The Drama of a New Church

KolkataJohn Feister of Glenmary’s communication’s team was privileged to cover the dedication of the new St. Teresa of Kolkata Church in Maynardville, Tenn.

It was about a 6-hour drive from Cincinnati, Ohio to Maynardsville, Tenn., but it was worth every minute of it. We had come to the dedication of St. Teresa of Kolkata church, in the Appalachian mountains, the newest church in the Diocese of Knoxville.

I’m the assistant editor for Glenmary Challenge magazine; I showed up a day early to pursue some local stories, shoot some photos, and get a feel for this area where Glenmary has developed a formal Catholic presence. It’s the area’s first.

That presence all started about 8 years ago when the first Glenmarians arrived. Father Steve Pawelk, Brothers Craig Digmann and Joe Steen established themselves in the area. When Father Steve first made his presence known, a local community of Catholics started to come together.

Catholics are spread all through our country, though less so in some areas than others. In areas where there is no church, Catholics either fall away or make the effort to drive to Mass many miles away, sometimes half an hour, an hour, or even further.

So local Catholics were delighted when Glenmary came to town. The community celebrated its first Mass in a carport at Father Steve’s house; eventually they established themselves in a storefront on the main highway going through town. The mission grew rapidly, especially as the local Hispanic community started to come.

Like Europeans of yesteryear, these families came to the United States seeking a better life. Like European immigrants, they followed the jobs. That meant, for these families, east Tennessee. Most have been established in the area for many years, and now are U.S. citizens. Their Catholic roots run deep.

So imagine the excitement of having a new building to replace the storefront church!

A Festive Weekend

Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville had requested that the parish choose either St. Teresa of Kolkata or St. John Paul II, two of the Church’s newest saints, as patron. This community has worshiped these 8 years under the patronage of St. Teresa.

When Bishop Stika pulled up the unfinished driveway to the new, beautiful (and big, by Glenmary standards) church on Saturday, Feb. 2, the place had been humming for several days with last-minute details. The Mercado family, professional bricklayers, were working on the church sign out by the highway. Parishioner Martin Shafer was putting up a temporary banner to make the deadline after a section of the permanent sign needed repair. Another parishioner was a professional floor layer. You get the picture. “The community came together and made this happen”—Father Steve said that again and again over the dedication weekend.

Glenmary Brother Joe Steen, a master woodworker, had received unused pews from the former cathedral in Knoxville and planed the wood into material for a hardwood sanctuary floor, an altar, and a permanent home for the tabernacle which would hold the Blessed Sacrament.

The event was unforgettable. The Knights of Columbus were there with colorful feathered hats; next to them were the Hispanic dancers, with feathers of their own, tall peacock feathers!

In the midst of the gathered crowd, Bishop Stika ceremoniously knocked on the locked church doors; Father Steve turned the key and opened it. The people processed in as the choir sang the contemporary song “All Are Welcome.” There were young and old, retirees who have settled in the area as well as longtime local residents. Maybe more than half of the community are Hispanic—it was a bicultural event.

Jesus would be visibly present here, in the gathered assembly, in the Word proclaimed, and in the Bread and Wine, broken and shared as Holy Communion.

As a local Catholic community, what more could you ask for? Says Father Steve, “To watch the community grow and change and develop and take ownership for this! It’s amazing!”

To learn more about the dedication rituals and celebratory weekend, read “St. Teresa of Kolkata: A Church at Last” in the Glenmary Challenge magazine HERE.



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