hold 1,100 people, compared to the 450 the old church could hold. Still, no one expected the crowds that would show up for its grand re-opening.
"I've never seen this many people," said parishioner Naila Garcia, standing in a line of hundreds that snaked around the building hoping to get a seat inside as the new St. Cecilia opened its doors for the first time.
“I will stand as long as I need to get in there,” she said.
The sanctuary filled to capacity an hour before the church’s Mass of Dedication on Sunday afternoon. Hundreds chose to stand outside in frigid weather and peer through the windows to watch the two-hour celebration.
“I really want to see what it looks like inside,” said parishioner Delia Castillo, who wasn’t willing to wait for another day as she shivered outside listening to loudspeakers broadcast the sermon. “It’s going be my pittance.”
Bishop Kevin Farrell presided over the Rite of Dedication for the new building at 1845 W. Davis Street in Oak Cliff. The ceremony to sanctify the new church included anointing doors and walls with holy oils.
Salvaged relics were back on display, including a statue of the martyred St. Cecilia.
“It kind of revives the Catholicism in us,” said parishioner Genevieve Juarez. “We’re really ready to start again.”
St. Cecilia’s future looked grim in August 2007 when a lightning strike ignited a five-alarm fire. The blaze destroyed the church just hours after the funeral of the mother of the Rev. Edmundo Paredes, the church’s priest.
“I was flabbergasted,” he said. “When I saw the smoke coming from the church, I knew very well it would be devastating.”
Services were soon moved to the church’s gym. The parish lost about 2,000 members, and many began to doubt its future. Yet members never gave up hope; they organized countless fundraisers. Some even sold tacos to help pay for the $8 million construction cost.
“They raised what they could and they continue to do it,” Farrell said.
Still, leaders admit the work is not done. The church still owes close to $2 million on the building.
“Just because we have this nice building, doesn’t mean it’s all over,” Rev. Paredes said.