By Jim Wogan
Shortly after Bishop Richard F. Stika arrived in Knoxville in 2009, he reached out to a religious order based in Alma, Mich., with a request: come to Knoxville and help serve Roman Catholics in East Tennessee.
The Religious Sisters of Mercy accepted the bishop’s offer, and the sisters who arrived in East Tennessee settled into their vital roles in health care, education, and administration — despite an unsettled housing situation.
With no convent in Knoxville, the sisters split up and moved into two houses that were located miles apart and made the best of their situation. For a religious community that shares a common mission in worship and service, living in separate houses was less than ideal. As a practical matter, transportation issues were complicated.
All that changed on Dec. 12, when the Religious Sisters of Mercy welcomed Bishop Stika, Cardinal Justin Rigali, and a number of other guests to attend the first Mass at their new convent located on Northshore Drive in Knoxville.
The Mass was held on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
During Mass, Bishop Stika dedicated the new altar in the convent chapel, consecrating it with Chrism, and blessed each room with holy water.
Concelebrants at Mass were Cardinal Rigali, Father David Boettner, Father John Dowling, and Father Hoan Dinh.
Nearly 100 people attended the dedication Mass for the convent, including Sisters of Mercy of the Americas serving in the diocese.
“This is significant. It’s probably the first time in years and years that the diocese has built a convent. It’s a great cooperative effort. The sisters are so good in serving in so many different areas of the diocese. It’s a blessing for us all,” Bishop Stika said.
Bishop Stika said it is the first time the Religious Sisters of Mercy have built a convent outside their motherhouse in Alma.
Mother Mary McGreevy, superior general of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, and Mother Mary Quentin Sheridan, superior general emeritus of the order, traveled from Alma to attend the Mass and blessing.
As part of the altar consecration, Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, the superior for the Religious Sisters of Mercy in the diocese who also serves as superintendent of diocesan schools, joined Mother McGreevy in wiping the altar with linens and placing the first altar cloth.
Following the Mass, guests attended an open house and were able to tour the convent.
The projected cost for the construction project was $1.2 million, with the Religious Sisters bearing the responsibility for funding through loans and donations.
The Diocese of Knoxville donated the land on which the convent was built. Merit Construction built the convent. Groundbreaking for the convent took place in October 2014.
Sister Mary Marta explained that the altar was made with wood from white oak trees that were felled to make room for the new convent. The timber was harvested and milled into pieces that were then used by Vietnamese members of Divine Mercy Parish to make the altar.
A stained-glass window featured in the chapel was commissioned and shows the Religious Sisters of Mercy bowing at the feet of Jesus on the cross as the Blessed Mother supports him. Cardinal Rigali, the diocese, and several diocesan priests donated the window.
The 8,800-square-foot convent has bedrooms for 10 full-time residents. Seven sisters currently reside there, which leaves room for a few more should the religious order decide to send other sisters to the Diocese of Knoxville.
Mother McGreevy expressed gratitude on behalf of her religious community “for such generosity” by the diocese.
“This is a big step for us,” she said, noting that the community usually acquires existing buildings for its convents. “This is the first convent we’ve built. It’s magnificent. It seems very large, and it’s very beautiful.”
She gave thanks to God for providing enough women religious to take on a “richer and richer presence in the diocese.”
She also gave thanks to the many individuals and organizations that have supported the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma in their ministry in the diocese.