St. Rita’s Catholic Church blesses Tulare with larger church

(Rigo Moran)

To help with the priest shortage St. Rita’s Catholic Church opens new location in Tulare, hosts dedication ceremony and mass in new cruciform style church

TULARE – Since Father Ivan Hernandez Melchor became the Pastor of St. Rita’s Catholic Church over a decade ago, his congregation has quadrupled in size. His hard work has finally paid off as the new parish he has worked tirelessly to complete has finally been finished.

On Monday May 22, the Diocese of Fresno and the parish of St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Tulare dedicated their new parish church. The church will now be located on  the corner of Bardsley and Morrison Avenues and will have the capacity to hold 1,400 people. The dedication mass was celebrated by the Most Rev. Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno Joseph V. Brennan. He was accompanied by Father Ivan Hernandez Melchor, along with clergy from around the diocese. Hernandez said the journey has been a learning experience and thanks to the people of Tulare, they have made the impossible come true.

“The new church sits about 1,400 people which better represents and suits the growing and dynamic population of the parish,” Brennan said. “This church will not only better serve the parish, but it will also allow the parish to better serve the community while simultaneously putting less stress on the Pastor who can put even more time into the community.”

The new church will be used for weekend services only. Other services including the parish office, weddings, quinceaneras, adoration, confessions and other sacraments will still be held at the old location, unless size does not permit. The new church will bring the amount of masses celebrated each weekend by the Pastor from eight to five, two English and three Spanish. The parish was able to get a temporary occupancy permit for the dedication as well as a few additional masses after. However Hernandez said they are still waiting to hear back for their full occupancy permits to be able to move into the new building full time.

Growing parish

The new parish church has been about 10 years in the making according to Hernandez. He has been the pastor of the parish since 2012, and he said he began this journey not long after he arrived. The current St. Rita’s parish only holds 550 parishioners inside the church. Since Hernandez has come to Tulare, he said the parish has quadrupled in size and he is the only priest at the parish. As a result of the growth, he is currently holding eight masses each weekend, four in English and four in Spanish, while also setting up an additional 500 chairs outside the church with a screen at each mass.

“Being a single priest and celebrating eight weekend masses, in addition to weddings and quinceaneras, on average I will celebrate from nine to 12 masses on a single weekend,” Hernandez said. “And it is extremely tiring.”

Through his eight masses, Hernandez does have the help from four ordained deacons, who are married men who have been ordained to serve the church. They are able to take some weight off his shoulders, but they are not priests so the pastor still has to do the majority of the work.

The challenge brought on by lack of capacity, is not easily accompanied with the shortage of priests throughout the Catholic church as a nation. Due to the shortage, the diocese is unable to send Hernandez any additional help. According to Canon Law priests should not celebrate more than three masses in a day; however in certain circumstances, like this one, it is necessary. The diocese of Fresno public information officer Chandler Marquez said Hernandez has been nothing but amazing to the people of Tulare.

“This project was very long overdue, even before [Father Ivan] got there back in 2012. It really didn’t start to become a reality until he got there and made it happen,” Marquez said. “He’s literally in there with the construction workers doing construction on the church, fundraising every second he gets.”

The building

The parish began the building process of the new church before the pandemic and it was budgeted at $8.2 million. However, in the middle of the pandemic, their projected number jumped to $10.7 million. Hernandez said that is a big difference for them considering they have raised all the funds themselves. He said it has taken the church six years to raise $8.5 million so they will have to continue to raise more funds even now.

Hernandez has raised the majority of the money for the church on his own. He said he is incredibly grateful for the community of Tulare because without them, this would not have been possible. Twenty percent of fundraising efforts have come from a variety of events hosted by the church throughout the years. They have hosted Cinco de Mayo events, different galla events and even auctioned off livestock.

The remaining 80% has come from the church’s capital campaign. Hernandez said the parish invited families to donate over the span of several years however much they were willing.

“Although our capital campaign was only a five year process, it has extended to seven, and a lot of families, like a lot of families, have already fulfilled the pledge, but they’re willing to continue to give money towards the building,” Hernandes said.

As for the design of the building, Hernandez said they had a committee, but the ultimate vote was left up to the parishioners. The committee narrowed the choices and individuals were able to vote between an auditorium style, cathedral style or the mission style cruciform style, which they ultimately chose.

According to a press release from the diocese, the diocese and the parish is thankful to the community of Tulare for all of its support because in 2012 when the building project began, it was met with criticism and doubt. The Parish which is named after St. Rita of Cascia, Patron Saint of the impossible, is happy to see the impossible happen. Marquez said Hernandez has made all of this happen and the community is grateful for him.

“When you talk to the community members, the first thing they’ll tell you is that they’ll do anything for Father Ivan and St. Rita’s because he’s willing to do anything for the parish,” Marquez said. “He’s not just sitting back and calling the shots and that’s not something you see on these building projects throughout any diocese really throughout the nation.”

Start typing and press Enter to search