Our Lady of Lourdes, South Pittsburg: When it comes to God, there are no rivalries

Part of the Faith on the Border series

By Dan McWilliams

The parish in the Diocese of Knoxville’s southwestern corner draws a sizable number of folks from northeastern Alabama.

Deanna Jordi of Bridgeport, Ala., says Our Lady of Lourdes is “only about five miles away,” compared with the Catholic church in her home county.

“The one in Scottsboro [Alabama] is about a 45-minute drive,” she said. “I am able to go to daily Mass here. I can leave home and be here in 10 minutes. I don’t think I’d be able to make daily Mass if I were going to Scottsboro.”

She said she doesn’t detect any border rivalries — well, almost none.

“Except when it’s football time, then they say something,” she said. “No, we’re here to worship God, and that’s what’s important.”

Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner Michael Jordi of Bridgeport, Ala., says the Scottsboro church is about 35 miles away from his residence.

“That’s why we come here. We also went to Chattanooga for 15 years. We just prefer to stay in the same diocese,” he said. “It is close by, yes. We’ve grown up in this diocese. We’ve liked everybody, and we prefer to stay in it.”

He said he is involved in Marriage Encounter and other activities through the Diocese of Knoxville.

Alice Jordi, who says the family is only five miles away from Our Lady of Lourdes, notices some friendly sports rivalries at the church.

“I don’t follow sports much, but definitely there are people here who like Tennessee and like Alabama,” she said. “We’re all one united parish once we’re in church. Once you come into Mass, you are a united parish congregation.”

Our Lady of Lourdes bookkeeper Ruth Coble hails from Stevenson, Ala., and says the Tennessee church is “about 15 miles down the road” and much more convenient.

“The other one is on the other side of Scottsboro, about 25 miles,” she said. “I’ve been coming here since the 1970s, when Father Basil Mattingly [OSB] was here.”

She said border rivalries vanish once people gather in church.

“They do,” she said. “We’re here to worship.”

Longtime Our Lady of Lourdes Pastor Father Mark Scholz says he has to juggle being in Central Time in South Pittsburg and having dealings in Chattanooga in Eastern Time.

“But I love to be here,” he said. “It’s wonderful to have a rural parish where you get to know all the people.”

Out-of-state parishioners make up “a smaller percentage, maybe 10 to 20 percent,” of the parish roster, he said.

He added that any Alabama-Tennessee rivalries end with the start of Mass.

“Hopefully, that’s the case,” Father Scholz said. “I’d say people get along together well. They don’t hold grudges. They’re very devoted to their teams, that’s for sure.”

Longtime parishioner Harry “Geno” Appleton lives in Bridgeport, Ala., about six miles out from Our Lady of Lourdes.

“If I went to the Catholic church in Alabama that I had to go to, I’d have to go all the way to Scottsboro, and that’s about 30 miles,” he said.

Mr. Appleton has been at the South Pittsburg church for decades.

“I’ve been a parishioner here at Our Lady of Lourdes since about ’38 or ’39,” he said. “My mother moved over here to Sequatchie when I was about 9, 10, or 11.

“I’ve seen probably a half a dozen different priests or more. Our regular first priest that we had was Father [John] Baltz. He was in Decherd, Tenn., and he had to come over here to have Mass. Then in the early ’60s, the priest from St. Meinrad in Indiana came down, and they had Father Basil Mattingly and Brother Anselm Clark, they were here for years.”

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