Bishop Stika elevates Blessed Teresa of Calcutta from mission during special Mass at Maynardville church
The Diocese of Knoxville is now 48 parishes strong after Bishop Richard F. Stika elevated Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission in Maynardville during a special Mass on Sept. 5.
It has been a swift, yet remarkable journey for a Catholic community that officially formed on Sept. 1, 2011, when 26 people gathered for a “bring-your-own-chair” Mass at a carport at 131 N. David Drive, where Masses would be held for a year.
On Sept. 15, 2012, 18 people gathered for the first Mass in Spanish at Blessed Teresa’s present location in a storefront along Highway 33 in Maynardville, according to Father Steve Pawelk, GHM, pastor of Blessed Teresa.
Nearly two years later, 102 people attended the 9 a.m. English Mass and 115 attended the 11 a.m. Mass in Spanish on Aug. 3, he said.
Bishop Stika, giving the homily at Blessed Teresa on Sept. 5, praised parishioners for working to build the Union County Catholic community into a parish and inspired them to continue their efforts to construct a permanent church nearby.
Bishop Stika noted the significance of holding the special Mass on the anniversary of the death of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, MC, who died in 1997. She was beatified in 2003. A framed picture of Mother Teresa was positioned prominently next to the altar during the Mass.
“If there is any expression that Mother Teresa is known for it is ‘to do something beautiful for God,’” Bishop Stika said. “When this mission began to be formulated, it was easy for me to designate this new entity under the patronage of Mother Teresa because what’s been going on here with Father Steve and all the leadership and with all the people from this area and our visitors is that we’re doing something beautiful for God. We’ve brought together all kinds of people to be able to come together to praise our Lord, and to come together and worship the Eucharist.”
During the Mass, the bishop put his signature on decrees establishing the parish that also were signed by Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville. Father Pawelk was concelebrant of the Mass and Mr. Smith was the deacon of the Word.
“So as I now elevate this mission to parish status, it’s just a reaffirmation on my part as the bishop of this diocese to all of you in a spirit of gratitude knowing that you’re self-sufficient and can stand on your own feet, but we also know that this is a very historic moment for this parish and for the Diocese of Knoxville as we continue to grow,” Bishop Stika said.
Blessed Teresa has been one of four Catholic missions in the Diocese of Knoxville. The others are St. John Paul II in Rutledge, where Father Pawelk also is pastor, St. Michael the Archangel in Erwin pastored by Father Tom Charters, GHM, and Divine Mercy in Knoxville, pastored by Father Hoan Dinh.
During the Mass, Bishop Stika recognized a group of parishioners who were visiting from St. Malachy Catholic Church in Geneseo, Ill., which is a sister parish to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Members of the Illinois church have been raising money to assist in the development of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish as part of a Glenmary Home Missioners program. St. Malachy parishioners have visited at Blessed Teresa several times.
“We’ve been a sister parish for nearly three years. Our pastor put us in touch with them and we were interested,” said Rich McClimon of St. Malachy Church. “We want to get others in the parish interested in doing this.”
Mr. McClimon and his wife, Kathy, were among the group of seven from St. Malachy.
Another member, Mary Hughes, said she has been inspired by Father Pawelk’s work in the Diocese of Knoxville and decided to assist Blessed Teresa financially each month.
The relationship goes deeper than a monthly check. Mrs. Hughes exchanges recipes and crafts with her peers to the south and is a pen pal with them.
The group even sponsors a child’s education in the diocese.
They are as excited as the Blessed Teresa members for the elevation to parish status.
“We have observed the community here and how they have had to travel distances to attend Mass. We’re seeing the enthusiasm these folks have for Catholicism,” Mr. McClimon said. “We’re receiving much more from this relationship than what we’re giving.”
Mrs. McClimon agreed.
“We want to travel with them on their journey. We get a lot from watching this church grow from the grass roots,” she said.
In his homily, Bishop Stika told the nearly 100 Blessed Teresa members in attendance that they are the fruit of a seed planted in Union County three years ago.
“So this seed has been planted in rich, Tennessee soil, and now it has continued to grow and to blossom. And their branches have reached out into northern Illinois as we have guests that have donated these vestments,” Bishop Stika said.
“But also the Diocese of Knoxville has welcomed the Glenmarys, and through the gift of the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee, we were able to purchase property. So as you begin this parish, you begin debt free. As we look into the future on that property, God willing, sooner rather than later, we will build a beautiful edifice to God,” the bishop added.
“So God willing, doing all of this with the different seeds that come from people like the foundation, and Glenmary, and from all of you, and the generosity from people all around the United States who give to the Extension Society who we’re going to be calling on their efforts, we’re building something beautiful for God. You, a community of faith, centered on Jesus who invites you to come, and to follow, and to build,” the bishop added.
A confirmation during the Mass was another first for the new parish and Bishop Stika was presented with an award from the Scouts.
Father Pawelk described the confirmand as a man who has been converting to Catholicism a little bit at a time for 28 years.
It is another sign of growth for the young, rural parish that will soon be building a Catholic church in the hills of East Tennessee.
“It is incredible to reach the stage of parish so quickly. This is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit who has been present in the bishop, the missionary team, and the people of God. We are blessed,” Father Pawelk said.
“This, however, is but a stage on the journey to become a fully established and missionary-guided Catholic congregation. It does mean that we are permanent. Yet, the goal for a Glenmary missionary is to develop the Catholic parish so that a diocesan priest would be able to function here with joy and the normal expectations of a pastor,” Father Pawelk said.
“This means that we are financially stable, with dependence on outside resources, have the appropriate worship space and buildings, have a developed laity able to provide both leadership in the parish and the broader community. Thus, we have many more stages to go before Glenmary would consider Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church fully established,” he noted. ■