Part of the Faith on the Border series
By Dan McWilliams
The Georgia-Tennessee state line bisects this little church, located in the Diocese of Knoxville’s southeastern corner. The diagonal direction of the line leaves the front door of the church in Tennessee and the altar in Georgia.
So when St. Catherine pastor Father Tom Moser delivers his homilies from the pulpit, he’s standing in Georgia and directing his message into Tennessee.
St. Catherine draws a majority of its parishioners from Georgia towns Blue Ridge and McCaysville, but also a good number from North Carolina.
“We have people coming here from North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia,” Deacon Loris Sinanian said. “It’s one of the few churches probably that has people from three states attending.”
Parishioner Jennie Williams of St. Catherine comes from Morganton, Ga., a small community outside of Blue Ridge about 11 miles from the church. She’s actually closer to the Catholic church in Blue Ridge but prefers to attend St. Catherine.
“This is actually the church that I received my early sacraments in. I grew up in this church,” she said. “When we first started in this church, I lived on the Tennessee side, but then when I was 4 years old, my parents moved into Georgia, and we stayed at this church as I grew up. I got married and moved away. After I got married, my husband and I decided to move back here, and I came back to this church because it’s my home church.”
Father Moser is proud of his parish’s generosity.
“We are a parish that is a very generous parish, no matter where the physical church stands,” he said. “This building was built in 1950 and was without any kind of debt, and we’ve never had a debt since then.”
At least one St. Catherine parishioner is particular about where he situates himself for Mass.
“I have a Georgia Bulldog football fan, but he only sits in the Georgia pews. He doesn’t sit in the Tennessee pews,” Father Moser said with a laugh. “He’s a staunch Bulldogs fan.”
Father Moser said no real issues arise from having an interstate congregation.
“Luckily, they don’t fight each other when there’s a football game going on,” he said, laughing. “They all seem to kind of put those divisions away and gather together.”
Parishioner M.J. Uhlik lives in Turtletown, Tenn., on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. She says state lines don’t matter as far as where people are from.
“I don’t really think of it as being different,” she said. “Probably others are interested in it, but, for us, we’re so used to the fact that they live in Georgia and we go back and forth between North Carolina and everything, that you don’t even think about it.”
Richard Jabaley, 80, of Epworth, Ga., but born and raised in Copperhill, Tenn., is from one of the founding families of St. Catherine Labouré Parish. He said the church in Copperhill was the only one of its kind in the area for some time.
“This church was built and dedicated in 1950,” he said. “There was not a church in Blue Ridge, not until many, many years later, maybe 20 years later. There was not a church in Hayesville, N.C. There was a church in Murphy, N.C., which is 30-something miles from here. But there wasn’t one in Robbinsville, there wasn’t one in Hayesville. Now there are churches in all of those places. … As far as who came here to church, if you were Georgia or North Carolina or whatever, the fact of the matter is you came here.”
Officials with the Tennessee Copper Co., which was the main industry in Copperhill until it closed in the 1980s, helped fill St. Catherine, Mr. Jabaley said.
“All the executives lived in Copperhill, and most of them were Catholic back then. They came to our church. They were generous; even to this day there is still a generous contribution to our church collections.”
Mr. Jabaley is a charter parishioner.
“I’ve been here the whole time, from day one,” he said. “I’ve been serving Mass since I was 12 or 13 years old. I’m just proud of our little church.”