St. Teresa breaks ground on new church

Parish lays foundation for growth with permanent worship site in Maynardville

By Bill Brewer

God is many things. The Creator, Father Almighty, Most High, and Maker of Heaven and Earth, among other apt descriptions.

Father Steve Pawelk, GHM, and members of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in Maynardville and St. John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge have lovingly bestowed another, albeitearthly, title on the Holy Spirit: General Contractor.

As those congregations look forward to the day when they relocate from temporary storefront worship spaces to dedicated churches, and they finalize ways to make it happen, Father Pawelk has shown them that God also is the Great Provider.

He emphasized that point Sept. 2 when St. Teresa Parish broke ground on its new church building located across Highway 33 from Union County High School and only a short distance from its current location in a commercial building.

Amid countless planning sessions and construction committee meetings, the Glenmary priest identified people in the parish who could make the project work.

“I don’t know how others do it, but I believe in building a church from the ground up, from the Holy Spirit. God says to every congregation, ‘Whatever you need done, it’s already there,’” he said. “They might not even know they’re there, but that’s the Holy Spirit. You have to call it forth. Amazing as it seems, they may say, ‘Well, I’ve never really done that.’ But can you? ‘Well, I could.’ Therefore you will.”

That construction model has the power of the Holy Spirit behind it, according to the Glenmary priest.

“We met with those who have talents and talked about what to choose for our materials. One said, ‘I do tiling,’ so for the entryway and all the bathrooms we’re doing tile. One said, ‘I do cement,’ so the church floor is cement. Four people do brick, so we’re doing a brick church. We determined it based on the skills and labor of the members we have. That’s how the Holy Spirit worked. It wasn’t the idea of the architect. The architect worked with the ideas he heard from the talent we have and designed the church accordingly,” he said.

“We are aiming for our church to cost $800,000. And that’s feasible because a lot of the labor is being donated. The value of the building could be much higher than $800,000. We are fortunate here that many of our parishioners own their own construction companies or are associated with construction. Many of them are donating or are doing work at half cost for the church,” he added.

Bishop Richard F. Stika and Union County Mayor Mike Williams joined Father Pawelk in taking up ceremonial shovels and turning soil. Just prior to breaking ground, Knoxville architect Dan Brewer presented Bishop Stika with official drawings of the church building.

The occasion marked the parish’s sixth anniversary. It was officially formed Sept. 1, 2011, by the Glenmary Home Missioners. Bishop Stika elevated St. Teresa from a Catholic mission to a parish on Sept. 5, 2014. And on Sept. 11, 2016, a week after Mother Teresa’s canonization in Rome, Bishop Stika celebrated Mass there, presiding over the parish’s official name change from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to St. Teresa of Kolkata.

Father Pawelk said the St. Teresa of Kolkata congregation began planning for the new church four years ago.

An artist’s rendering shows the new St. Teresa of Kolkata Church in Maynardville.

“The first year was simply spiritual planning, where we held a series of meetings talking about what is a church. I had three people with backgrounds in religious life talk about their idea of church and the people reflected on that. From that came the ideas of what they wanted the church complex to involve. Then we got the architect for the master plan, and we started doing the fundraising and what is needed. In January, we were able to say, ‘Yes, we are ready to move forward.’ So we hired our current architect and have been working forward,” Father Pawelk said.

“So, we’re ready. We have enough money to begin, not enough money to build. We’ll have a mortgage, in other words. At this stage we’re getting all the permissions. The plans are just now going through the permission process, the permission of the city, the permission of the church board, the permission of the diocese board. Then we will start bulldozing,” he added.

As Bishop Stika surveyed the site of the new St. Teresa of Kolkata Church, he took in the pastoral vista that will serve as a backdrop for the parish and spoke of God’s handiwork.

“A few weeks ago we looked to the sky to see the eclipse and we saw the beauty of God’s creation in the way the moon and the sun and the stars all came together. Now we turn our attention to the Earth as we turn the soil with our shovels to officially begin construction of this new parish dedicated to the memory of St. Teresa of Kolkata, the great woman of charity, love, and care,” Bishop Stika said.

