Building the mother church

Bishop Richard F. Stika operates a backhoe to remove a scoop of dirt at the Sacred Heart Cathedral groundbreaking. Photo by Dan McWilliams

Bishop Richard F. Stika operates a backhoe to remove a scoop of dirt at the Sacred Heart Cathedral groundbreaking.
Photo by Dan McWilliams

The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus community witnessed one of its brightest days April 19 as ground was broken on a new $25 million cathedral to replace the 59-year-old structure that has been the home church for the Diocese of Knoxville since 1988.

Groundbreaking festivities fell on Cardinal Justin Rigali’s 80th birthday, and the prince of the Church was principal celebrant of a Mass that preceded the official groundbreaking. Bishop Richard F. Stika; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York; and Cardinal William Levada, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, were joined by Bishop David R. Choby of Nashville and numerous other bishops at the liturgy.

Cathedral rector Father David Boettner, who was the host pastor for the groundbreaking, thanked those attending the historic ceremony, including dignitaries and laity.

The Holy Spirit cooperated as the forecasted rain held off until the very end of the groundbreaking.

Breaking ground on the new Sacred Heart Cathedral are (from left) Barb and Butch Jones, Joe DiPietro, Father David Boettner, Crissy and Gov. Bill Haslam, Bishop Richard F. Stika, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Cardinal William Levada. Photo by Dan McWilliams

Breaking ground on the new Sacred Heart Cathedral are (from left) Barb and Butch Jones, Joe DiPietro, Father David Boettner, Crissy and Gov. Bill Haslam, Bishop Richard F. Stika, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Cardinal William Levada.
Photo by Dan McWilliams

Bishop Stika, after he and several dignitaries broke ground with shovels following Mass, completed the occasion by operating a backhoe to remove a bucket-full of dirt and grass.

“To all of you who are the people of God, the living stones, thank you,” the bishop said in his homily at the groundbreaking. “Thanks for your commitment, especially those who are members of this cathedral parish, but then also thank you to all the members of this diocese. We move forward placing our trust and our hands and our lives in Jesus Christ as we give praise to the Father and are inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

The bishop said that “my episcopal motto is easy: Jesus I trust in you. So I invite all of you, as we begin this day and as we look to the future, as we trust in Jesus, to do as St. Paul reminds us: never tire of doing good. To do as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has said: to do something beautiful for God; as well as St. Faustina: every day do an act of mercy. I think the combination of all of that will allow us to go forward.”

Attending the groundbreaking were Gov. Bill Haslam and wife Crissy, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro, and cathedral parishioner and University of Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones and wife Barb. The governor, the mayors, Dr. DiPietro, and the Joneses were among 19, including diocesan Chancellor Deacon Sean Smith, Bruce Bosse of Merit Construction and architects James McCrery of McCrery Architects and Kelly Headden of BarberMcMurry Architects, who took a shovel for the groundbreaking.

Gov. Haslam called it “a special day in Knoxville and a special day in Tennessee.” He said he once lived in a house about a half-mile from Sacred Heart, and he pointed out a longtime cathedral parishioner in the audience.

“Even though I’m not a member of this parish, my very first sports activity was being a part of a peewee football team that Tutter McCabe’s father coached right back there several years ago. So Tutter, thank you. It was wonderful to see you again.”

The governor said he was “reminded sitting here today of one of the things that’s beautiful about this parish.”

Cardinal Justin Rigali processes in to the Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral before the groundbreaking. Photo by Dan McWilliams

Cardinal Justin Rigali processes in to the Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral before the groundbreaking.
Photo by Dan McWilliams

“Literally some of the longest-serving members of the community are sitting right here and have contributed to make this city great in so many ways. There are some brand-new citizens here as well. It’s one of the things that has stood out about this parish. It’s been actively engaged, and because of that it is a good day for us in Knoxville and in Tennessee to celebrate this.

“The very first ground-up cathedral ever built in the diocese – it’ll be a source of pride and a center of worship for us for years to come. So on behalf of all of us and to those of you who are doing all the work, thank you, thank you very much.”

The new cathedral “is big for the entire area,” Gov. Haslam said.

“It represents all of East Tennessee. But for somebody who lives just over the hill from here it’s a particular source of pride and a great thing for the community as well,” he said.

For Knoxville “and really for all of East Tennessee, this is a significant day,” the governor added.

“This’ll be another kind of foundation in our community, and I think the fact that the Church is willing to step up and do that, that speaks to big things.”

Deacon Smith expressed his enthusiasm about the groundbreaking.

“What a historical and blessed day for the Diocese of Knoxville,” he said. “I’ll never forget the joy I witnessed exuberated by the bishop and all of the folks who were present with us this day, a powerful reminder of God’s presence in our midst. Seeing the three cardinals and hearing the intercessory prayers proclaimed in multiple languages reminded me why we profess that we are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. What a great privilege it is to be Catholic and a blessing to be a part of the celebrations.”

