Hundreds on hand for 2014 Diocesan Homecoming

Diocese of Knoxville marks end of silver jubilee year with daylong celebration, outdoor Mass

Boys will be boys Bishop Richard F. Stika, far right, fends off challengers during the Great Tricycle Race during the Diocesan Homecoming at Knoxville Catholic High School on Sept. 13. Competing against the bishop are Deacon David Lucheon, behind Bishop Stika, John Deinhart, middle, and Jim Wogan, left. Photo by Stephanie Richer

Boys will be boys Bishop Richard F. Stika, far right, fends off challengers during the Great Tricycle Race during the Diocesan Homecoming at Knoxville Catholic High School on Sept. 13. Competing against the bishop are Deacon David Lucheon, behind Bishop Stika, John Deinhart, middle, and Jim Wogan, left. Photo by Stephanie Richer

The Diocese of Knoxville concluded its silver jubilee year on Sept. 13 with a daylong homecoming celebration that attracted some 750 to 1,000 people who enjoyed fun, games, food, music, and an outdoor Mass celebrated by Bishop Richard F. Stika.

Parishioners of all ages from across the diocese gathered on the grounds of Knoxville Catholic High School to take part in the event that officially wraps up the diocese’s yearlong celebration of the 25 years since its founding on Sept. 8, 1988.

Youth who attended the homecoming had fun with bounce houses, a dunk tank, a giant hamster ball, a climbing wall, volleyball games, face painting, trike races, and a softball tournament among parish schools.

Adults also got involved in the fun, taking part in a barbecue competition, a cornhole game course, live music, free food and drinks, and the diocesan Mass to conclude the anniversary.

Bishop Stika rode inside the hamster ball and won a tricycle race over John Deinhart, director of Stewardship and Strategic Planning, Deacon David Lucheon, and Communications director Jim Wogan. Knoxville radio personality Frank Murphy, a parishioner at All Saints Parish, emceed the various homecoming events.

The silver jubilee began in September 2013 with a Eucharistic Congress that attracted more than 5,000 people to the Sevierville Convention Center to see Cardinal Justin Rigali lead a special diocesan adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Bishop Stika celebrate Mass, Cardinal Timothy Dolan give the keynote address and talks by Father Robert Barron and Dr. Scott Hahn.

Threatening weather in the forecast for homecoming day never materialized, and the sun was out for much of the day.

“What a day it’s been,” the bishop said to begin his homily.

“That’s what we gather together today for: with a spirit of gratitude to almighty God.”

Cardinal Rigali was in choir for the homecoming Mass, which was held in the KCHS stadium, where the altar and diocesanwide choir adorned the football field and priests, deacons, women religious, and parishioners were seated on the track and in the stands.

Twelve priests and four deacons took part in the Mass along with masters of ceremonies Father Joe Reed and Father Arthur Torres Barona and assisting deacons Sean Smith and Tim Elliott. It was the vigil Mass of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The bishop remembered two people at the start of his homily, one of whom was Cardinal Rigali, celebrating his 29th anniversary of ordination to the episcopacy on the day after homecoming.

“The other one is someone who was called home to God three years ago tomorrow. His name is Archbishop Francis Zayek. He’s the one who I am saying this Mass for,” Bishop Stika said. “He was the Eastern-rite bishop who was the first person I told that I was going into the seminary.

“And he’s the one, they say, when I was in my coma five years ago, when he came to visit me in the hospital and said, ‘Bishop Ricky, get up,’ that my feet actually began to move, and three days later I was out of the hospital. So as he’s entered heaven, I pray that he intercedes for us in our diocese. He was a very holy man.”

Bishop Stika told the outdoor congregation that “we gather together today” with gratefulness.

“We’re grateful for the decision that was made so many years ago by St. John Paul to create the Diocese of Knoxville, to erect this diocese by Archbishop Pio Laghi, at the time, the nuncio,” he said. “A spirit of gratitude, for Bishop O’Connell, of blessed memory; to Archbishop Kurtz, the president of the [bishops’] conference; to me. I think all three of us would say if we were able how wonderful the Church is in East Tennessee. It’s struggled from its early days when being Catholic meant you were ostracized and separate and questioned about whether or not you were a Christian.”

The bishop said the diocese is blessed with religious sisters, vocations to the priesthood, a mobile medical clinic, Catholic Charities, and its parishes. The latter include Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Maynardville, recently elevated from a mission to full parish status, and the Vietnamese mission of Divine Mercy, to be elevated to a full parish later this year.

“Gratitude is one of those interesting things,” Bishop Stika said. “We could be generous to another by giving finances – don’t forget we’re building a cathedral – but that doesn’t belong to us. Money is not ours. Money is legal tender that belongs to the United States of America.

“The precious gift that we give is ourselves because that’s where faith is. Faith is not in a bank account; faith is in our hearts. . . . If we’re not grateful, then how can we actually have the gift of hope or the gift of joy or the gift of compassion? If we don’t express that compassion moment to moment, then we become selfish and dried up in our faith.

“So that’s the challenge for all of us in this Diocese of Knoxville, a small little speck that has been recognized nationally by the National Catholic Roundtable as the No. 1 diocese. To be recognized by Boston College as No. 10, tied with Memphis, for most conversions, to be recognized by the country five years ago, before I came, by Crisis magazine as the No. 1 diocese in the United States.”

The bishop asked if on the feast of the Holy Cross whether “you are willing to take up your cross and come and follow” Jesus.

