Cardinals, bishops, governor to take part in events celebrating the Sacred Heart Cathedral groundbreaking

Cardinal Rigali

Cardinal Rigali

What a month!

April began with the holiest of weeks leading to Easter Sunday, but the celebration is just beginning. This month will go down in the annals of the Diocese of Knoxville as one of the most memorable since the diocese was founded when ground is broken on the new Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Two weeks after Easter Sunday, parishioners from around the diocese will be joined on April 19 by a Vatican triumvirate clad in red as Cardinals Timothy Dolan and William Levada join Cardinal Justin Rigali, Bishop Richard F. Stika and cathedral rector Father David Boettner to officially begin construction on the diocese’s new home.

As part of the historic weekend, Bishop Stika will moderate a live event at the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville featuring Cardinals Dolan, Levada and Rigali. A Conversation with the Cardinals on April 18 at 7 p.m. is open to the public and promises to be a revealing, humorous, insightful and spiritual discussion about the Catholic Church and the cardinals’ experiences as leaders of the world Church. Ticket information is available on the Diocese of Knoxville website,

Cardinal Dolan

Cardinal Dolan

Also on April 18 on the campus of Knoxville Catholic High School and All Saints Church, Cardinal Dolan, who is archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, will join Curtis Martin, founder and CEO of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, in leading the Following Jesus Conference.

Mr. Martin will begin the conference at 9:30 a.m. in the KCHS gym, and Cardinal Dolan will speak at 1:30 p.m. at All Saints Church. Cardinal Dolan will then celebrate Mass at All Saints at 2:30 p.m. There is no admission charge for the Following Jesus Conference, but space is limited and tickets are required. Go to for more information.

Construction on the new mother church is expected to take two years, with a dedication planned for 2017.

Bishop Stika

Bishop Stika

“We’re 26 years old now. When I talked to the founding bishop he said at some point we have to build a cathedral. He said initially we had to build the Church in terms of the parishes, and then nurture that with all the entities that we have now – wonderful things like the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic. It’s important to build a new church for the cathedral parish. It’s standing-room-only now, and it’s one of our larger parishes with a large school,” Bishop Stika said.

“So that‘s important. But it’s also important that we have the mother church, the church that welcomes everybody, the parish of hospitality, because that’s what a cathedral parish is, it’s a parish of hospitality for all our brothers and sisters throughout East Tennessee. It’s going to be a dynamic thing. In 100 years, I’m hoping people say ‘that was a spectacular moment. Why don’t we do something like that now – for the next 100?’ I will be somewhere else, though,” he said smiling.

The April 19 date coincides with Cardinal Rigali’s 80th birthday, an important milestone in the life of a prince of the Church. Cardinal Rigali, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, will celebrate the 11 a.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral, with Bishop Stika and Father Boettner concelebrating Mass and Cardinals Dolan and Levada in choir at the Mass and presiding at the groundbreaking, which will feature Scripture readings, blessings and intercessions.

Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to be on hand as are Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmieri, state Sens. Becky Duncan Massey and Randy McNally, and state Reps. Bill Dunn and Martin Daniel.

Cardinal Levada

Cardinal Levada

Joining Bishop Stika will be Bishop David Choby of the Diocese of Nashville, Bishop Roger Foys of the Diocese of Covington, Ky., Bishop Joseph Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton, Bishop Herbert Bevard of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fitzgerald of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Bishop John Gaydos of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., Auxiliary Bishop-emeritus Robert Hermann of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., and Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

As the April 18-19 weekend nears, Father Boettner has noticed the pace of activity surrounding the groundbreaking pick up. Some initial site preparation already is underway, but full site preparation will begin June 1 once Sacred Heart Cathedral School is out for the summer. To allow as much construction work as possible in the absence of students and faculty, Sacred Heart School will delay opening for the 2015-16 school year. The first day for students will be Sept. 8, although there will be in-service and administrative days for faculty and staff beginning Aug. 28.

Father Boettner emphasized that Sacred Heart church and school are implementing a comprehensive plan so that the entry and departure of students and parishioners to school and Mass during construction will be minimally affected.

“This is exciting. We’ve been working on this plan for so long, and now we’re getting started,” Father Boettner said, noting the significance of starting construction on a new cathedral.

He said there will be many significant events in the life of a diocese, with its founding at the top of the list. The groundbreaking and events surrounding it will certainly be among those. But he also pointed to the ordination and installation of the diocese’s bishops and the upcoming dedication of the new cathedral as historic for the diocese.

Curtis Martin

Curtis Martin

“We are building a worship space for the whole diocese that is permanent, beautiful and transcendent. Just as the bishop is pastor of the entire diocese, the cathedral is the home of the entire diocese. No matter what parish they belong to, the cathedral is their home because it’s where the Church of East Tennessee gathers to pray,” Father Boettner said.

