We are building the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus for the glory of God -Bishop Stika
By Bill Brewer
Photos by Stephanie Richer
Bishop Richard F. Stika is finding it hard to curb his excitement with less than 30 days before the eagerly awaited dedication of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on March 3.
The flurry of activity that is constant around the cathedral beckons him twice daily as he gives regular updates about construction progress on social media.
And as workers complete the final phase of the three-year construction project, Bishop Stika and cathedral rector Father David Boettner are making preparations to unveil the Diocese of Knoxville’s new mother church.
For them, though, the project has been going on much longer.
“I have been involved in this along with Father David and so many others for five years now. It started with concept, then blueprints, and construction. I’ve been going to the cathedral every day, a couple of times a day, and just to see it grow from the groundbreaking to now is very exciting,” Bishop Stika said.
In addition to his twice-daily pilgrimages, the bishop has been able to watch the cathedral rise above the Sacred Heart ground from his Chancery office. The cathedral now towers over his office and the Bearden area of West Knoxville. At times, it even can be seen from Interstate 40/75.
As he points to the some 60,000 vehicles that travel along Northshore Drive daily, passing in front of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Bishop Stika realizes most if not all of those drivers over the past three years have been curious as to what has been growing out of the ground.
“Soon they will see a finished product, and they will hear the bells ringing again. And there will be a certain sense of ‘welcome to the mother church of the Diocese of Knoxville,’” he said.
With its high-visibility and media coverage surrounding its construction, the cathedral has been a hot topic of discussion around the diocese.
Now that the cathedral is at the threshold of opening for Masses and other sacred services, Bishop Stika is contemplative about its significance.
“I say this over and over: we do together what we can’t do by ourselves. This is a physical manifestation of that. This cathedral will be something that will endure for generations and generations to come. It’s the mother church. It’s where we will welcome Catholics and people of other faith traditions to join us in prayer and culture. It will be a great tool for evangelization,” he observed.
“It’s also good for Sacred Heart Parish because the parish has outgrown its facilities. It’s the second-largest parish next to All Saints.
It’s a dynamic parish that has great leadership. This is continuing to look into the future as our diocese celebrates 30 years in existence,” he added.
Although the cathedral is not yet open, Bishop Stika said it already is having an impact in the community. When he travels throughout the diocese he hears comments from Catholics and non-Catholics alike and also from ministers of other faith traditions who are excited about East Tennessee’s newest sacred house of worship.
The ministers see this as a component of reaffirming faith in East Tennessee, according to Bishop Stika.
The bishop recently gave an impromptu tour of the new cathedral to five priests from Baton Rouge, La., who were staying in Gatlinburg. They had heard about the cathedral project and asked to see it.
He also is hearing from other parts of the country about the project, which may be the last newly constructed cathedral in the United States for a while.
The Diocese of Raleigh last summer dedicated its new cathedral, and Cardinal Justin Rigali was among the prelates attending its Dedication Mass. Bishop Stika noted that Raleigh went from having the smallest cathedral in the country to now having the fifth largest when its Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral was dedicated in July.
And he noted that the Archdiocese of Boston is renovating its Cathedral of the Holy Cross and the Archdiocese of New York recently completed renovation of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
But the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus may be it for a while.
“It’s probably going to be the last cathedral built in the U.S. from scratch for a long time. I think this cathedral is going to be perfect for our future,” the bishop said.
But as he embraces the present while looking ahead, Bishop Stika believes when you walk into a Catholic church, you should see the church in terms of history.
“I wanted to make sure when we built the cathedral somebody wouldn’t be able to pinpoint when it was built, what decade. Sometimes architecture reflects certain decades. I think our cathedral will be timeless. It’s traditional. Its focus is on the altar and the tabernacle. It’s flexible. We have the two side chapels that can be used for different things. It’s large enough for the needs of this diocese and even into the future,” he noted.
To that end, when people enter the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, they will see sacred worship space rich in heritage, from the traditional cruciform-style architecture to the interior and exterior accents like stone pillars, marble columns and marble floor tile, handcrafted wood baldacchino, cathedra, chancel rail, confessionals, Stations of the Cross, sculpted column capitals, and the architrave inscripted with the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It will be a worship experience that almost overwhelms the senses, one that most people have not experienced. But it’s one that Bishop Stika very much wants all Diocese of Knoxville parishioners to have, hopefully frequently.
He said as he drives toward the cathedral, it looks impressive as it comes into view. “That is what is so awe-inspiring to me.”
“The Scriptures say to not hide your faith. This is one way the Catholic Church is saying this is who we are as Catholics. This is all about Jesus,” he said.
To that end, Bishop Stika noted a long list of special services surrounding the cathedral Dedication Mass, beginning with a prayer service that will mark the permanent closing of the original Sacred Heart Cathedral.
As solemn as that vespers service will be, anticipation will be building the week of Feb. 25 leading up to the March 3 dedication. On March 2, a vigil with the relics will be the first service in the new cathedral and is open to the public.
The Dedication Mass the next day promises to be one of the most unique worship experiences in the Catholic Church. The three-hour service requires a ticket to attend.
Bishops from around the country will be part of the Dedication Mass as will a number of cardinals, including Cardinal Rigali, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and Cardinal William Levada.
Bishop Stika explained that Cardinal Dziwisz was the longtime personal secretary to Pope St. John Paul II, who formed the Diocese of Knoxville in 1988. Cardinal Dziwisz also is the archbishop emeritus of Krakow, Poland.
