Only some finishing touches remain before the new St. Anthony Catholic Church in Reedley opens its doors to parishioners. "We're very excited," said Monsignor John Esquivel. "The people are very excited, in fact, they want to start this Sunday because they come and look and say, 'it looks finished to us.'"
Monsignor John Esquivel has overseen the planning and construction of the $3 million mission-style sanctuary since 2007. The 18,000 square foot church was built in large part to meet the demands of a congregation that has outgrown the original building. "The old church is a beautiful church but it's really small and the town has grown tremendously. When it was built there were only 26 families," said Esquivel.
The old church, built in 1906 with stones from nearby hills, seats less than 200 people whereas the new church will hold close to 900. The church will remain open and be used for daily mass but several relics will be transferred over to the new facility. "We're taking the statue of St. Joseph and Our Lady, the blessed Virgin from the old church and they're going to go into these two niches," said Jim McGahan, chairman of the project's design committee.
When construction broke grown in September of 2010, then Fresno Bishop John Steinbock blessed the groundbreaking -- marking one of his final public acts before his death. But now incoming Bishop Armando Ochoa will formally open the church after he takes helm of the Fresno Diocese. "One of very first public acts of our new Bishop is going to be blessing the church, so we're blessed - both with concluding with one Bishop and starting with the next one," said Esquivel.
With the first phase of the project almost complete, leaders hope to gather more donations to expand the church even more, and open a chapel.
Bishop Ochoa will lead the dedication ceremony for the new church on Thursday, March 8th at 7PM. Ochoa officially takes the helm of the diocese on February 2nd.