Dedication of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is historic day in the life of the Church in East Tennessee
By Dan McWilliams
Photos by Stephanie Richer Photography, Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey, and Stephen Golder
What a day for the Diocese of Knoxville.
In a ceremony 30 years in the making, Bishop Richard F. Stika dedicated and consecrated the sparkling new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on March 3. A gathering of more than 1,000 witnessed the historic Mass that capped a three-year construction project and a three-decade- long dream.
“Sisters and brothers, we’ve done it,” Bishop Stika said in his greeting. “Something that has been in the thoughts and prayers of so many for these 30 years, beginning with the ordination of Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell and continuing with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.
“Conversations have existed over how, at some point, at some moment in the history of the Catholic Church in East Tennessee, we would build a cathedral. We’re grateful for the cathedral that has been our home for 30 years, but, as in all things, it’s time to move on, for we are growing.”
Five cardinals, 18 bishops, 106 priests, 58 deacons, and 39 men and women religious took part in the three-hour dedication Mass, along with more than 800 East Tennessee Catholics and invited guests.
“Isn’t it amazing what can be done with generous offerings, some buckets of paint, slabs of marble, and months of work?” Bishop Stika asked. “But in a few moments — depending on how long I preach — this building, this house, this combination of manmade materials and nature’s creation, will be a church, a home, a cathedral. Why? Because we dedicate, we consecrate, we set apart for God this space, this sacred space, dedicated under the title the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, archbishop emeritus of Krakow and longtime personal secretary to Pope St. John Paul II; Cardinal William Levada, prefect emeritus of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia and a Knoxville resident, all were part of the dedication, along with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States.
“Four more cardinals and I could have a baseball team,” quipped Bishop Stika, an unabashed St. Louis Cardinals fan.
Bishops attending included those in the Province of Louisville, Ky., which includes the Diocese of Knoxville.
Among that group were new Nashville Bishop Mark Spalding and Memphis Bishop Emeritus J. Terry Steib, SVD. Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, the second bishop of Knoxville, played a role in the Mass, as did Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, a Knoxville native.
Cathedral rector Father David Boettner, a vicar general of the diocese, was among the dozens of East Tennessee priests concelebrating.
A Diocese of Knoxville Dedication Choir featuring the Tennessee Wind Symphony, a string quartet from the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and choristers from around the diocese, led by Glenn Kahler, Sacred Heart director of music and liturgy, provided a powerful musical accompaniment to the Mass.
The bishop issued a warm welcome to the hundreds attending the dedication Mass, calling it a historic day in the life of the Church in East Tennessee.
“Praise be Jesus Christ,” he said. “To those visiting us on this special day, welcome to East Tennessee and welcome to the Diocese of Knoxville, which comprises all of East Tennessee. Welcome to Rocky Top, a land surrounded by majestic mountains and lakes galore. Welcome to history and beauty. A warm Southern welcome to you all.”
The rite of dedication was attended by religious and laity from the diocese, from around the country, and even from around the world.
Before the dedication, cellphone cameras clicked and necks craned in the assembly for a look at the $30.8 million, 28,000-square-foot structure’s 144-foot-high dome, which has murals of the Twelve Apostles and 16 saints. A 25-foot portrait of Jesus with the Sacred Heart is the largest image in the dome. Among the images featured on the dome walls is a mural of St. Francis with two canines bearing a striking resemblance to the bishop’s two dogs.
Among the cathedral’s art and architecture are a 45-foot-tall baldacchino, or canopy, over the altar, as well as a marble ciborium over the tabernacle, the 11-foot-long altar itself, made of Michelangelo Statuario marble (from the same quarry as that used for Michelangelo’s Pietà), and four pendentives at the base of the dome featuring the four Gospel writers.
“High above us we have the apostles and Mary and Joseph,” Bishop Stika said of the dome. “We have images like our family photographs that remind us that saints are those like us who knew they were sinners. We call upon their assistance as they now stand before the throne of God. …
“The dome calls us to look to the heavens to see the heavenly hosts, and we are reminded of Mary and Joseph, the apostles and saints like Francis and Patrick, Thérèse of Lisieux and Josephine Bakhita, Damian, Rose Philippine Duchesne, Maximilian Kolbe, John XXIII, and Blessed Paul VI, and other men and women who professed Jesus as their Lord and Savior. There are even two dogs at the feet of St. Francis of Assisi that look very familiar to many!”
