Bishop Stika marks key step in construction of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
By Bill Brewer
The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus reached an important — and symbolic — milestone March 25 when Bishop Richard F. Stika unveiled the cathedral cornerstone during a liturgical service at the diocese’s new mother church.
It was, in effect, the first service inside the church, as some 400 people were on hand to witness the moment and see up close how the building project is progressing.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, Father David Boettner, Father Joe Reed, Father Arthur Torres, and Deacon Walt Otey joined Bishop Stika in the liturgical celebration that preceded the unveiling.
A choir occupied the unfinished choir loft, providing songs for the liturgy.
After prayers and readings were given and Bishop Stika delivered remarks, he uncovered the 3,400-pound, solid marble cube that is embedded into the front of the church building near the front doors.
Inscribed into the cornerstone, which is white in color with gray and gold veining, is the diocesan crest, a cross, and the words, “Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,” the date of the upcoming dedication, and a verse from Matthew’s Gospel, 21:13, that reads “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer.”
The cornerstone is made from Imperial Danby marble from Vermont and will be complemented by the Indiana limestone and Roman brick being used on the cathedral exterior. The names of the bishop of the diocese and the pope will be added at the time of the cathedral dedication.
“This is a very significant step in the cathedral building project, for we are reminded by the opening song that Jesus Christ is indeed the cornerstone of our faith, the one foundation. With this significant step, we are mindful of the fact that this time next year we will be in our new cathedral,” Bishop Stika said.
In an opening prayer, the bishop said, “May the mercy of God the Father, the grace of Christ, His Son and the cornerstone of our faith, in communion with the Holy Spirit, who builds us into one, be with you all.”
He then offered those in attendance a brief history lesson on the cathedral.
“This cathedral has been a dream of the diocese since its first days. I remember in speaking to the founding bishop, Monsignor (Xavier) Mankel, and others, how they told the founding bishop that we need to build a cathedral. And he said, ‘No, we must first build a diocese,’” Bishop Stika said.
“Then about 10 to 12 years ago, the conversation again came up when the diocese began to contemplate a capital campaign. Archbishop [Joseph E.] Kurtz then said, ‘No, we must first build up the parishes,’” Bishop Stika added. “A combination of that exists because this parish of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus has outgrown its space in the current cathedral. It also needs a parish center. And the diocese has outgrown what we’ve been using for these many years.”
Bishop Stika then, after remarking on the opening of baseball season and the promise of another St. Louis Cardinals World Series win following the “miracle” of the Cubs World Series victory last year, mentioned a popular phrase from the hit baseball movie Field of Dreams.
“If you build it, they will come,” Bishop Stika said amid the hundreds of people attending the cornerstone unveiling. “All you have to do is look out on a Sunday at the cathedral and see the crowds, the young folks, the not-so-young folks, and everybody in between, and all the activities that exist at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. So here we are at this moment today to unveil the cornerstone and continue to watch this temple of our Lord grow from the ground on the bedrock that surrounds us.”
The bishop pointed to various parts of the new church building and offered a visual tour as people looked around at the partially finished narthex, nave, choir loft, dome, altar, and chapels. He then expressed gratitude to the Diocese of Knoxville faith community for making the cathedral a reality at a time of great growth in the diocese.
“The cornerstone reminds us that Jesus is the center of our life, and that His temple, His house, is a house of prayer. … This is not about me. It’s not even about this building. It’s about you, God’s people, and your generosity and your kindness in building a parish, a building, a diocese centered on Jesus Christ. For we do together what we can’t do by ourselves. We are a community of faith, brought together by Jesus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and loved by the Father. That’s what this is about. So I pray that we might always give this trust to Jesus, that we may continue to be the face and the hands and the voice of Jesus, but especially the heart of Jesus, because next year at this time, we’ll be dedicating this Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,” he concluded.
Bishop Stika, Cardinal Rigali, and Father Boettner, the rector of the cathedral who is managing the construction project for the diocese, processed to the front of the new church, where Bishop Stika led the unveiling and censing of the cornerstone as local news media recorded the event.
Afterward, Father Boettner led tours of the facility, explaining the cathedral features and their significance.
Father Boettner, a vicar general and the moderator of the curia, has been anticipating the day when the cornerstone would be in place, signaling that the project has entered the final stages. He said much has been accomplished since ground was broken on the project on April 19, 2015, including the highly successful Home capital campaign to raise funds for the project.
He is as attune to the symbolism of the moment as anyone.
“The unveiling of the cornerstone is a sign. Christ is the cornerstone of our faith. He is the reference point. Historically in construction, that is what the cornerstone did. It really was the stone from which the builders drew their measurements, literally.
So that stone is where they would come back and pull their measurements from that corner all the time,” the priest said.
“The cornerstone has always been that symbol for Christ, who is the reference point for our lives. He is what keeps us oriented correctly and focuses us in our lives to understand who we are in reference to Christ.”
Father Boettner said this cornerstone also is symbolic of the progress of the cathedral.
“It is really taking shape. You can see the coffers (recessed panels) coming together in the ceiling, how the structure of the walls is really going to give us those pillars and those piers that support thedome of the church, which ties us back to the Church of Rome, which is the universal Church of Peter,” he noted.
Bishop Stika and Father Boettner have a sense that excitement and anticipation are growing for the opening of the new cathedral.
Father Boettner pointed to all the parishioners who attended the cornerstone unveiling from other diocesan churches.
“There are a lot of people here representing that breadth of the Diocese of Knoxville, which is exciting. And that is the whole point. This is the mother church. Everybody is a parishioner of the cathedral in the Diocese of Knoxville,” he said. “This is exciting. The enthusiasm is really growing. People are excited to be a part of something that is a sign of the growth of the faith in East Tennessee.”
Bishop Stika greeted many of the parishioners attending the cornerstone unveiling, seeing firsthand the excitement that is building and envisioning the first Mass that will be celebrated in the church. He said even those who haven’t always been supportive of the project are looking forward to its completion.
“This is a significant step. After the cornerstone, the next time we get together for a major celebration here will be the dedication in less than a year. And even the naysayers, as they see it come out of the ground, they’re saying, ‘Oh yes, I now can see why,’” he said.
As he oversees completion of the cathedral over the next 11 months, Bishop Stika said there is a lot of momentum in the diocese, including with the Catholic schools, growth of parishes, adult formation, seminarian formation, and retreat center upgrades. “We’re growing,” he said.
In the meantime, Father Boettner said that while much has been done to build the cathedral, there is much left to do before it is ready for dedication. Now that the basic structure of the cathedral is in place, work is shifting to the interior aspects, including finishing and artistic details, the baldacchino (ornate canopy over the altar), statuary, and religious articles.
“There still are a lot of parts. It is going to be a very active year.”
The dedication Mass is scheduled for March 3, 2018.