Growing Vietnamese Catholic community begins to build a parish at Church of Divine Mercy
Some 20 years of prayer, planning, hard work, and trust in Christ by Knoxville’s Vietnamese Catholics culminated Nov. 17 in a Mass celebrating the community’s first church.
Bishop Richard F. Stika dedicated the Church of Divine Mercy before an audience that included 10 priests, a number of religious sisters, Chancery staffers, and a standing-room-only gathering of Divine Mercy faithful. The Divine Mercy Catholic Mission originated in the early 1990s and previously called Immaculate Conception Church downtown and Knoxville Catholic High School home before moving west to 10919 Carmichael Road in September. Among those present at the dedication Mass were Father Ron Franco, CSP, pastor of Immaculate Conception, and Dickie Sompayrac, principal of KCHS.
“What a great joy it is to be here at this Church of Divine Mercy as we celebrate as a diocese, but also in a special way as we celebrate with our Vietnamese sisters and brothers, this very special moment in the life of this diocese,” Bishop Stika said, “in the life of the church within the life of a family that has suffered so greatly throughout the centuries but comes together in hope, and joy, and gratitude to almighty God.”
In his homily the bishop stated that a relic of St. Faustina Kowalska, who is venerated as the Apostle of Divine Mercy, was on its way to the new church.
“For St. Faustina reminds us to trust in Jesus—‘Jesus, I trust in you,’” said Bishop Stika, who wore during the Mass a ring that belonged to St. John Neumann. “For over 20 years this community has done just that, until it has brought us to this time and place to celebrate faith and to celebrate family.”
During Mass, Divine Mercy chaplain Father Hoan Dinh thanked the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee, which made a $250,000 grant to the mission to help it purchase the property that the Church of Divine Mercy stands on. He also thanked the bishop, deacons, sisters, benefactors, and all of the visitors and parishioners for their attendance.
“This shows how much love we have received from you all, and we so much appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts,” said Father Hoan, who later handed the keys to the church to Bishop Stika.
The Mass saw the bishop anoint walls in four places in the church and anoint and incense the altar, which was then dressed and lighted so that the Liturgy of the Eucharist could begin.
The Vietnamese Catholic community held its first Mass in the new church on Sept. 1, and members have been working in their spare time to prepare the church for its dedication.
The diocese acquired the former Northstar Church building in September after Northstar relocated to a church facility at 9929 Sherrill Blvd.
Father Hoan said Divine Mercy members have been doing renovations at night and on weekends to transform the building into a Catholic church in preparation for the dedication. The Carmichael Road property includes a house that will serve as the Church of Divine Mercy rectory.
Bishop Stika complimented parishioners for their late-night labors.
“It is amazing what can occur in a church in just a couple of months,” he said. “Since September, right around Labor Day, when the diocese and when this parish community took possession of this church, it seems like they’ve been working until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning to make this place an acceptable place of worship for the church, and also the hall that is in the building behind us.
“So in the name of all your brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Knoxville, to all of those in the community of Divine Mercy, I give to you my congratulations and support.”
Divine Mercy now has incurred something that makes it akin to many diocesan parishes.
“Not only does the parish community now have an appropriate place of worship, you also have a debt. Welcome to the Catholic Church,” the bishop said.
As a young priest in 1988, Bishop Stika attended the canonization in Rome of 118 Vietnamese martyrs.
“Now these many years later as the bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, I’m privileged in dedicating this church of Divine Mercy in some ways dedicated to that same person who canonized those saints so long ago: Blessed John Paul, who is known as the Pope of Divine Mercy as he elevated St. Faustina to the dignity of canonization.”
Bishop Stika said that many throughout Church history have had the gift of hope, “but especially the Vietnamese people, who have suffered so much throughout these centuries, especially in the 20th century when all they wished for was the gift of freedom, but without the gift of freedom, they also lived lives of great danger because they wanted to believe in the name of Jesus and his invitation to the gift of hope.”
The bishop said that “as I anoint the walls of this church, as we dedicate this altar of sacrifice to almighty God, we pray that this community may continually grow and celebrate its gift to the world, a unique gift, a special gift, a gift of their own culture.”
Bishop Stika offered congratulations to Divine Mercy “in the name of all the churches of the Diocese of Knoxville…at this special moment in your history.”
“We pray especially this day for the intercession of St. Faustina, a great woman who bore the message of Divine Mercy,” he said. “We pray for the intercession of Blessed John Paul, the pope of Divine Mercy, who created this diocese. Together with the pope and the saints and with the angels, we all praise God for the gift that he has given to us: the gift of Jesus, for indeed, Jesus, we have continued to trust in you.”
Father Hoan said the Vietnamese mission has been steadily growing to the point a permanent church to hold Masses was needed. The Vietnamese Catholic community began forming in Knoxville in the early 1990s and by the mid-1990s was gathering for Masses. The dioceses of Memphis and Lexington, Ky., for years dispatched Vietnamese priests each month to Knoxville to lead Mass for the community.
As the community grew, Bishop Stika recognized the need for a permanent priestly presence for it, and in June 2012 announced that Father Hoan would become chaplain for the community. At that time he also announced the community would become Divine Mercy Catholic Mission.
Divine Mercy Catholic Mission now has nearly 400 members. Masses at the Church of Divine Mercy are held each Sunday at 9 a.m. and weekdays at 8:30 a.m. The mission’s website is www.divinemercyknox.org.
“Every time we build a new church or open a new parish or a mission, it just brings more beauty to the church we call the Diocese of Knoxville,” Bishop Stika said. “From parishes that have been around for a long time, like Immaculate Conception, to our newest mission, every parish is vital and is just as important as any other parish no matter what your size or where your location.
“We’re all people of God, and that’s a blessing that you give to all of us. You’ve given us two blessings: for one, your community, but also you’ve got a beautiful, wonderful priest who’s going to lead you, so I just want to thank you.”
Father Hoan said that “we’ve been waiting for a long time” for a building Divine Mercy could call its own.
“We needed a place where can have the best Mass times, especially where we can celebrate the liturgy in our culture, in our language; and we could have many other activities like teaching Vietnamese and catechism in Vietnamese,” he said.