Once upon a time: We can value the past by investing in future

Schools, churches, cathedral point to growth of Catholicism in East Tennessee that has foundation in history

If the history of our Diocese of Knoxville had ended with its first anniversary on Sept. 8, 1989, a much different story would have been told. So I look forward to the final diocesan celebration of our silver jubilee at Knoxville Catholic High School on Saturday, Sept. 13, which brings to a close a remarkable year commemorating our 25th anniversary.

In looking back, we must marvel at the God-given and inspired growth of the Catholic Church in East Tennessee. Early groups of our people assembled in Chattanooga and Knoxville at the “end of track,” where the American Civil War had a profound influence on the faithful as did the arrival of Sisters who gave such great stability to the faith life of all with whom they came in contact.

The era of missionary bishops like the Most Rev. William L. Adrian, D.D., and the continuing struggle to educate our people in the teachings of the Church as well as practicing interfaith and ecumenical relationships (e.g. the relationship between the pastors of Broadway Baptist Church and Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville when John F. Kennedy was campaigning for president) were part of this rich past.

The 1982 World’s Fair was held in Knoxville and the Vatican’s exhibit, along with one by the Mormons, gave new direction to interfaith and ecumenical relationships. What a wonderful ride it has been, from the members of Hernando de Soto’s explorers who visited the Chattanooga area in the 16th century to people looking over undeveloped land for a potential new parish or school. All of them have contributed to the history of the Body of Christ, his Church, in this part of the vineyard.

We must look to the future if the past will have much meaning. Bishops like to look forward to having a parish in every county. This can be done even in Tennessee, where the rural Catholic population dips as low as 1 percent in some places. The resurrection of religious life gives us hope that we shall have more schools and catechetical centers.

Since the principal church in any diocese is the cathedral and since our Diocese of Knoxville has its cathedral within a thriving middle-class parish, there seems to be no good reason why a new cathedral cannot become a reality. A cathedral for our diocese should seat 1,000 folks and have a sanctuary area large enough for diocesan functions, especially ordinations to the priesthood and the diaconate.

The building should be large enough to house a large choir, an orchestra, and (in time) a pipe organ to accompany the hymn-singing that must be a part of authentic worship as well as be a centerpiece instrument for the promotion of both sacred music and good music in general with concert-type arrangements. Great music has been a diamond in the diadem of the Church through the ages and the cathedral should be the building that helps people support these things.

Most of the great cathedrals throughout the world have pipe organs capable of doing these great things, which is all the more reason Knoxville should have a cathedral that not only promotes worship but the fine arts as well. With the University of Tennessee and many small colleges within driving distance in the diocese, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to know that these things can become a reality in the next few years.

There are several cathedrals in the world that have a noticeable place in church history: St. John Lateran in Rome is the Holy Father’s cathedral as bishop of Rome. Several ecumenical councils have been held there. In our area, the cathedral in Louisville is surely a place to visit. The cathedral in Covington, Ky., is a downsized version of Notre Dame in Paris.

And of course, the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville is one of the great buildings in the South. The entire cathedral complex there is worthy of a visit. Knoxville’s new cathedral, please God, will not only be beautiful but a functional place of worship and other kinds of gatherings.

As your Lent continues to roll along, please pray that it will be the greatest Lent of your life so far.

Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general of the diocese and the pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville.