Kingsport church called a ‘shining star’ as Bishop Stika, priests mark occasion with congratulations and gratitude
By Dan McWilliams
St. Dominic Parish in Kingsport celebrated its 75th anniversary Aug. 14 as members filled the church for a Mass with Bishop Richard F. Stika.
Bishop Stika celebrated the Mass with concelebrants including St. Dominic pastor Father Michael Cummins, associate pastor Father William Oruko, AJ, St. Mary Parish-Johnson City pastor Father Peter Iorio, and Father Alex Waraksa, associate pastor of St. Patrick in Morristown. Father Iorio’s first assignment as a priest was at St. Dominic. Assisting at Mass were deacons Bob Lange, Frank Fischer, and Steve Helmbrecht.
“We gather together to celebrate the 75 years of the existence of St. Dominic’s, all the great memories built on Jesus: the sacraments, the social interaction and friendships, moments of great joy and moments of sorrow,” the bishop said to open Mass. “We come together and we give these all to the Lord as a gift, as a gift in recognition of what he has given to us: our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Stika began his homily by recalling the memory of Father Emmanuel Callahan, the legendary circuit-riding priest who ministered to numerous Upper East Tennessee communities at the turn of the 20th century and who planted the seeds for several parishes that continue in service to this day.
“He spent a lot of time at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century visiting all kinds of communities because they needed, they wanted, they desired to have the sacraments celebrated, especially many of the Irish who were working on the railroads and all kinds of other folks from Europe and other places,” Bishop Stika said. “But he established the Catholic community of this area. And then because of the Dominican fathers and the connection to [their service at] St. Mary’s in Johnson City, eventually this community developed.”
The bishop mentioned St. Dominic School, which celebrated its 70th anniversary last year.
“I know it’s a cost for the parish, but again remember, we don’t train only kids for this area, we train leaders for the future,” he said. “And if you have a child in that school, that’s something to be proud of. And if you don’t have a child in that school, the parish is something to be proud of.
“Just think, for 75 years, all the baptisms, all those people who were claimed for Jesus Christ, in the simplest of symbols: water. . . . Just think of all the times when a person walked into a church like this, burdened with the cross of sinfulness, bent over, maybe not liking themselves or hating themselves. Or knowing what they did was wrong, and it separated them from a loved one, or even more, it separated them from God—and to hear the prayers of absolution, to be reconciled, to be able to stand up straight, knowing the mercy of God lifts us up in his presence.”
Bishop Stika talked about “all the sacraments that were celebrated here, like the sacrament of matrimony, when two people looked at each other and said, ‘I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.’ . . . [The church is] where people gathered together as family, to pray for another person, whether it’s ordinations or matrimony or baptisms or parish celebrations.”
The bishop expressed his gratitude to St. Dominic Parish.
“In the name of all the bishops of Nashville, and then eventually in the name of my two predecessors, but especially now in my name, I just want to say thank you; thank you for all that you’ve done, for education and formation, for being a shining star,” he said.
The bishop urged St. Dominic parishioners to be the “face of Jesus” in their lives.
“As I’ve said from the very first day that I arrived in Knoxville over seven years ago, we have to be the face of Jesus, we have to be the hands of Jesus, we have to be the feet of Jesus, the voice of Jesus, because by the Eucharist that nourishes us in our faith, even when it means sometimes to walk in a dark room of uncertainty, [we need] to be the presence of Jesus,” he said.
“And so if there is any one message that I bring to you today, it’s to thank you for being His hands: hands of charity and kindness. Thank you for being the smile of Jesus, knowing that another person, by the virtue of our smile, feels like they’re cared for. Thank you for being the feet and the legs of Jesus, willing to walk toward someone, like those police officers, and ambulance (crews) and firefighters, as instead of running from 9/11 in those buildings, they entered the buildings to assist another person. But especially, my sisters and brothers, I just want to say to you thank you for being the heart of Jesus.”
Bishop Stika urged the St. Dominic family to “continue to be that shining star, that light on a hill. Don’t hide yourselves under a bushel basket, because after all it’s Jesus Christ himself who says to you as individuals, but also as a community, to baptize, to teach the faith, and to love one another as Jesus has loved us all.”
At the end of Mass, Father Cummins said, “as our bishop so well put it, today we celebrate 75 years of faith, 75 years as a parish community. We give thanks to God for these blessings. Today is a wonderful day of celebration for us as a parish.”
