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June 10, 2024

St. Patrick's Dilemma

By Alexandra Queen

Bird song floats through the air in the prayer garden beside St. Patrick's Church, creating a meditative air, perfect for contemplative prayer. Perfect, that is, except for the roaring of the eighteen-wheelers, blasting by at speeds in excess of 55 MPH every few seconds.

St. Patrick's Catholic Church is facing a dilemma. Sunday Masses are packed to overflowing every week, with standing room only at most services. Plans to expand the St. Patrick's Church and Hwy 120church to accommodate increasing numbers have to work around one important factor: Caltrans and Highway 120. The busy, two-lane highway is just a short distance from the steps of the Church, creating a noisy, potentially dangerous nuisance. To make things worse, as if conditions aren't crowded enough in the church and the parking lot on Sundays, the county wants to bring the highway even closer.

CalTrans would like to widen Highway 120, taking an additional 28 feet from the front of the property to create extra lanes, plus turning lanes and improved access from Carrolton Road to the highway. That would put the highway virtually on the front doorstep of the church, decreasing parking and adding to the noise issue. Bounded on two sides already by a cemetery, giving up land for the highway would limit further the directions in which the overcrowded church could expand.

What's a parish to do?

Many options have been placed on the drawing board, from expanding and renovating the current building, to building two new churches -- one in Escalon and one in Ripon. "Town hall meetings" and surveys of parishioners have yielded suggestions like asking Caltrans to build a sound wall and switching the current building's entrance to the rear to face away from the busy road. An offer was made to donate two acres in Escalon for a new church, with the suggestion that the current building be used to house a religious order or a parochial school. But surveys show that the majority of parishioners don't want to split or move St. Patrick's. And many feel that remodeling the little building just isn't a wise allocation of resources, given the growth of the parish and concerns about the future expansion of Hwy 120.

One solution seems to meet most of the parish's concerns: it might be possible to purchase some of the orchard land behind the church and build a new facility there. A larger church could be built, with enough room for a future parochial school. The old church building could then be kept as a historical site and used for smaller, more intimate gatherings, such as weddings, funerals and retreats. It's an option that seems ideal for keeping the parish together, planning for safety and future growth, and for taking into consideration the sentimental and historical value of the current building. But it's also a tremendously expensive option, and raising money is never easy.

Still in an informal planning phase, St. Patrick's is blueprintgathering the facts it needs to make a decision. Drawing on the architectural and engineering expertise of several parishioners, ideas are being drawn up for both a brand new church building and a renovation of the existing site to try to get a more accurate picture of both options before costly formal studies are done. Since Caltrans took a deposition from the parish on the impact they felt the expansion would have, nothing more has been heard on what will be done with the road. The pastor, Rev. Peter Carota, feels that any changes with the church building are still two to three years away.

In the mean time, however, attendance at Sunday Mass is still increasing. And that means that until something can be done to add more room, Fr. Carota may have to add more services. In addition to the Mass Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and services Sundays at 8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., Fr. Carota tentatively plans to add a second Spanish Mass Sunday evenings.

"Most people think that the Catholic faith is dying," Carota commented, "but that certainly isn't the case here."

This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-01-17
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