Parishes, members join Catholic Foundation

Organization funds seminarian education, church land purchases

By Dan McWilliams

The Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee’s aims are to provide money for seminarian education and for property purchases in the diocese, and a beneficiary of each goal spoke to CFET members at the group’s annual dinner Oct. 14.

A larger-than-expected group of 127 attended the dinner, including Bishop Richard F. Stika, Cardinal Justin Rigali, numerous priests, deacons, and CFET members and guests. The cardinal gave the evening’s invocation.

During the event, Bishop Stika presented the diocese’s third Immaculata Award to CFET member Bill Swain.

Glenmary Father Tom Charters of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Mission in Erwin and diocesan seminarian Deacon Christopher Manning were the guest speakers.

The dinner was the first for John Deinhart, the director of both CFET and the diocese’s Office of Stewardship and Strategic Planning, who joined the Chancery last spring.

Mr. Deinhart called CFET “our best-kept secret.”

“It really is. I’d never really heard of it before. It’s by far the best-kept secret in the diocese,” he said.

The foundation’s total contributions reach well into the seven-figure range.

“With your continual support, the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee has distributed over $2.5 million since its inception,” Mr. Deinhart said. “Since 1988 when the diocese was formed, we have purchased 12 pieces of property on which parishes have been built, and we have had 40 priests ordained in this diocese since 1988.”

CFET money helps support seminarian education, a tall order in the Diocese of Knoxville with its high number of men studying for the priesthood.

“Does anybody have a rough figure of what it costs to send a man to the seminary? It’s about $45,000 per year,” said Mr. Deinhart. “With 19 seminarians, it’s about $850,000 annually.”

Mr. Deinhart announced that five parishes have joined CFET in the last year. They are Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Cleveland, St. Joseph the Worker in Madisonville, St. Dominic in Kingsport, and St. Bridget in Dayton.

“We also had 17 new families become members of the Catholic Foundation,” said Mr. Deinhart. “That’s nearly 20 percent growth in the last five or six months. That is dynamic. That’s what we’re going to need to see.”

Mr. Deinhart introduced Father Charters by imparting some news that has made the St. Michael the Archangel community happy.

“I’m pleased to say that the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee just purchased 15 acres in Unicoi County, a beautiful piece of property,” he said. “It’s going to be the future home of St. Michael the Archangel Parish.”

Father Charters opened by thanking CFET for the land purchase, which amounted to $249,600.

“Without that, we couldn’t have the property,” said the Glenmary priest. “It was a real surprise and a blessing. We were shocked. Totally. We thought, ‘How long would it be before we could get the money together?’”

Father Charters’ stops in his Glenmary service included parishes in Western Kentucky, Texas, Arkansas, and West Virginia before he came to Unicoi County in East Tennessee.

“Somebody asked me, ‘How can you go into a place you’ve never been? It must be threatening.’ I said, ‘You put an ad in the paper and you ask if there are any Catholics and [for them] to come to a meeting.’ And that’s what I did.”

An ad in the Erwin newspaper announced an initial meeting of the Catholic community at the local senior center.

“I expected there would be maybe 15 people, and 43 people showed up,” said Father Charters. “I didn’t know what to do with such a big crowd because half of them didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish.”

Eventually the community secured the Elks Club as a place for Mass.

“We started basically with 37 people, and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven to have so many people at Mass. You think I’m kidding— I’m not. In our Glenmary missions, when I was in Morgantown, Ky., the Sunday collection was $19 and we had 20 people, and I thought, wow, they’ve got a collection over $200 [in the Unicoi community] and they haven’t even gotten a church.”

The numbers have grown, Father Charters said, referring to members and guests.

“We are averaging 70 on Sunday now. We had 82 last week, and people are enthusiastic. They are evangelizing. You talk about New Evangelization—it’s happening right now in Unicoi. They are reaching out. I see these people and I say, ‘Who are these people?’ They say, ‘Oh, they’re my neighbors. I invited them over for church.’ ‘Who are these people?’ ‘Oh, they’re some people we met. We thought they’d like to come.’ They are reaching out.”

Deacon Manning is a young man but has seen much change in the diocese as a 23-year parishioner of Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“During all these years, I have seen the growth that has occurred in this diocese, and much of it is thanks to you and the Catholic Foundation,” he said.

Deacon Manning attends Mundelein Seminary near Chicago and said he has noticed a difference between the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Knoxville.

“In Chicago I’ve seen the churches struggle with having to close parishes and struggle to find priests to celebrate Masses,” he said. “We [in the Diocese of Knoxville] struggle to pay seminarian tuitions and build new parishes. It is in facing these problems that you so graciously stepped in.

“Before I came into town this weekend, many of my classmates asked me, ‘What exactly does the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee do?’ My response was a simple one: ‘They care about the future of the diocese and the future of the Church.’ You are the ones who have helped make our continued growth possible.”

Deacon Manning described the ways in which CFET funds have helped him.

“Your monetary donations, but more importantly your support and prayers, have encouraged me in my studies. Practically speaking, your donations have helped to cover things like tuition, insurance, and books, but it means much more to me and to my fellow seminarians. For us it’s a connection to the diocese we love and yet must leave for parts of the year.”

Two of CFET’s most long-standing members, John and Betsy O’Connor, and newest members Mike and Barb Stahl presented Bishop Stika with a check from the foundation for $20,000 to be used for seminarian education.

In his closing remarks, Bishop Stika described some of his travels throughout the diocese.

“I see the results of all this,” he said. “Since I’ve been in Knoxville, a little over three years, I think I’ve dedicated or blessed three new churches, a number of parish halls, and a columbarium. I blessed a football field at Knoxville Catholic, so in a real way on a weekly basis, I see all the profound results of things like the Catholic Foundation.”

The bishop said the that the diocese has “accomplished a great deal” in its almost 25-year existence, as seen by the number of priests, seminarians, and parish building projects.

“It’s all because of the goodness of people just like yourselves and all the people you represent this evening. So in a very special way I want to thank you for all that you do because without you, the Church of Knoxville would have very great difficulties,” he said.

Bishop Stika concluded the evening by presenting the Immaculata Award to Mr. Swain, who has served on the Diocesan Finance Council, worked with Catholic Charities, and served as president of a bank. Mr. Swain, attending with wife Tomilee, has been involved with the Diocese of Knoxville since its earliest days.

“He has a wonderful wife and is just a sterling member of the community,” Bishop Stika said.

Membership in the Catholic Foundation requires a “significant personal investment,” Mr. Deinhart said.

“Why should we give? We should give for gratitude,” he said. “Because we’re grateful for what God has blessed us with.”


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