Kingsport Mayor John Clark, a St. Dominic parishioner, then spoke to the assembly.
“I’m honored to be here today as a fellow parishioner to celebrate 75 great years for this incredible church,” he said. “One of the things I always say about Kingsport is Kingsport is a very special place with special people.”
The mayor presented a proclamation to Bishop Stika that highlighted the history of the local church.
Reading from the proclamation, Mayor Clark said, “I think this next paragraph really speaks volumes of our church: ‘Through peaceful and turbulent times, lean times and times of prosperity in our city, the congregation of St. Dominic’s has steadfastly provided worship opportunities, leadership, and the sharing of God’s wisdom and wonderful grace with our community. Throughout the years St. Dominic’s Catholic Church has continued to grow physically and spiritually with now over 1,000 registered families and a growing Hispanic population. And so St. Dominic’s Catholic Church is blessed to be celebrating 75 years of actively glorifying God and working for the betterment of our community.’”
The mayor proclaimed that day, Aug. 14, as St. Dominic’s Catholic Church Day in Kingsport.
“I encourage my fellow citizens to join in celebration of its 75th anniversary and express our appreciation for its many ministries, its service to God, and the continuing spiritual strengthening of our community,” he said. “So on behalf of a very grateful city, we say thank you to this parish for the many wonderful contributions to Kingsport and the surrounding area over the past 75 years.”
After Mass and before a reception in the parish life center, the bishop blessed a rosary garden of the archangels at St. Dominic.
“Jesus is the one who reminds us of the importance of the angels,” he said. “They are a creation of God, just like we are. They give praise and thanks to God on a constant basis.”
Father Callahan celebrated the first Mass in Kingsport in spring 1914. Mass wasn’t celebrated in a church for nearly 30 years. Churchgoers attended Mass in several locations, including an Elks Hall and in rooms above a hardware store and restaurant.
Kingsport was a mission of Johnson City at the time, the Dominicans having come to Johnson City in 1916 and serving Kingsport as well.
Father M.Q. Goldrick was responsible for building St. Dominic’s first church, at a cost of about $50,000. The church, on Center Street, was named St. Dominic in honor of the Dominicans who served there. Its cornerstone was laid in 1940, and the church was dedicated April 20, 1941, in a Mass celebrated by Nashville Bishop William L. Adrian.
Diocesan priests took over serving the Kingsport parish in 1945. Father Leo Baldinger was St. Dominic’s first diocesan priest. Milton Robelot became St. Dominic’s first permanent deacon Sept. 14, 1974.
The saddest day in parish history was Feb. 19, 1983, when the first church building was destroyed by fire. Masses then were held in the parish’s “cafegymtorium” for four years.
A 20-acre site for a new church was chosen on John B. Dennis Highway, and the parish’s new building was dedicated Aug. 8, 1987, the feast day of St. Dominic.
St. Dominic broke ground on a $1.8 million parish life center in October 2001, with Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz and longtime pastor Father Charlie Burton taking part in the groundbreaking. Bishop Kurtz dedicated the parish life center on Sept. 14, 2002.
Among those at the reception after the 75th-anniversary Mass was Mary Ann Burem Reed, a cradle Catholic and lifelong member of St. Dominic.
“My mother was one of the very first here, 75 years ago,” she said. “She played the organ and was one of the first parishioners who went where there was no church. She brought us up, my brother, my sister, and I, and we’ve all been here all our lives. I left a couple of years and came back.”
Mrs. Reed said she was “very involved in the old church” building at St. Dominic.
“To receive all my sacraments there, it was really hard to see that go. It was very hard. It took a lot of grieving, but we got through it, and we’re in a beautiful facility now,” she said.
Claudio Carlin has been a parishioner of St. Dominic since about 1956.
“We flew up here. We left all our stuff to be shipped with the Andrea Doria, and then the Andrea Doria went down with the catfish,” he said.
The S.S. Andrea Doria was an Italian passenger ship that was struck by the Swedish American ocean liner M.S. Stockholm off the coast of Massachusetts in 1956 and sank.
To Mr. Carlin, St. Dominic “means a place where we can go and pray. It means friends,” he said.
He, too, misses the old St. Dominic Church building.
“It was a nice building, but this one here is really fantastic,” he said.
In his concluding remarks at Mass, Bishop Stika said, “Just think of how this community would be missing something so spectacular without the presence of St. Dominic’s.” ■