Also turning earth were Bruce Hartmann and Dugan McLaughlin, co-chairs of the Sacred Heart Home Campaign, and Jerry Bodie, chair of the building committee. Dr. DiPietro and Butch and Barb Jones are honorary co-chairs of the cathedral development campaign.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan waves to the assembly at Sacred Heart Cathedral as he processes in to Mass just ahead of Cardinal William Levada. Photo by Dan McWilliams

Cardinal Timothy Dolan waves to the assembly at Sacred Heart Cathedral as he processes in to Mass just ahead of Cardinal William Levada.
Photo by Dan McWilliams

“It was so exciting to break ground on this project,” Mr. Hartmann said. “Building a cathedral from the ground up is such a historic event. Cardinal Dolan from New York put it all in perspective when he said more than once that our East Tennessee Catholic community has something special going on.”

Mr. McLaughlin said he thought the groundbreaking weekend “was great.”

“Of course, I never spent any time with cardinals, and I ended up spending the whole weekend with them,” he said, “and a lot of it was spine-tingling, and those guys just were humorous, they were serious, they were spiritual. The whole weekend couldn’t have gone better. The rain held off until we were finished, and I think now that we have really broken ground — the bus has left the station. This is really going to happen.”

Mr. Bodie agreed that the groundbreaking weekend was an outstanding success.

“I don’t think it could have gone any better. The weather broke in time for Mass to start. It didn’t start sprinkling again until the dirt was turned, so everything went fabulously. We were so excited to have the governor here and, of course, the chairs and Dr. DiPietro and Coach Jones and, of course, the three cardinals and the bishop, and it was just fantastic.”

As a parishioner, Mr. Bodie has seen firsthand the overflow crowds for Masses that made the need for a new cathedral apparent.

“Our parish has continued to grow even after spinning off All Saints and St. John Neumann,” he said. “We’ve continued to grow, and I guess it was no more evident than at Easter when we could not get – for two of the Masses and possibly three – everybody in the church, and we had to put the overflow in the gym. It’s not a good situation when you try to have people attend Mass in the gymnasium, so for Christmas and Easter and diocesan celebrations it’s just going to be fantastic to have everybody in the same building.”

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Bishop Stika, Cardinal Rigali, Cardinal Levada and Cardinal Dolan led a blessing of the ground around the perimeter, marked in a red-paint outline, of the new cathedral. The bishop also blessed the cornerstone of the future house of worship. The diocese plans to have Pope Francis bless the cornerstone during the Holy Father’s U.S. visit this September.

“I’ll present it to the Holy Father, and God willing he’ll bless it,” Bishop Stika said.

Both Sacred Heart Parish and the diocese have outgrown the current cathedral, the bishop said.

“Both the parish itself, they’ve outgrown the space, but the diocese as well, as we grow. We started 25 years ago at 33,000 [Catholics]; now we’re inching up toward 70,000. When we come together for family celebrations, we’ve outgrown it.”

Bishop Stika said “usually in the life of a diocese you build only one cathedral.”

“When our diocese was created they just took the largest church in Knoxville, which it is no longer, [and made it the cathedral]. So this is really the time when our diocese comes together from all across East Tennessee to say we’re making a statement: this is our home; this is why we’re staying at this location.”

The new cathedral’s seating capacity will be nearly double that of the current cathedral.

“It’ll seat nearly 1,000, which is good,” Bishop Stika said, adding that “I want it to not only be a spot for the Catholic Church but also a cultural place where we’ll have organ concerts and choir concerts and choruses or whatever it might be. It’s not only for the Catholic Church; we hope to make it a pinpoint for a variety of different cultural celebrations. . . .

“Again it’s a statement of faith by the Catholic Church. It’s a statement of faith by the diocese that this location on Northshore is very special to us. And it’s a statement of faith saying that we invite our neighbors, Christian and non-, to join with us from time to time in celebrating faith.”

The bishop said cathedral fundraising has been underway for about two years, “and we’re going to continue to do that because it is an endeavor that needs funding, but I trust in the Lord, and we’ll get there. The cathedral parish itself has raised nearly $10 million, and if we look at some of the pledges, we’re inching up toward $20 million already, and then we’ve got some real positive vibes from other places as well, so we’ll get there.”

The target date for completion of the new cathedral is Sept. 8, 2017.

Father Boettner thanked the cardinals and bishops for their presence at the groundbreaking and Mass.

“We are truly honored by your presence and grateful for your blessings and prayers with us today, so thank you,” he said.

The cathedral rector also thanked “the many people who have given themselves so selflessly of their time, talent, and treasure to help make this day possible.”