“That’s what it comes down to. Are you willing to pick up your cross? You know what your cross is, if you’re honest with yourselves. . . Whatever it is, that cross that Jesus invites you to take, lift high that cross, because by that cross and resurrection, we are set free.”

Bishop Stika concluded his homily with a thank-you to “all of you for gathering together in a true celebration of the life and vitality of the Diocese of Knoxville.

“We have so much in front of us. We have many challenges like many dioceses, but we have so much in front of us. By virtue of the leadership I share with the priests and the deacons and all of you, God’s people, we will move forward, because, after all, it’s not about me, and it’s not about you, it’s about Jesus and his invitation to all of us to come and to follow.”

In closing remarks the bishop expressed thanks for the Chancery staff, for Sister Timothea Elliott, RSM – who originated the idea for a diocesan Eucharistic Congress – for the Knights of Columbus, for All Saints Parish, the choir, the servers from various parishes, and for “the generosity of people who went way out of their way these last 25 years and before that.”

The bishop also expressed gratitude for Paul Simoneau, who led the organizing of the homecoming, and for the bishop’s trusted assistant, Deacon Smith, who serves as chancellor of the diocese. Bishop Stika also encouraged his audience to vote “yes” on Amendment 1 to the Tennessee Constitution in November’s election.

Later in his closing remarks the bishop again drew attention to Cardinal Rigali’s 29th anniversary of ordination to the episcopacy.

“We take him for granted sometimes,” Bishop Stika said. “He’s a cardinal of the Church. He was one of the electors for two papal elections, he’s internationally respected, he’s written many books, and I live with him, and so often I don’t express my gratitude for the fact that he’s a true man of the Church in the best sense of the word.”

The bishop closed the Mass by encouraging his audience “to be not afraid and to have a generous heart, and this diocese will continue to grow because we’ll be blessed by God.”

In the middle school softball tournament at the homecoming, Knoxville’s St. Joseph School defeated St. Mary School of Oak Ridge 4-2 in the championship game.

The Saintly Smokers team won the barbecue contest and donated their prize to the fund for the new cathedral. Also competing in the contest were the Knights of Columbus and Church Lady Sue’s BBQ.

Joining youth and adults in playing volleyball were Sister Joan of Arc, OP, of Knoxville Catholic High School and Sister Grace Mary, OP, of St. Mary School in Oak Ridge.

Elaine Natividad of Knoxville attended the homecoming with her husband and two daughters. She said she and her family enjoyed “everything” about the day.

“The kids enjoy the bounce houses, the hamster ball – just being here and being part of the celebration,” she said.

Mrs. Natividad said she was glad to help the diocese close out its anniversary year. “It’s a big thing for the Catholic community, so we want to be here and celebrate.”

Beth Parsons of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Alcoa came to the homecoming with her husband and seven of their eight children.

“We just enjoy having some family time and seeing a lot of other people from the diocese,” she said, adding that the inflatable games for the kids were her family’s favorite part of the event.

Paula Emond attended the homecoming with husband Ed and their four children. They were “celebrating that our Church is growing,” she said.

Her kids liked the bounce houses and “just about everything” at the homecoming.

“They liked the adult tricycles and the hamster wheel, and my husband’s over there playing football,” she said.

The Emonds were “glad to be a part of” the homecoming, Mrs. Emond said.

“We’re not originally from here, and it’s just nice that our diocese is growing,” she said. “It’s just wonderful to be a part of.”

Marian Christiana of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Chattanooga praised the homecoming for focusing on families.

“I thought it was an excellent family event. It was a great way for families to be together and for a day to be able to relieve the stresses of everyday life,” said Mrs. Christiana, who is the diocesan coordinator for the Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment.

“It was neat to see the families and children enjoying the bounce houses and tricycle races, enjoying the free food and seeing all the priests and sisters in a casual atmosphere,” she said. “I hope even more people will take advantage of this wonderful opportunity if we have the homecoming again.”

Lisa Morris and Dorothy Curtis served as sacristans for the homecoming Mass.

Setting up for Mass involved bringing items from Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Chancery, “and then, of course, All Saints provided everything for the altar, so we’re just all working together and setting up for the Mass, which is a great joy,” Mrs. Morris said.

Mrs. Curtis is the Chancery receptionist and handles sacristan duties for diocesan events.

“It’s what I like to do most and contribute something, and this was an area I thought I could contribute a little something to the diocese,” she said. “Lisa Morris is helping me. We did all the packing for the Mass today, the different liturgical things like books and hosts and wine and vessels, the ciborium and chalices and patens.”

Mrs. Curtis also was a sacristan for the Eucharistic Congress.

“This is a wonderful closing,” she said. “I was waiting for this to happen, and this is a wonderful day. God has blessed us with beautiful weather.”

Deacon Bob and Janel Lange were visiting the homecoming from St. Dominic Parish in Kingsport.

Mrs. Lange said “just being here and seeing people from around the diocese and the fellowship that is part of who we are as a diocese” was what she enjoyed most.

“It’s a beautiful day, and the event is very well put together,” Deacon Lange said.

The homecoming capped “a special year from the beginning until now,” Deacon Lange said. “And it will continue on. Just coming together as family, I think that’s what the focus of [the homecoming] is, and it’s really what it’s all about—that we are a church family and we’re having an opportunity to get together and enjoy each other is a wonderful experience.”

Host pastor Father Michael Woods of All Saints Parish was dripping wet when interviewed, having just completed dunk-tank duties.

“Anything for the cause; whatever it takes,” he said, smiling.

Father Woods said the homecoming was “successful for being the first time.”

“I hope we have it again,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea to gather people from across the diocese.”