Bishop Stika joins Msgr. Hofstetter, Fr. Waraksa, parishioners in celebrating milestone
By Dan McWilliams
The first Mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd took place Sept. 24, 1967, and the Newport parish celebrated the 50th anniversary of that liturgy on the exact date this fall.
Bishop Richard F. Stika presided at a golden anniversary Mass in Good Shepherd’s newer church building dedicated in 2005, which succeeded a house and onetime funeral home that served the parish for its first 38 years. Concelebrating were pastor Monsignor Bob Hofstetter and Father Alex Waraksa, the Spanish-language minister for the parish, with Good Shepherd Deacon Otto Preske assisting.
Charter parishioner Anna Hudson, who served chicken at the dinner following Mass, recalled the situation in Newport 50 years ago.
“I came to the states in June 1967, and I came [here] and there was no church. No Catholic church,” she said. “So every Sunday morning I went on the porch and prayed. I had a little prayer book—I prayed the Mass, and I would pray to the Lord to do something. I had to have some spiritual food. I prayed, and it wasn’t long after that my mother-in-law said, ‘There’s an article on the front page of the paper’ here in Newport ‘and they will open a Catholic mission,’ and I was so happy.”
Mrs. Hudson immediately volunteered to help the fledgling mission.
“They were looking for workers to go and clean up because they were remodeling the funeral home,” she said. “There was a phone number in there, and my mother-in-law called that number, and the next morning a lady showed up, and the lady’s name was Laura Mathis. She took me, and we worked, and that’s the start. That’s the beginning. Isn’t that great? Absolutely great.”
In his opening remarks at Mass, Bishop Stika recalled the name of Father Emmanuel Callahan, the circuit-riding priest who was the first to celebrate Mass in most of East Tennessee’s rural counties around the turn of the 20th century.
“It’s good for a shepherd to be at Good Shepherd today as I celebrate with you this Eucharist,” Bishop Stika said, “as we celebrate 50 years ago when the Eucharist was first celebrated, but even farther back than that—when Father Callahan was drifting through this neck of the woods, in this beautiful area that God has given to us.”
The bishop came to Newport after attending the beatification in Oklahoma City of Blessed Stanley Rother, who was martyred in Guatemala in 1981. Blessed Rother’s “faith was nurtured by his family, his friends in high school and grade school, eventually in the seminary, but also by his parish,” Bishop Stika said.
The bishop told Good Shepherd parishioners that their parish is a “school for saints.” The definition of a saint that he likes the most “is that a saint recognizes that they’re a sinner, and then they try to work through that,” Bishop Stika said.
“That’s what my challenge to all of you and to myself should be: work on that sense of holiness.”
Bishop Stika repeated that challenge: “As you celebrate 50 years, don’t forget you’re holy, don’t forget you’re a sinner, and know that Jesus invites you to be a saint who recognizes that you’re a sinner. And if that is your guiding principle, building the kingdom of God in your families, in your life, in your parish, and in your community, then we can make a difference. Congratulations to you all. As St. Paul says, never tire of doing good.”
In his closing remarks at Mass, the bishop thanked Good Shepherd “on behalf of all the other parishes, the other 50 institutions, for all you do for the diocese, for your parish, for this community of Newport, because as I remind all of our parishes, whether it’s the very biggest, like All Saints, or the very smallest, like Sneedville, we do together what we can’t do by ourselves. We belong to a larger Church than that. We belong to the Church here in the United States and then the entire world, which is governed by Pope Francis.
“This parish is a school for saints. Don’t play hooky.”
Monsignor Hofstetter said “it’s a real honor” to be pastor of Good Shepherd and that “it’s been a close family” in its 50-year history, from the original house building to the parish’s new home on Cosby Highway.
“The first 38 years they were in a house, so they got to be very close together. Coming out here has allowed us to expand a lot,” he said.
Members of Good Shepherd do much good in the community.
“The St. Vincent de Paul Society does about $30- or $40,000 worth of charity, and then we have a cancer support group in the parish, and they probably do $50,000 worth of charity in the area each year,” Monsignor Hofstetter said.
The Good Shepherd pastor has held that post for 12 years.
“It’s like heaven. I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,” Monsignor Hofstetter said. “It’s the most exciting place I’ve been in a long, long time.”
Irish Catholic railroad workers established a Catholic presence in Newport in the 1850s. Father Callahan celebrated the first Mass in the city in 1907 in the home of Peter and Rose Frawley.
Father Callahan and the Catholic Church Extension Society helped complete St. Agnes Chapel in Newport, which served the area from 1913 to 1943.
Area Catholics gathered for Mass in homes and public buildings in the 1940s and ’50s before industry increased the number of Catholics in the area in the 1960s.
In spring 1967, Nashville Bishop Joseph A. Durick purchased a house and 2.5-acre lot on Broadway in Newport for a future church. Father Luzerne Schnupp celebrated the first Mass there on Sept. 24, 1967. The parish received its name of Church of the Good Shepherd from Bishop Durick in January 1968.
In 1981, the parish began to be served by the pastor of Notre Dame in Greeneville instead of St. Patrick in Morristown.
More than 100 people packed the church for a 25th-anniversary celebration in September 1992. Father Schnupp was among the concelebrants.
In 2004, ground was broken on Cosby Highway for a new Good Shepherd Church. Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz joined pastor Father Dan Whitman, longtime parish coordinator Dennis Bible, and others for the groundbreaking.
Bishop Kurtz dedicated the new church on April 27, 2005, as more than 225 attended the Mass.
Mr. Bible, a charter parishioner, died Aug. 18, 2010, after more than 25 years of service as coordinator.
The parish’s Dennis H. Bible Parish Hall is named for him. Good Shepherd now is home to more than 150 families.
Lori Hemminger is a lifelong member of Good Shepherd.
“I was 6 when the church opened. I’m 56 now,” she said. Ms. Hemminger has a brother in Georgia, a brother in Colorado, and two sisters and a brother who live in the Newport area.
“My parents, Patricia and Gail Hemminger, still go here,” she said. The Hemmingers originally are from Michigan, but Lori Hemminger’s father was transferred by his employer, Electro-Voice, to Newport when the children were young. She remembers attending Good Shepherd when the church was in the center of Newport. At that time there were only about 20 families, she said.
But the church also owned vacant land with its building, and a decision was made to sell the property to a developer and relocate the church to its current building on Cosby Highway. She said apartments were built on the vacant land on the site of the original church, which still is standing and serves as offices for the apartments.
“It was very, very small. It was smaller than this basement here,” she said, comparing the original worship space to the basement of the present Good Shepherd Church.
She said the first priest she remembers was Father Schnupp, and she recalled Sister Mary Ann Konieski, OP, the pastoral associate at Good Shepherd from 1990 to 1999. At the current location, she recalls former pastor Father Whitman and Father Waraksa from his earlier service at the parish.
Ms. Hemminger spoke fondly of the family atmosphere at Good Shepherd.
“And it has gotten better and better because our families have grown,” she said. “And Father Bob has been a blessing. He has done well.”
She said she cannot imagine worshiping at another church.
“I can’t imagine people saying ‘I went to this church and then I went to that church.’ And churches splitting,” Ms. Hemminger said. “That is far beyond me to imagine going to another church or having the original church split. Good Shepherd has been a blessing.”
Mrs. Hudson said she has seen Good Shepherd grow “little by little. It wasn’t instant, but we grew and we grew and we grew, little by little, and today we’re here.”
She called Good Shepherd “the biggest blessing in my life. God has done marvelous things. He has done wonders here. He really has. I’ve got to give him praise.”