As Pope Francis elevates revered nun, Maynardville parish celebrates canonization with an official name change
By Bill Brewer
“Peace begins with a smile.” – Mother Teresa
Peace was apparent Sept. 11 in a storefront along Highway 33 in Union County, and smiles were abundant as one of the Diocese of Knoxville’s newest parishes celebrated the changing of its name from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to St. Teresa of Kolkata.
St. Teresa Parish celebrated its fifth anniversary in September, which was marked by Mother Teresa’s canonization on Sept. 4. The parish was officially formed Sept. 1, 2011.
Bishop Richard F. Stika led Mass at St. Teresa of Kolkata Church, which occupies temporary quarters until it relocates to a new church planned for Maynardville. Father Steve Pawelk, GHM, pastor of St. Teresa, concelebrated the Mass that was followed by a second Mass in Spanish celebrated by Father Pawelk, with Bishop Stika in choir.
Bishop Stika presented himself as a second-class relic to St. Teresa members, drawing laughs as he explained that he met Mother Teresa in 1988. During that encounter, she made the sign of the cross on his forehead, kissed him on the cheek, and gave him a miraculous medal that she was renowned for giving out.
Bishop Stika spoke reverently and fondly of St. Teresa’s devotion to God and the Church and her selfless service to God’s people.
“In St. Teresa of Kolkata, we see a woman who had three calls in her life, three vocations. One was to be baptized. … Eventually she felt another call. She responded to Jesus and she joined a religious community: the Sisters of Loreto, which took her from her home to Ireland. And she eventually traveled to India, where she served as a headmistress of a school and where she observed immense poverty. That’s where she had another call, a call within the call, to serve the poorest of the poor and establish a home for the dying,” Bishop Stika said.
“A call within the call is to be Jesus to other people, like Teresa of Kolkata,” he added.
A week after her canonization by Pope Francis, St. Teresa’s presence was strongly felt in the small East Tennessee parish, where Father Pawelk displayed a statue of the Church’s newest saint and a poster depicting the diminutive yet powerful nun in a large-as-life image.
Parishioners were excited about the name change and Bishop Stika’s presence to make the change official.
Bishop Stika described how Cardinal Justin Rigali, as an aide to Pope John Paul II, witnessed the relationship between St. Teresa and St. John Paul and their reverence toward one another. The bishop described how the Church’s newest saints evangelized by example and left an indelible imprint on the world.
“What is your call?” Bishop Stika asked the St. Teresa congregation. “Your call is to be a Christian by virtue of your baptism, to be Catholic in terms of the sacraments that we celebrate. But what is your call within that call; to be of service to God’s people?”
He said Teresa was a person of life, of emotion, and that her relationship with God was true and real. “She used to say you have to kneel before Jesus,” he noted, adding that she would be condemned because of her beliefs, but she still persisted in carrying out her calling to give assistance to the poor and provide shelter to the impoverished dying in the gutters of Calcutta, India, so they could die with dignity.
The bishop said we all are called to be the face of Jesus, and St. Teresa was that; we all are called to be the hands of Jesus, and St. Teresa was that, too; and to be the feet of Jesus: she walked thousands of miles in service to God’s people.
“It’s a real honor for me to be with you to share this with you, working together – all of us – to be the hands, the face, and the person of Jesus. That’s our call within a call,” he said.
The bishop said he has now issued three decrees for the young Union County parish. One was to establish a Catholic mission; the second was to elevate the status of the mission to a parish; and the third was to rename the parish from Blessed Teresa to St. Teresa of Kolkata.
“Hopefully, one of my next visits will be to bless your new building, because with God all things are possible,” Bishop Stika said.
Father Pawelk announced to parishioners that St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish has met a fundraising goal qualifying it for a matching grant from Catholic Extension. From July 2015 to July 2016, St. Teresa raised $100,000. “That is just incredible. So with that comes the $50,000 matching grant from Catholic Extension,” he said.
The parish is in the process of getting an architect under contract to design the new church building.
Father Pawelk thanked Bishop Stika for his support of St. Teresa and its parishioners. And, in turn, Bishop Stika praised Father Pawelk and the St. Teresa parishioners for their faith and service in building the Church in Union County.
Bishop Stika said he was proud of St. Teresa Parish as well as of St. John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge and St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Mission in Erwin for growing their congregations. All three communities are led by Glenmary Home Missioners priests.
Father Pawelk, who also leads St. John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge, likewise praised the Glenmary-led churches, singling out the Maynardville faith community.
“For a little congregation of just over 100 families, they’ve managed their portion of the capital campaign within a year’s time. Fundraising for the next two years will be for the building fund. We have a matching grant from Catholic Extension of $50,000, which was matched when St. Teresa raised the $100,000. That’s just incredible generosity for a small parish to work so hard through fundraisers and other ways to reach that goal,” said Father Pawelk, noting that the next step is to break ground on the new church.
“We think we have the financial plan to get it started. It is an incredible blessing. We give thanks to Jesus, the bishop, Mother Teresa, and all of these folks interceding on our behalf,” Father Pawelk said.
Helen Freeh, who is a founding member of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish, said it is “great” to see Mother Teresa elevated to sainthood, “the honor she deserves,” and that the diocese’s newer parish can be part of the celebration. “She is a very saintly person, and we need to imitate a lot of the things she does. It’s a very beautiful blessing for our county here.”
Mrs. Freeh said that although she never had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa, she did meet sisters in her religious order in Mexico City recently and found them to be welcoming, friendly, and giving, all characteristics of Mother Teresa.
Carole Wilson, also a founding parishioner at St. Teresa, is involved in making blankets that are sold to raise money for the building fund. Her husband, Jim, serves on the St. Teresa building committee.
“She is a true saint. She is a modern-day saint,” Mrs. Wilson said. “We’ve been thrilled to be a part of this.” ■