He pointed out that Sacred Heart parishioners are raising $10 million of the building project’s total cost of $25 million.

“Our goal was $8 million, but we stretched it to $10 million to be able to make upgrades to the school and convert the existing church into a parish events center,” Father Boettner said. “The $10 million represents more than 6.5 times the Sacred Heart’s annual offertory, which is unique in fundraising.”

Bishop Stika views April 18-19 as a weekend to bring the diocese together.

“Usually when I am speaking to folks I will say the Diocese of Knoxville. Then I talk about the Catholic Church in East Tennessee. Every one of our 51 institutions – parishes and mission churches – is part of what we call the Diocese of Knoxville. Everyone is important. So even though it carries the name of Knoxville, it’s Chattanooga, it’s Mountain City, it’s the Tri-Cities. It’s any place you can imagine – Morristown, Jamestown; it’s all the Diocese of Knoxville. It’s all the Catholic Church in East Tennessee, so I want people to come together and celebrate this weekend,” Bishop Stika said.

Bishop Stika is encouraging people in the diocese to participate in the momentous weekend and attend the Following Jesus Conference, the Conversation with the Cardinals, and the cathedral groundbreaking. He noted that the Following Jesus Conference on Saturday, April 18, is open to everyone free of charge. Registration to this event is required to receive a free pass, which can be obtained at

“Jesus makes the invitation to all of us. We have room. So we want to make sure these messages from both Curtis Martin and Cardinal Dolan are something that can be shared with others, who then can share that message,” he said.

Bishop Stika describes Curtis Martin as a very dynamic speaker who heads a youth-led spiritual movement spreading throughout the United States. The Martin-created Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS, has a presence at St. John XXIII University Parish and Catholic Center on the University of Tennessee–Knoxville campus.

Mr. Martin will be joined by Cardinal Dolan in leading the Following Jesus Conference and is considered a very dynamic speaker in his own right.

Cardinal Dolan will then join Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Levada Saturday evening, April 18, for A Conversation with the Cardinals at the Tennessee Theatre.

Bishop Stika considers Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Dolan “dear friends” of his who he has known for years when they served the Church together in St. Louis.

Ticket sales for the Conversation with the Cardinals have been brisk, but good seats still are available and can be purchased from the Tennessee Theatre or via the Diocese of Knoxville’s website.

Cardinals Rigali and Levada have been friends for many years, beginning their service to the Church in Los Angeles and being ordained to the priesthood the same year: 1961. They were created cardinals within three years of each other.

Cardinal Levada succeeded Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, one of the most important departments in the Vatican that oversees Catholic doctrine, when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Stika served then-Archbishop Rigali in the Archdiocese of St. Louis before they were elevated to their current assignments. Cardinal Dolan is the immediate past-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and has served with Cardinals Rigali and Levada in the College of Cardinals. Cardinal Rigali voted in the papal elections that selected Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Cardinals Levada and Dolan joined Cardinal Rigali in the most recent papal election that selected Pope Francis.

It will be a return visit to the Diocese of Knoxville for Cardinal Dolan. He was the featured speaker in 2013 for the Eucharistic Congress at the Sevierville Convention Center.

“It’s going to be very dynamic. Two of them are dear friends of mine – Cardinal Rigali, who lives with me, and Cardinal Dolan, who I have known for many years from St. Louis. And Cardinal Levada was the chief theologian of the Church and also an archbishop in Portland and San Francisco, so he brings all this international experience. Cardinal Rigali worked intimately with three popes: Blessed Paul VI, John Paul I, and St. John Paul II,” Bishop Stika said. “They are going to show us the Catholic Church is doing well. The Diocese of Knoxville here in East Tennessee, we’re growing, we’re doing good things. Sometimes it’s nice to have neighbors come in from outside the neighborhood to remind us how wonderful our neighborhood is, but also to let us know how wonderful the world is.”

Following the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass on April 19 celebrated by Cardinal Rigali, the groundbreaking event will take place at 12:35 p.m. at the front of the cathedral property. A public reception will follow at the Sacred Heart Cathedral pavilion.

Like parishioners around the diocese, Father Boettner is excited to finally see construction begin on a new cathedral after years of discussion and planning.

“I love to think what this church will be witness to in the years to come: the ordination of bishops and priests, and the consecration of religious; Chrism Masses. This building will be a witness to all these things,” he said, noting that with the 1,200-person capacity of the new cathedral more than doubling the size of the 560-person current cathedral, bishop ordinations and installations can be celebrated in a cathedral, where they normally are held, instead of a convention center.

Father Boettner believes attendance by the cardinals sets the tone for such an important event as the groundbreaking for a cathedral.

“We’re so blessed by the presence of Cardinal Rigali in our diocese. And the presence of Cardinal Dolan and Cardinal Levada is a great honor for the diocese because it shows that others see a vibrant faith in our diocese, and they want to be a part of that,” Father Boettner said.

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