Securing Cardinal Dziwisz for the Dedication Mass and related programs is a real coup for the diocese, according to Bishop Stika, who places the cardinal in the center of the line between Pope St. John Paul II and the Diocese of Knoxville.
“He is a man of history. The reason I invited him is because of his special connection to St. John Paul II, who created our diocese. This is as close as we can get to St. John Paul II. He is somebody who knew the pope so well. He was there when St. John Paul II was almost assassinated. He was there when St. John Paul II died. He was there when St. John Paul II visited the Philippines and Mexico, where he celebrated Mass for millions of people at each site,” Bishop Stika said.
Bishop Stika also noted that Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Dziwisz worked closely together for Pope John Paul II for years and “have a great affection for each other.”
The bishop said Cardinal Dolan is a close friend of the Diocese of Knoxville who attended the groundbreaking for the cathedral in April 2015. And like Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal Levada, prefect emeritus for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, also was part of the cathedral groundbreaking ceremony.
Bishop Stika noted that Cardinal Levada succeeded Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Cardinal Levada served as the Church’s chief theologian in the high-ranking Vatican post from May 2005 to June 2012. He also is archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Among the bishops attending will be Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, who was the second bishop of Knoxville; Bishop James V. Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., who began his vocation as a Diocese of Knoxville priest and also served as diocesan chancellor; the Diocese of Nashville’s new shepherd, Bishop Mark Spalding; and the Diocese of Memphis’ new shepherd, Bishop Martin Holley.
The Dedication Mass will be live-streamed over the Internet, and global Catholic cable network EWTN will broadcast a recording of the Mass the following week.
Then at 5 p.m. on March 3, the cathedral will have its first parish Mass that is open to the public.
On Sunday, March 4, regularly scheduled parish Masses will begin, and at 3 p.m. Cardinal Dziwisz will celebrate Mass for the Polish community.
At 7 p.m. on March 4, Bishop Stika will emcee the Conversation with the Cardinals that will feature Cardinals Dziwisz, Rigali, and Levada, and Archbishop Pierre.
And that is just the beginning.
As regular Masses begin being held in the new cathedral, Sacred Heart Parish will soon be celebrating Easter Masses. And all diocesan confirmations will be held in the new cathedral this year.
Bishop Stika, who noted that members of other faith communities have been invited to the Dedication Mass, said plans are underway for ecumenical prayer services in the new cathedral. One in particular will be close to the bishop’s heart.
“We’re going to have a prayer service for all the workers and invite them to come back and thank them in a very public way,” he said. He got to know many of the workers on the construction project as he made his twice-daily visits to the work site. He has told them on more than one occasion how grateful he and the diocese are for their workmanship.
Plans also are being made to restore the traditional Corpus Christi processions and invite the Knights of Columbus to be part of that on the feast of Corpus Christi.
“We want to expand what we’ve been doing at the cathedral now that we have the sacred space to do it and open it up to some of the beautiful and rich traditions of the Catholic Church,” Bishop Stika said.
Also being discussed for the new cathedral are a series of concerts “to experience sacred music in sacred space,” he noted, and that could include hosting the Knoxville Opera and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for a performance that would be held on the front steps of the cathedral.
Although long-awaited and years in the making, the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus will be in frequent use once it opens. A number of weddings already are scheduled in coming months.
The bishop said the beauty of the new cathedral, like the present one, is it never closes. It is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And the new cathedral will soon offer a 24-hour chapel for the Blessed Sacrament and perpetual adoration.
As the past, present, and future of Sacred Heart Cathedral converge the weekend of March 3, Bishop Stika is reflective of the Diocese of Knoxville as he approaches a decade of service here.
To the bishop, the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is a testament to what the diocese can accomplish when everyone works together.
“Our dreams are real. I’m a pragmatic person. But I also am an optimist. And this diocese is filled with optimism. Right after we dedicate the cathedral, I will complete nine years of service here and enter my 10th year. I just see all the marvelous things that have occurred here. Archbishop Kurtz gives the same testimony. All these things that have been happening are exciting. But it just shows that you can be a small community but have a large impact, not only on your own community but on the community that surrounds you,” he said.
As he prepares to celebrate his 10th Easter season in East Tennessee, Bishop Stika can’t hide his excitement at celebrating the most sacred of Christian seasons in the new mother church.
He’s also excited for people of the diocese who will worship in the mother church, whether at a regular Mass, a diocesan-wide celebration like the Chrism Mass, a wedding, a funeral, or any of the many special Masses that will be celebrated there.
But he’s most excited because the new cathedral celebrates Jesus and exalts God in a most special way.
“It’s a humbling experience to be the bishop of a diocese and to know that people are counting on you to be their shepherd. It’s an awe-inspiring thing. As I see this cathedral and the accomplishment of so many, it all comes down to giving glory to God to allow our worship, to know that God loves us and wanted to send us his Son, Jesus,” Bishop Stika said. “I’m only here for a season, and then there will be another bishop, and then another bishop. This has been an exciting time for me, whether it’s been the mobile medical clinic, or shoring up our finances, or starting new parishes, or new religious communities, now finally a cathedral.
“It really is humbling, in a good sense, because I see what we’ve accomplished when we work together, and we do things that we can’t do by ourselves — also to be part of history and know that this cathedral, God willing, will stand for hundreds of years and give testimony to the faith of a small Catholic community that continues to grow in East Tennessee. It’s all about God.”