Popes, bishops, priests, deacons, brothers, sisters and laypeople all ‘give dimension to this Church of ours’
The month of January, traditionally our coldest month of the year, was the last month to have her calendar filled from New Year’s Day until the feast of St. John Bosco (the 31st). The liturgical calendar for the first few days, anyway, were “only” ferial days—not anymore.
We had enjoyed for many years the memorials of St. Basil the Great (Eucharistic Prayer IV) and a second doctor of our Eastern Church, St. Gregory Nazianzen (great preacher and Scripture scholar). But in recent years the Church has favored us with the Memorial on Jan. 5 of St. John Neumann (fourth bishop of Philadelphia), a Redemptorist, who promoted parochial schools, authored two German Catechisms, and promoted the Forty Hours devotion. He was canonized in 1977. And on Jan. 4 we have the memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, raised Episcopalian, wife and mother of five children; foundress (1812) of the first congregation for women religious in the United States, the Sisters of Charity, devoted primarily to the education of the poor and to teaching in parochial schools. She was canonized in 1975.
With such a legacy it is no wonder that Catholic Schools Week, celebrated this year Jan. 27-Feb. 3, found literally thousands of people whose lives have been influenced by the great institution called Catholic school. Our religious-education programs for children not in Catholic schools has been positively influenced too, as the Church never tires of bringing faith practice into our homes.
Then we had in January also the special “weeks” that help us on our way: Church Unity Week: Jan. 18-25—still striving to bring all baptized peoples back home to the Church; the Martin Luther King Jr. week Jan. 16-23, with its continued emphasis on the brotherhood of men and women, non-violent interracial relationships, and social and economic justice and peace; and the pro-life Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children (which in time will become an everyday of prayer for God’s gift of human life).
Each of these crusades, movements, causes, and emphases began with a situation or event in our society that challenged one or a few people to further their causes. Who would ever imagined that Protestant Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in a small chapel in Italy (where she had gone to try to improve the health of her sick husband), would one day be the mother foundress and educator she did become?
As we continue to prepare for the silver anniversary of the diocese (founded by Pope John Paul II on Sept. 8, 1988), it’s easy enough to find and list the players in all this wonderful quarter-century. Not only has this new diocese (well, there are two more since then, the Diocese of Las Vegas, March 21, 1995, but its on-again, off- again relationship with her mother Diocese of Reno goes back to 1931, and the Diocese of Laredo, Texas, Aug. 9, 2000) kept good historical records from the beginning, but our mother diocese, Nashville, has not only good records but also has been blessed with ecclesiastics over the years who have helped keep the story alive: Monsignor Thomas Duffy, PA; Monsignor George Flanigen; Father Aaron Gildea (rumor has it that he had memorized all the data in the Official Catholic Directory); Monsignor Owen Campion; Father Steve Klasek (whose degree in urban planning was a marvelous asset to bring to the formation of the Knoxville Diocese); and Monsignor George E. Schmidt Jr.
Many of these priests served in what are now the two dioceses and are reliable firsthand resources in helping us to remember our past. So, I do not worry about 1988-2013, but I do harbor a concern as to our sources from the other end. I would excuse Adam and Eve and all the Old Testament patriarchs, the contemporaries of Our Lord, the fathers and most of the doctors of the Church. Turmoil in the Church, especially in Europe, give us the temptation and excuse to ignore the role of the Council of Trent in our formation, but there are policies and traditions that do affect our today’s church which were given us by the end of the 16th century. Surely the 1917 Code of Canon Law is one of our foundation stones, as is the “new” (present) Code which was promulgated on Jan. 25, 1983, the last official action of Vatican II. Details abound in the Code about how we live life in the Church.
But the Church is we, the New Testament people of God, and as we narrow our focus to people who have been involved in our history beginning in the late 18th century, I offer some of their names: Popes Pius VI and VII, Leo VII, Pius VIII, Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and II, and our present Holy Father, Benedict XVI; Archbishops John Carroll, Leonard Neale, Ambrose Marechal, James Whitfield, Samuel Eccleston, Francis Patrick Kendrick, Martin John Spalding, James Roosevelt Bayley, James Cardinal Gibbons, Michael Curley, Francis P. Keough, Lawrence Cardinal Shehan, William D. Borders, William Cardinal Keeler, Edwin Cardinal F. O’Brien, William Lori, Benedict Joseph Flaget, John B. David, Guy Ignatius Chabrat, Martin John Spalding, Peter Joseph Lavalle, William George McCloskey, Denis O’Donaghue, John Floersh, Thomas J. McDonough, Thomas C. Kelly, and Joseph E. Kurtz; Bishops Richard Pius Miles, James Whalen, P. A. Feehan, Joseph Rademacher, Thomas Sebastian Byrne, Alphonse J. Smith, William Lawrence Adrian, Joseph A. Durick, James Daniel Niedergeses, Edward U. Kmiec, and David R. Choby; and of course our own bishops, Anthony O’Connell, Joseph Kurtz, and Richard Frank Stika.
And we have not yet listed the hundreds of priests, deacons, brothers, and sisters who are foundational to our story, much less the thousands of other lay folk who give dimension to this Church of ours. We surely need more than a pamphlet with which to share our story. God bless you and pray for all who are planning events for your jubilee.
Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general of the diocese and the pastor of Holy Ghost parish in Knoxville.