Members celebrate milestone as Bishop Stika dedicates new building addition
St. Augustine Parish in Signal Mountain marked its 75th birthday Nov. 3 as Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated an anniversary Mass, dedicated a new education/multipurpose wing at the church, and blessed the parish’s new outdoor Stations of the Cross.
Concelebrating were current St. Augustine pastor Father Joseph Kuzhupil and three former pastors in Father Bob Hofstetter, Father Peter Iorio, and Father Paul Valleroy. Father David Carter served as master of ceremonies, and Deacon Gordon Kilburn assisted.
Sunshine and blue skies made for a pleasant morning at St. Augustine.
“We have been waiting for this day, and look outside, what a beautiful day God has given us to rejoice,” Father Kuzhupil said. “Let’s thank the Lord from the bottom of our hearts.”
In attendance at Mass were Dominican Sisters, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Alexian Brothers, and a host of parishioners. The Alexians converted part of the old Signal Mountain Hotel into a chapel in the summer of 1938 and dedicated the chapel to St. Augustine, launching the parish that still flourishes today.
At Mass Father Kuzhupil recognized both Grey Wagner, 96, who was a junior at the University of Chattanooga when the parish was formed and is now St. Augustine’s most senior parishioner, and David Windle, a current parishioner who as an infant was present at the dedication ceremony 75 years ago.
In his homily, Bishop Stika recalled building a cabin with fellow students when he was enrolled at St. Augustine Minor Seminary High School in Michigan in his freshman year. The students worked through the fall, winter, and spring to finish the building.
“You know what [building the cabin] did do? It built our class,” Bishop Stika said. “For it was in that endeavor that we were able to learn about our own abilities but also the abilities of others of the same age and of the same desire to build something, and I often wonder now after 40 years if that cabin is still standing.”
The cabin project “brought us together, and isn’t that the kind of concept of what we hope for in a parish?” Bishop Stika said. “Just think of this parish of St. Augustine that’s been around now for 75 years and all the different characters that have been involved in the development of this parish when it was first brought about to build something on this beautiful mountain called Signal Mountain. All the different personalities who came together to raise funds and to build, but not only to build a building but also to build a sense of what that means to build a church.”
From the time Jesus said, “Take and eat and take and drink because this is my body,” the “word of God traveled throughout the centuries, and eventually it came here to Signal Mountain in the state of Tennessee, through the graciousness of the people like the Alexian Brothers, who are founders of this parish,” Bishop Stika said.
St. Augustine Church is like the Scriptures’ lamp “burning brightly for all the world to see,” Bishop Stika said.
“In a very important way, in a very geographic way, Signal Mountain stands above other areas in geography so other people may see what this stands for as a parish. But it’s also a reminder to us that we stand for more than just a building, we stand for more than just a mountain, we stand with Jesus as he invites us, as he invites everyone, to know him so that we might know the Father.”
The bishop spoke “in the name of all those many people who have been part of the Diocese of Knoxville these past 25 years and even before that.”
“I just offer to you all my congratulations for your ability and your willingness and your courage to look to the future, but also as you pause this day to say thanks to almighty God, for all those who have come before us marked with the sign of faith. We pray that through the intercession of St. Augustine, that great doctor of the Church, we might always have a certain sense of need to know that our hearts are restless, but also that they rest in the hands of God.”
At the end of Mass, Bishop Stika recognized Father Iorio, a native of St. Augustine Parish.
“The reason I had him stand up is because I had a vision that one of you boys would be just like him,” the bishop said. “Or you girls—you see we have this whole front row of sisters from different communities. You could end up being like one of them, or the Alexian Brothers, who for centuries have been taking care of the needs of people, especially in illness and in age.
“My vision, my hope, is that this parish, the grace of God and his invitation might touch your minds and your life, and I’d invite you to consider becoming a priest or religious. Whatever it is, I hope you pray. And that you pray for God’s guidance that for whatever you choose in your life, it might make you happy, but that it would also make you a stronger person in your faith.”
During the blessing of the Stations, Bishop Stika recognized young parishioner John Carlson. John is an Eagle Scout, and the outdoor Stations were his Eagle project.
“This is a perfect example of someone getting involved in the church, in the parish—having a great idea and then working together to build this great place of prayer to honor those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith,” Bishop Stika said. “Let’s remember that these Stations of the Cross remind us that Jesus died for us.”
The bishop let John wear his zucchetto as he recognized him.
“John, I want to thank you. You don’t get to keep the hat, though,” Bishop Stika said.
In a program in the parish hall after the dedications, Bishop Stika helped unveil an apostolic blessing given by Pope Francis to the parish. Father Kuzhupil then gave Bishop Stika two baseball caps, one from each World Series opponent this year: St. Louis and Boston. The bishop’s beloved Cardinals lost to the Red Sox in the Series. When presented with the Boston cap, Bishop Stika joked about getting a “new pastor” for the parish.
Also during the program, parish-council chair Mary Bach thanked former pastors Father Iorio and Father Patrick Brownell and Father Kuzhupil for their efforts in planning and developing the education-wing project.
“The new wing has been a long time in coming as most of us know, and our former pastors can attest to that too,” Mrs. Bach said.
She also thanked architect Thomas Johnson and project manager Marvin Cornelison and project superintendent Charlie Sterchi, both of Raines Brothers, the contractor. Mrs. Bach also expressed gratitude to John Carlson, the columbarium committee for the execution of the Stations, and Stations architect Pat Neuhoff.
“The St. Augustine building committee has worked tirelessly over years and made this happen, and so many people in this room and outside of this room have helped in getting the new education and multipurpose wing to its almost complete state—we’re almost there,” Mrs. Bach said.
Anniversary-committee chair Mike St. Charles introduced a video that summarized the history of the parish. He also introduced several St. Augustine youth who came forward to “share with us their vision for the future of the parish.”
Former pastors Father Anietie Akata and Father Paul Hostettler sent their thanks to the parish, and Monsignor Al Humbrecht sent a video greeting.
The parish’s anniversary celebration began on Nov. 1 with an All Saints Day Mass, followed by a talk by Sister Mary Timothea Elliott, RSM, who discussed the topic “Called to Be Saints: The Universal Call to Holiness.” Sister Mary Timothea is director of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation.
The parish held an All Souls Day Mass Nov. 2, followed by a prayer service at the parish’s columbarium. Sister Mary Timothea then led a discussion on “Intentional Discipleship: The Work of the Parish.”