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Parish History

The St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Community has come a long way from its inception, from a small Mission in Litchfield Park to one of the largest parishes in the Diocese of Phoenix.

St. Thomas Aquinas mission church was the first church in Litchfield Park. Originally, mass was celebrated in the home of Frank and Sara Serrano.

The Serrano’s ran the General Store and Postal Service for the Southwest Cotton Company, whose President was Mr. Paul W. Litchfield.


The Serrano’s worked with Mr. Litchfield in finding property, and Mr. Litchfield hired Architect R. D. Johnson to design the Mission Church. Tom Doyle and Frank Cullen Brophy were instrumental in financing and facilitating the building of the church.


 

Bishop Gercke of the Diocese of Tucson named the Mission Church St. Thomas Aquinas in honor of Tom Doyle’s contribution. From 1925-1956 several parishes were responsible for the Mission, with St. John Vianney taking over in 1954


In 1956 Bishop Gercke of the Tucson Diocese formed a new parish of Avondale, Goodyear and Litchfield Park. Fr. Francis Murphy was assigned to the Parish, with Masses held in St. Thomas Aquinas Mission Church and Avondale Elementary School.


When the Diocese of Phoenix was established, the Mission Church joined the Diocese under Bishop McCarthy. It could only seat 125 and was too small for the 300 attending families, in 1973, Fr. Phil Reiser, the Pastor of St. John Vianney in Goodyear, negotiated the purchase of the 3.7 acres of land.


In 1975, St. Thomas Aquinas became a separate parish from St. John Vianney. Fr. Eamon Barden was the first Pastor of the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. In 1976, under Fr. Barden’s leadership, the Activity Center was built on the new church site, with Paul Mahoney chairing the building committee.


 

In 1978, Fr. John Hillman replaced Fr. Barden as our Pastor. Fr. Hillman added the Rectory to the new church site. In 1980, Fr. Hillman died, and Fr. Thomas Hever was named Pastor. It was while Fr. Hever was Pastor that the Mission Church was finally sold on November 30, 1983 to the Litchfield School District #79 for $120,000.


The Men’s Club auctioned the pews, statues and even the church bell to raise money to build the new church. Masses were being held in the Activity Center at the new church site. The first Mass was marked by a historic procession carrying the Blessed Sacrament from the old Mission church to the new church.


The church of St. Thomas Aquinas was dedicated on February 23, 1986 with Bishop Thomas O’Brien and Fr. Tom Hever officiating. The new church seated 725 people and had a separate chapel.


In 1999, they closed a 37 ½ acre parcel of land on Litchfield and Thomas Rd. 15 acres was designated as the current parish. In early 2000, a building committee convened to plan the current church building.


St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church (current day: circa 2021)


 

St. Thomas Aquinas - Full Parish History

St. Thomas Aquinas Mission Church was the first church in Litchfield Park. Originally, Mass was celebrated in the home of Frank and Sara Serrano. The Serranos ran the General Store and Postal Service for the Southwest Cotton Company, whose President was Mr. Paul W. Litchfield. The Serrano’s worked with Mr. Litchfield in finding property, and Mr. Litchfield hired Architect R. D. Johnson of   Pasadena, California to design the Mission Church. A local cattle rancher, Tom Doyle, and his friend Frank Cullen Brophy were instrumental in financing and facilitating the building of the church. It was built primarily for the Mexican farmworkers of the Southwest Cotton Company.  Bishop Gercke of the Diocese of Tucson named the Mission Church St. Thomas Aquinas in honor of Tom Doyle’s contribution. 

In 1918, Mr. Litchfield sold the land to the Diocese of Tucson for $1.00. According to the deed, the construction of the church was completed in October of 1923, even though the cornerstone reads 1919.  Records indicate that the building was sold by the Southwest Cotton Company to the Diocese of Tucson at a completed cost of $2,829.35.

From 1925-1956 several parishes were responsible for the Mission, with St. John Vianney taking over in 1954.

In 1956 Bishop Gercke of the Tucson Diocese formed a new parish of Avondale, Goodyear, and Litchfield Park.  Fr. Francis Murphy was assigned to the Parish, with Masses held in St. Thomas Aquinas Mission Church and Avondale Elementary School.

