Catholic churches in the San Bernadino diocese have been empty or partially filled for more than a year but that hasn’t stopped two parishes from moving forward in their journey to build a new house of worship.

St. Frances of Rome parish in Wildomar and St. Mary parish in Fontana are scheduled to break ground on new churches in the summer and fall, respectively. Although parish life has been upended by Covid-19, the pastors of both parishes say their faith communities continued to plan and fundraise toward their church projects.

“The people have been really focused and excited,” said Father James Oropel, Pastor of St. Frances of Rome.

The Wildomar parish, which currently celebrates its Masses in a multi-purpose building, plans to construct an 18,000 square foot church building with a seating capacity of 1,200. Plans also call for additional parking improvements and a decorative wall at the entrance of the church that houses the parish’s historic bell. David Meier, director of the diocesan office of construction and real estate, said he hopes to begin grading work at the site in June. Fr. Oropel admits his parish is anxious to get clearance to begin the earth moving phase. “People can’t wait to get that [grading] permit.”

St. Mary’s is also building a 1,200-seat church and adding parking improvements. Father Al Utzig, pastor, said pandemic-related delays have somewhat dampened enthusiasm for the new church.

“It’s lying idle,” he says. “But people will be excited when the earth starts moving.”

The pandemic has slowed the land use entitlement process for new church projects as most city planners are working remotely and unable to have critical in-person meetings. “You have to look at [building] plans. It’s hard to do that in a Zoom meeting,” Meier says. The economic impacts of Covid-19 have also led to a significant increase in the cost of building materials, Meier said, driving up the overall project cost.

When the pandemic forced closure of churches in the diocese in March of 2020, St. Frances of Rome suspended the fundraising campaign for the $8.5 million new church, but they continued to take a second collection at Mass throughout the year to benefit the project. St. Mary’s has also continued to take a second collection to benefit its new church project, Fr. Utzig said.

When the people see construction begin it will “give us life,” says Fr. Oropel.

“This church is a dedicated place. It’s a place to encounter the divine,” he says. “That’s what we look forward to.”

The above comes from a May 7 story in the Inland Catholic Byte.