A vision of John Thomas Steinbock took an important step toward reality Tuesday with groundbreaking for a new Catholic church in Visalia.
According to project officials, St. Charles Borromeo Church will seat over 3,000 when it opens in spring 2021, making it the largest seating capacity Catholic parish church in the United States. The current largest is the Baltimore Basilica at about 2,000 seats.
The National Shrine in Washington, D.C., seats 10,000.
Steinbock was the fourth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno and served from 1991 until his death in 2010.
At a 2007 event on the same site, Monsignor Raymond Dreiling, the pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Visalia, said Steinbock told him it was his mission to build a church when Dreiling first came to Visalia about four years prior.
Dreiling merged three Visalia parishes – St. Marys’, Holy Family and St. Thomas – to form Good Shepherd Catholic Parish, a key to making the massive church a reality.
Bishops who followed Steinbock, Armando Xavier Ochoa and currently Joseph Vincent Brennan, supported the Visalia vision.
Dreiling said at the 2007 event that he chose to name the church after St. Charles Borromeo to honor the late Monsignor Charles O’Mahony because they share the same first name. O’Mahony had the foresight to purchase the property in 1961, Dreiling said. “Now we’re reaping the benefits of his vision.”
The new church on the corner of Caldwell Avenue and Akers Street in southwest Visalia will have a California Mission-style facade.