In 1969, when the Diocese of Phoenix was established, the Mission Church became part of the Phoenix Diocese under Bishop McCarthy.  As the Mission Church could only seat 125 parishioners and was too small for the 300 families that attended the church, in 1973, Fr. Phil Reiser, the Pastor of St. John Vianney in Goodyear, negotiated the purchase of the 3.7 acres of land, at Litchfield and Indian School Raod, where the second St. Thomas Aquinas Church was to be located. At the time the land was purchased the local fire station was located on the property. 

In 1975, St. Thomas Aquinas became a separate parish from St. John Vianney. Fr. Eamon Barden was the first Pastor of the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. In 1976, under Fr. Barden’s leadership, the Activity Center was built on the new church site, with Paul Mahoney chairing the building committee. This was the first building in Litchfield Park that could seat 200 people and had kitchen facilities. In 1978, Fr. John Hillman replaced Fr. Barden as our Pastor.  Fr. Hillman added the Rectory to the new church site.  In 1980, Fr. Hillman died, and Fr. Thomas Hever was named Pastor.  It was while Fr. Hever was Pastor that the Mission Church was finally sold on November 30, 1983, to the Litchfield School District #79 for a sum of $120,000.  This action came ten years after Fr. Reiser’s initial negotiations started in 1973. The Men’s Club auctioned the pews, statues, and even the church bell to raise money to build the new church.  Masses were being held in the Activity Center at the new church site.  The first Mass was marked by a historic procession carrying the Blessed Sacrament from the old Mission church to the new church.  

In 1983, Father Hever and the Parish Council formed a building committee that was chaired by Dick Barton. Phoenix Architects Jones and Roberts were selected to build the new church.  Work began in April of 1985 and the new church was completed in December of 1985 at a cost of over one million dollars for the building and furnishings. The church of St. Thomas Aquinas was dedicated on February 23, 1986, with Bishop Thomas O’Brien and Fr. Tom Hever officiating.

The new church seated 725 people and has a separate chapel.  It has original artwork as the stone wall statues were sculpted by Michael Myers of Prescott.  The statues and stained glass in the church were all designed by Maureen McGuire of Scottsdale.  Dave Jones, the architect, designed the altar to symbolize granite rock rising out of the floor as a sacrificial altar in the Old Testament and the wooden table on top symbolizing the Last Supper in the New Testament.  The Stations of the Cross from the old church were placed in the chapel.

With the completion of the I-10 Interstate and the sale of the area around    Litchfield Park to Pinnacle West, a local developer, the little village of Litchfield Park changed immensely, and became a City in 1987.  With all of the new housing areas and new commercial development surrounding Litchfield Park, the church population grew from the 300 families at the old church to over 1300 families.

In November of 1996, a  fundraising drive was held to retire the church debt and remodel the Aquinas Center and add two additional RE classrooms. The current rectory was made into Parish offices.  A new rectory was purchased two blocks from the church at 355 East Ancora Dr. in LP. 

On October 21, 1999, the Diocese of Phoenix closed on the purchase of a 37 ½ acre parcel of land east of Litchfield and north of Thomas Road. Fifteen acres of this property were designated as the current site of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and School.  The remainder of the property was held for a west side Diocesan Catholic High School. St. Thomas Aquinas held its 25th Anniversary as a Parish in the year 2000. 

During late 1999 and early 2000, a building committee made up of a variety of people of all age groups, convened to plan the current church building. A noted architect gave a series of lectures for the parish on types of Southwest Missions, and the committee organized a series of Parish pilgrimages to see Spanish missions from Santa Fe to Taos and into California.

A second committee was formed which was a School Steering Committee.  This committee helped to ensure St. Thomas Aquinas would have a grade school. 

The parish voted on the final plan in April of 2000. A Mission-style church with arches, arcaded walks, a dome, a bell tower, and doors made of wood. The parish voted overwhelmingly that the church be built in a cruciform shape and that it be a landmark for the West Valley. The needs assessment called for a church that seated 1600 people by Diocesan standards (2000 people by Building Code Standard).

In May of 2000, CCBG became the architects for this new project. Paul Ladensack, a graduate of Brophy High School and ASU, was assigned to be the architect. The contractors Adolphson and Peterson came on board in the late spring of 2001 to assist with the design and development phase.  With the Bishop’s approval, the project was allowed to proceed, and the new cornerstone was placed in 2002. 

Today St. Thomas Aquinas has 4,200 families from all over the world and is one of the largest Catholic Churches in Arizona.

Our new neighbor, Pope John Paul II High School was dedicated on January 27, 2017, and opened in the fall of 2018.