“But in reality we aren’t looking up and we aren’t looking down. We are looking to the future. I’m so grateful to the Glenmary community and Father Steve (Pawelk), and all of you because this dream is now becoming reality. Soon the storefront will be part of history. And this beautiful church will give glory to God. The Old Testament talks about how Moses approached God in the burning bush. We don’t have a burning bush here, but we have a burning faith in all our hearts; cultures coming together, people coming together, neighbors coming together blessed by God,” the bishop noted.

When St. Teresa is dedicated late next year it will be the seventh church Bishop Stika has dedicated since being ordained as the third bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville in 2009. The new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus will be dedicated on March 3. And in addition to St. John Paul II in Rutledge, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Mission in Erwin also is planning a new church building.

St. Teresa, St. John Paul II, and St. Michael the Archangel are staffed by priests and brothers from the Glenmary Home Missioners order.

Representing the Diocese of Knoxville, the Glenmary missioners have been planting seeds of Catholic faith in East Tennessee. Communities like Maynardville, Rutledge, and Erwin that for decades have been devoid of any organized Catholic presence are seeing their congregations grow.

That development wasn’t lost on Union County Mayor Williams, who thanked those in attendance at the St. Teresa of Kolkata groundbreaking and credited the diversity the faith community adds to the county.

“Your presence here makes Union County a better place. Each one of you has uniqueness. Each one of you has ideas, has dreams, and has visions. Union County needs your uniqueness. Union County needs your vision. Union County cannot grow unless we have newness and ideas. This church is a blessing for Union County, and Father Steve has been a blessing to the county mayor on many occasions,” Mayor Williams said.

“I want you to know that anything that we can do to make it better, we will do. But I want you to know first and foremost, you being here, you being a part of our community, this church will make Union County a better place. So for that, I want to say thank you to each and every one of you,” the mayor added.

In praising the project, Mayor Williams spoke of the growing Catholic community’s importance to Union County and its continued expansion, citing the new church as a symbol of growth.

Church architect Dan Brewer of the Knoxville firm Brewer Ingram Fuller Architects explained that the building design’s aim is to bring together the congregation’s vision, the bucolic setting in which the church will be built, and key elements of community and faith.

“The project is designed to be seen from the main highway by the axis of the access road. Our design concept was to be absolutely as simple as possible because we want to stand out from the background against the beautiful trees and mountains of East Tennessee,” Mr. Brewer said.

“This is a very simple project, a very simple building pointing toward the heavens. It’s a great place for the children of God to assemble and work for Him. This groundbreaking is the culmination of a lot of work, but also the beginning of another phase of work, and hopefully we will see this project become reality soon for this congregation. We just hope that all the community will be influenced and helped out by these people because they really want to be a part of this community, and this building should help them and all their ministries here,” he noted.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, then Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, first opened its doors on Nov. 20, 2011. When the young parish was in formation, early Masses were held in the carport of a Maynardville home. Union County’s mayor was one of the first visitors.

The congregation numbered about 60 in the early days, and that number has grown to more than 120 families now. It didn’t take the congregation long to move from the carport, and then a short stint at a Methodist church, to its current location at 4365 Maynardville Highway, where Father Pawelk led the conversion of a hotdog stand into worship space.

Father Pawelk offered special thanks to the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee for providing the funding to purchase property for the Maynardville and Rutledge churches. The Catholic Foundation is a Diocese of Knoxville organization that purchases land for new Catholic churches, schools, and ministries throughout East Tennessee as well as helping fund the education of diocesan seminarians.

The Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee (CFET), established in 1988, has purchased property for more than a dozen new churches. When founded in 1988, there were 11 counties in the Diocese of Knoxville without a Catholic church. Now, there are only three counties without a Catholic church.

“Both our properties (St. Teresa and St. John Paul II) are through the grace of the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee. We are standing on the land because of them. We are very grateful,” Father Pawelk said.

A special thanks was also offered for the support of the Catholic Extension Society in providing the final grant money for the building of the church. The Catholic Extension Society has generously supported the mission Diocese of Knoxville in helping the Church grow throughout East Tennessee.

As Bishop Stika has said repeatedly, “Where would we be without the help of the Catholic Extension Society?”

Bishop Stika receives the architectural drawings for the new St. Teresa church from architect Dan Brewer, center. Deacon Larry Rossini, right, emceed the groundbreaking ceremony.

