HANDLER – Twenty years after its founding, Bishop Joseph E. Strickland raised St. Boniface Church in Chandler from a mission of St. Edward Church in Athens to a parish in its own right.

Bishop Strickland installs Father Paul Key as first pastor of St. Boniface Church at the June 25 Mass celebrating the former mission’s elevation to a parish.

He also named Father Paul Key, who had been serving as priest-in-charge, as the new parish’s first pastor.

Bishop Strickland celebrated the milestones with St. Boniface parishioners at a June 25 Mass, during which the official decree of erection was read and Father Key was formally installed as pastor.

The bishop paid tribute to “the work of many years by many people, priests and laity, collaborating to bring us to this day,” and played on the new parish’s name to congratulate those present for what they had accomplished over the past two decades.

“Boniface means ‘well done,’ and that is truly what we celebrate with this beautiful community of St. Boniface here in Chandler this morning,” Bishop Strickland said. “Bonum facere. Well done.”

St. Boniface was founded in March 1997, when then Bishop Edmond Carmody met with a group of people in the Chandler Community Center to explore the possibility of establishing a church there. The first Mass was celebrated on April 5 in the Community Center. Subsequent Masses were celebrated in the First United Methodist Church of Chandler, then in the volunteer fire station.

Sisters Conradita Sanchez and Casimira “Kay” Chavez donated two and a half acres of land for a church in the memory of their father, Bonifacio Sanchez. The ground was broken on Nov. 16, 1997, and the new church dedicated on June 7, 1998.

A Spanish-language Mass was added in 2007 by Father Jesse Arroyave, then priest-in-charge, contributing to the church’s growth.

Father Key was named priest-in-charge on Aug. 1, 2016. Under his tenure, the community of St. Boniface has concentrated on improving and expanding faith formation. Currently, there are some 80 children registered in faith formation. The parish has Anglo and Hispanic youth groups and three adult faith formation classes.

It participates in God’s Open Hands, Chandler’s community food pantry.

St. Boniface is a parish of about 140 families in a town of fewer than 3,000 people. Despite its small size, though, Bishop Strickland said, St. Boniface is part of something much, much larger.

“We are here celebrating the Church of the world in this small town in Texas, because when a parish is established, that is what is happening,” he said. “The Church is present in all her beauty, with all her challenges, with all the grace that flows from the sacraments, the word of God, and the teachings of our beautiful Catholic faith.”

But that Church does not merely exist within the walls of St. Boniface, Bishop Strickland said as he thanked two special guests for attending the Mass.

“I want to welcome Mayor Libby Fulgham and City Councilwoman Janeice Lunsford,” he said. “We’re so blessed to have you here, because it is our perspective, as a Catholic community, that these walls do not contain what St. Boniface is about. It’s our mission to support and work with you. This building is here to help us pray and to draw closer to Christ, but our work is beyond these walls, to live as his body in the community of Chandler, in our neighborhoods, and in all that we do.”

Bishop Strickland kneels to talk with “the most important people” at the Mass celebrating St. Boniface’s elevation to a parish.

In a familiar practice, Bishop Strickland began his homily by calling up the children of the parish to join him before the altar. As a good number of children gathered around him, he shared with them a secret.

Bending down to meet the children at their level, he said, “I wanted to talk to you because,” he dropped his voice into a stage whisper, “don’t tell anybody else, but you’re the most important people here.”

The children laughed, but the bishop, raising his voice again to be heard by all, continued to explain. “We’re building for your future. Twenty years ago, a different bishop, a different priest, but a lot of the same people began to do good work here. Bonum facere.Well done. Bien hecho,” he said, addressing the parish’s large Hispanic population. “We need to thank your parents, your grandparents, the adults here who’ve worked with the priests for 20 years.”

But, he told the children, neither that work nor the church belong to adults alone.

“I’d encourage you to come and visit here whenever you can. Come and pray whenever you can. Father Paul would welcome you. And, absolutely, come (to Mass) every Sunday, not just when there are no good sports going on or when you’re bored. Come every Sunday. We need to pray, and we need you.

“Remember,” Bishop Strickland told the young members of his flock, “20 years from now, I’m going to come check and make sure you’re doing your job. We’re just getting started as a parish, as a local Church, to do all the good things that Father Paul is working with you to do. Bonum facere. Bien hecho. Well done.”

After sending the children back to their seats, Bishop Strickland turned his attention and his homily to the adults, many of whom had shepherded St. Boniface from its first days as a small mission to its new status as a parish.

“What a glorious day for this community!” he said. “And I want to emphasize that, yes, this is a relatively small building. There are a lot of bigger churches, maybe even here in Chandler. But this is a church. We are celebrating being a local Church, a parish community, like every parish in the world. Great huge parishes, tiny small parishes, we all have the same mission: to proclaim Jesus Christ, to live the sacraments, to live the Word of God, to seek forgiveness in confession, to be reconciled with each other.

Father Paul Key hugs Casimira “Kay” Chavez. Chavez and her sister, Conradita Sanchez, donated the land on which St. Boniface Church sits in memory of their father, Bonifacio Sanchez.

In his homily, he drew from the words of Jeremiah in the first reading of the Mass: “Terror on every side.”

“That word of God for this 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time reminds us of what the Church has always faced, what Jesus faced on the cross, what this cross is here to remind us,” Bishop Strickland said, gesturing toward the crucifix on the wall behind the altar. “This ‘terror on every side’ is the reason the Son of God, the Lord of the universe, died on the cross. There was terror and death and ugliness and hatred, all that flows from Satan and darkness. It was real 2,000 years ago, and it is real today. But the Church is here, flowing from the pierced side of Christ himself, to allow us to overcome the terror. This community exists to offer the life that Christ brings, just as his body offered life to the world when he died on the cross and, three days later, rose from the dead.”

That darkness exists even in small-town East Texas.

“We have to recognize that right here, in this small community of Chandler, all the brokenness of the world invades. Don’t fool yourselves (by saying), ‘Oh, it doesn’t happen here.’ It happens wherever the people of God are.”

Against that evil stands the Church, in the world and in Chandler.

“We never despair,” Bishop Strickland said, “we never say all is lost. We simply acknowledge the terror and say, ‘We have the Light.’ We must be a community of prayer, the Body of Christ in the light and sharing that light.

“This is a place of life, a place of evangelization,” he said of St. Boniface. “What does that fancy word mean? To bring the Good News, to bring the Gospel.”

That, he said, is why he loves to call up the children during Masses.

“We must always be aware that we are future people,” he said. “We are always looking toward the Lord and moving forward. Yes, we’ve sinned. Yes, we’ve been broken, we’ve made mistakes. I have, we all have. That is our reality. But we look forward and seek to live the light of Christ more deeply.

“So let us continue this celebration with joy that (St. Boniface) is now a parish, established by the grace of God to do the work that the Church has always done – to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ.”