“Many of you are standing inside this red outline of where our future church will go,” Father Boettner said, “and it’s really just a reminder that what we begin today is a construction project, but it’s a construction project built of living stones, and you are those living stones, and so it is great to celebrate this day together and recognize the beautiful building that will house the beautiful church.”

Groundbreaking day “was the beginning of the beginning,” Father Boettner said.

“It really was the first step in building our new cathedral, and it was important that we be able to celebrate that with the diocese and with the people of the parish,” he said.

The April 19 groundbreaking was part of the diocese’s Living Our Faith Weekend.

“Everything from start to finish was great. I think it was a real good example of the vibrancy of the faith of the people of East Tennessee, the real dynamic nature of our diocese, how it’s growing and expanding,” Father Boettner said. “Everybody who was involved was just so excited to be a part of it and really felt like they were present for a historic moment in the life of our church.”

The excitement was not contained just within Sacred Heart Parish, Father Boettner noted.

“We also were joined by many members of parishes throughout the diocese who wanted to be here to be a part of the celebration, because it’s also their church,” he said. “It’s the mother church of everyone in the Diocese of Knoxville.”

Joining the trio of cardinals at Mass were Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan.; Bishop Joseph Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa.; Bishop Herbert Bevard of the Diocese of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia; Bishop Roger Foys of the Diocese of Covington, Ky.; Bishop John Gaydos of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo.; Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs; and Bishop Choby.

Cardinal Rigali consecrated Cardinal Dolan, Bishop Stika, Archbishop Naumann, and bishops Bambera, Fitzgerald, Gaydos, and Sheridan.

Cardinal Rigali began his homily by referencing the Eucharistic Congress that kicked off the diocese’s 25th-anniversary celebration in September 2013.

“Today we gather once again for another important celebration in the life of the Diocese of Knoxville,” he said. “It is our eucharistic liturgy, followed by the groundbreaking ceremony for a new cathedral dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

The Mass and groundbreaking “tell us a great deal about the meaning of the Church,” said Cardinal Rigali, who received a standing ovation at the conclusion of Mass on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

“We are reminded that Christ’s Church, which St. Paul calls the body of Christ, is a community united by faith and baptism with Jesus Christ himself. Every church building, every parish church, is an image of an even greater spiritual structure, which is the living community of God’s people.

“And every cathedral is built to be the mother church of a particular diocese—the principal church where the faithful from all the different parishes come together with their bishop to pray.”

The cardinal said that “we ask God’s blessings on this important endeavor about to take place: the groundbreaking of a new cathedral that evokes the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for his people and will serve as the mother church in East Tennessee.

“As this cathedral rises, it will also tell the story of the faith and generosity and sacrifice of the people of God of this diocese, as well as the charity and solidarity of friends and benefactors who offer vital assistance to Bishop Stika and to the Diocese of Knoxville in this sacred endeavor to build a worthy temple for the glory of God.”

In his remarks at the end of Mass, Bishop Stika said “I hope you understand this historic moment in the life of this diocese. That’s why it’s good to have my friend Bishop Choby from the Diocese of Nashville. I call him the patriarch of the South because he’s a true southern gentleman. Nashville is the mother diocese of the state of Tennessee.”

The bishop said he had “the honor and privilege of serving as the third bishop of this diocese, and it is a wonderful place.”

“For in so many ways I see the spirit of Jesus acting in the lives of people in small parishes and large parishes and how people volunteer in the Volunteer State,” he said. “I really do see faith alive, faith shared, and God loved through the power of Jesus and the gift of his Holy Spirit.”

Groundbreaking day has been a long time in coming, according to Bishop Stika.

“In this moment in the diocese, we are nourishing the diocese, building the diocese – we are Christ to others, and it’s time now because of the growth of this parish and the growth of this diocese to build a mother church,” Bishop Stika said.

The bishop expressed birthday wishes to Cardinal Rigali, his friend of more than 20 years.

“I know all these years I’ve seen the best of him always, a true man of the Church,” Bishop Stika said. “So much so that when he was ordained a bishop by St. John Paul II, didn’t he at one time refer to you as ‘my brother, Justin’? So in the name of all the people gathered together this day, Eminence, happy birthday.”

Bishop Stika then made a shocking announcement, given his lifelong St. Louis Cardinal fandom.

“Cardinal Dolan made this wonderful statement [at the Conversation with the Cardinals],” Bishop Stika said. “He said that if the Mets win the World Series, he would make a sizeable donation to our cathedral fund. So I prayed and reflected, and I looked at the great photos of Stan Musial at home – and I’m going to root for the Mets this year.”

Mr. Bodie looks forward to construction beginning on the cathedral.

“We look forward to the fall of 2017,” he said. “It’ll be here before we know it.”

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