John Deinhart, director of stewardship and strategic planning for the Diocese of Knoxville and director of the foundation, said Father Pawelk approached the diocese about acquiring property for the Maynardville church. At that point, Bishop Stika and Mr. Deinhart led a CFET team in search of Union County land suitable for the church.

“There were only a few properties in Union County that were appropriate. The size and location of the tract put this property head and shoulders above the others we looked at,” Mr. Deinhart said.

The 35 acre-site on Maynardville Highway (Highway 33) across from the high school cost $260,000 and offered something the other sites couldn’t – a direct path to Maynardville Highway.

“This was a more substantial purchase, but it gives the parish much better exposure on the main road. Part of our mission is to evangelize the Catholic faith in Union County. I’m very proud about how the Catholic faith is growing and maturing in Union County,” Mr. Deinhart noted.

“What started in 2011 as a church in a carport with just a couple dozen families is now a thriving parish with 100-plus families, and they’re going to build their own church,” he added.

“Both the parish and diocese have  come together in partnership to make this new church a reality.”

Mr. Deinhart credited Bishop Stika, Father Pawelk, Brother Craig Digmann, and Brother Joe Steen for working together to get the project off the ground. He also credited CFET members and donors who made the land purchases possible in Maynardville and Rutledge. St. John Paul II Catholic Mission raised about $100,000 through CFET gifts and Home Campaign fundraising to buy land in Grainger County for its new church.

“It’s not the diocese or the parish. It’s the diocese and the parish coming together in the Holy Spirit. It’s the truest testament of what we’re called to do together as a people of faith. That’s why we’re here,” Mr. Deinhart said.

Father Pawelk, who serves as the pastor of St. Teresa and St. John Paul II, said capacity congregations at both churches are making the transition to permanent locations necessary.

“In Rutledge, where we are 60 percent dependent on outside income, we have to stop paying rent because that is money that could be used for something else,” he said, adding that he hopes to present plans for the new St. John Paul II church to Bishop Stika by year’s end and then begin the permit phase.

“We are trying to build a much simpler project for St. John Paul II. We were very blessed. St. Elizabeth Church in Elizabethton made a very significant donation to us. Then we were adopted by St. Paul of the Cross, one of the wealthiest churches from the suburbs of Chicago. They raised $50,000 during six weeks of Lent. Because of those donations and the capital campaign, we now have $125,000 to build something. It’s going to be a self-build, basically a square building with an entrance and a pavilion, very simple. I don’t even want to call it a multipurpose building. It’s just to get out of the rental property so we can save money for a church appropriate for us,” he continued.

And in extending the Holy Spirit-inspired construction model to St. John Paul II, Father Pawelk said Glenmary Brother Joe Steen, who serves both communities as outreach minister, is a draftsman on the Rutledge project. Parishioner Tom Charron is volunteering as general contractor.

St. John Paul II isn’t the only mission church to receive assistance from outside the diocese. St. Teresa has developed a close relationship with St. Malachy Parish in Geneseo, Ill. And St. Teresa parishioners have raised at least $15,000 a year for the last four years from its annual carnival. This year, the carnival was held in conjunction with the groundbreaking.

At the Maynardville groundbreaking, Father Pawelk recognized Tom and Mary Hughes of St. Malachy in the Diocese of Peoria. The couple visits the Union County parish often and has led fundraising efforts at their home parish to help St. Teresa.

“Our parish donates every month,” Mrs. Hughes said. “St. Teresa makes a quilt every year and sends it to St. Malachy to be raffled. One time, a quilt brought $2,000. They (St. Teresa) get a donation each year from a distribution from my 401(k). This parish is so alive and so together. It is very inspiring.”

“And we tithe in every collection to a special project,” Mr. Hughes said.

“We admire Father Steve so much, and also Brothers Joe (Steen) and Craig (Digmann). They are so dynamic. And there’s a lot of diversity in the parish.”

Bishop Stika believes all of those characteristics St. Teresa possesses bode well for its future. And they reflect on Jesus and the parish’s patron saint.

“In a very special way, in the name of all the other Catholics of East Tennessee, I just want to say congratulations. As we break ground, we know that eventually as the foundation is built and the church comes up, the foundation is Jesus Himself. May the Lord continue to bless you, and may St. Teresa of Kolkata keep you. One of her great expressions was, ‘Every day we should do something beautiful for God,’ and that is what we’re doing this day and into the future,” Bishop Stika said.

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