Desert jewel: multi-million Casa project to feature global materials

An artist's rendering of the Franciscan Renewal Center's new church building. (submitted photo)

An artist’s rendering of the Franciscan Renewal Center’s new church building. (submitted photo)

In the past 10 years, the Paradise Valley-based Franciscan Renewal Center has experienced a steady increase in its Sunday mass attendance resulting in nearly three times the growth.

The current church seats 300 individuals, which means mass attendance often spills out into the lobby and onto the lawn and patio, according to church officials.

In response, the Paradise Valley center, 5802 E. Lincoln Drive, is now in the midst of a two-part construction project.

Phase I was a $20 million fundraising goal to construct a new church, community life center, guest rooms and renovated guest rooms; renovate the kitchen; improve underground infrastructure, parking and landscaping and grow the endowment fund for future maintenance.
Phase II is expected to include a Center for Healing and Transformation.

On Jan. 3, Franciscan Friars from the Province of St. Barbara in Oakland, Calif., The Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix and about 400 community members gathered to celebrate the Casa’s new ground breaking.

Since 1951, the Franciscan Renewal Center — affectionately known as the “Casa de Paz y Bien” or simply “the Casa” — has existed as a Catholic retreat center in Paradise Valley, to offer spiritual growth, healing and transformation that moves lives into the service of others.

The newly constructed Church of Our Lady of the Angels at the Franciscan Renewal Center will sit adjacent to the existing church. It is planned to be 17,050 square feet with 600 fixed seats and flexible seating for an additional 200. It is estimated to cost about $8.5 million.

The Casa successfully completed its Renewing Lives Capital Fundraising Campaign in August 2015. A new 32-room guest lodge was completed in March 2015 in addition to the recent remodeling of existing guest rooms and the renovation of the pool, barbecue area and courtyard.

Additionally, plans call for parking improvements, a new entry court and xeriscape landscaping, according to the Casa’s website.

The Casa’s General Manager, Charlie Brown, has high hopes for the project, as it has a number of special features.

“This building is being built to stand for two to three centuries,” said Mr. Brown in an Aug. 22 phone interview. “We had that in mind with the architect, and with the builder we chose. This is a building that’s going to win awards.”

While there isn’t an opening date set-in-stone, Mr. Brown expects it to have a grand opening sometime in summer 2017.

“We’re pretty much right on schedule, and we’re telling folks that sometime next summer we’ll have our church ready and that’s all we can really say right now.”

Relief sculpture, titled "The Incarnation" by Deborah Luke. (submitted photo)

Relief sculpture, titled “The Incarnation” by Deborah Luke. (submitted photo)

The oval-shaped building will feature a number of unique features, including stained glass from across the world.

“There’s an incredible amount of steel, and all of the stained glass is coming from Germany,” said Mr. Brown. “It is being hand-blown and made by one of the finest stained glass producers that has been doing this for centuries through their family.”

The stained glass will be flown in sometime next year. Additionally, the church will feature woven straw throughout the church, wood work and alter, with a number of sculptures throughout the property.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of folks that are going to find this place very special,” he said.

The Casa sits on five acres of town property and 20 acres of Maricopa County property, which has made for a great partnership. The Franciscans are deeply interested in relationship, and took their time telling their story — which Mr. Brown believes helps with projects like this one.

“We just take our time to tell our story and what it is we want to do, and both government entities have been able to work together very well to ensure they’re not the reason progress isn’t getting done on this project,” he said.

“And, I just find that so rare in today’s society, that it’s really something I think we should celebrate because I think it gives us all hope that things like this can get done.”

The town’s portion, approximately 4.7 acres according to Paradise Valley Community Development Director, Eva Cutro, has plans to be the parking lot, among other things.

“They’ve been wonderful to work with,” said Ms. Cutro on Aug. 31. “Right now they’ve given us a parking plan, a plan for an air conditioning chilling stations and things of that nature but the main part is in the county.”

The Casa was founded by and is today an active religious community of the Order of Friars Minor — part of the worldwide Franciscan family, following in the footsteps of Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi. The Casa is a wholly owned entity of the Franciscan Friars Province of Saint Barbara, based in Oakland, Calif., that works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.

“The Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Angels is designed as a place for worship within the broader mission and ministry of the Franciscan Renewal Center,” Mr. Brown said. “In its art and architecture, the new church builds upon and expands the hospitality and welcome that has long marked the community of the Casa.”

News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at or follow her on Twitter at

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