In his opening remarks, Bishop Stika greeted guests attending from the political world and from other faith traditions.
The original Sacred Heart Cathedral on the same site was built as a parish church in 1956 and seated just under 600. It served as a parish church until it was elevated to cathedral status in 1988 when Pope St. John Paul II established the Diocese of Knoxville. The original cathedral will become a parish hall.
After Bishop Stika formally entered the cathedral by knocking on the front door with his crozier during the procession, the first step in the dedication was the presentation to the bishop of a commemorative key to the new cathedral and a scaled-down model of the cathedral by architects James McCrery of McCrery Architects, Kelly Headden of BarberMcMurry, and Merit Construction President and CEO Bruce Bosse.
Archbishop Pierre then read the Vatican decree formally establishing the new building as a cathedral.
“Today is a wonderful occasion for this young Diocese of Knoxville, and you are young, just 30 years old, and from my vantage point that’s truly young,” the apostolic nuncio said.
The decree stated in part that the … supreme pontiff removes the title of cathedral from the original church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus “and elevates the aforementioned Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to the status and dignity of the cathedral church” of the Diocese of Knoxville.
Applause followed the archbishop’s reading of the decree and again when Bishop Stika held it up for all to see.
Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop Johnston then joined Bishop Stika in blessing the people and the walls of the church with holy water.
The readers at Mass presented Bishop Stika with the lectionary, after which Ward Phillips and Elki Tarapuez proclaimed the readings. Deacon Sean Smith, diocesan chancellor, proclaimed the Gospel.
In his homily, the bishop gave a “welcome to your house” to the assembly “as we dedicate this building.”
“But notice that I use the terms ‘building’ and ‘house.’ This is what the cathedral is, a building and a house. It is a building of brick and stone, marble and wood. At the moment, it is no different than so many buildings that we find all throughout the world. It is no different than a house that we may visit or tour. At least for a moment!”
The day’s Gospel reading was the story of the Road to Emmaus.
“Besides being one of my favorite Gospel passages, it also reminds us, as the Catholic Church present in East Tennessee, of our journey,” Bishop Stika said. “That journey began almost two centuries ago when Bishop Richard Pius Miles was assigned to establish the Catholic Church in Tennessee. He was a brave Dominican who not only centered his life in the see city of Nashville, but who traveled far and wide throughout this long and narrow state establishing mission after mission and church after church so that we might have the capacity to share with others the Good News of the Gospel, reflected in the core teachings of who we are as the Roman Catholic Church.”
Building upon Bishop Miles’ work, Bishop Stika said, was Father Emmanuel Francis Callahan, the circuit-riding priest at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century who established numerous missions in East Tennessee that still exist today.
Eventually, the dioceses of Memphis in 1971 and Knoxville in 1988 were created, the bishop said.
“With the ordination of our founding bishop, Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell, on Sept. 8, 1988, a slow and steady growth began in the new Diocese of Knoxville,” he said. “This continued and increased under the leadership of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who we are so happy is with us today.
“At our founding, we were 40 parishes and missions serving a Catholic population of 32,000 guided by 26 diocesan priests. We stand now at 51 parishes and missions with a Catholic population of over 70,000. We now have 69 diocesan priests, 76 permanent deacons, 60 consecrated men and women, and a vibrant faith that continues to make a difference. We are a diocese that has been blessed with vocations and are praying for more.”
Additional steps in the rite of dedication included the depositing of relics in the altar and the anointing of the altar and the walls of the church.
Relics in the new cathedral altar “are those of popes Clement, Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul II,” Bishop Stika said. “There are martyrs like Andrew the Apostle, Blessed Stanley Rother of Oklahoma City, and Maria Goretti, and other men and women who taught and lived the faith that we profess and share.”
Also present is a relic of the true cross of Christ, donated by Cardinal Rigali.
“The relic of the true cross so forcefully reminds us of the price of our redemption,” the bishop said.
The bishop anointed the altar with sacred chrism and, joined by Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Dziwisz, anointed the walls in the form of a cross at 12 points throughout the cathedral.
Bishop Stika then incensed the altar, praying that “as this building is filled with fragrance, so may your Church fill the world with the fragrance of Christ.”
Altar servers lighted candles at the altar and those throughout the church that marked the anointed walls.
After the liturgy of the Eucharist came the inauguration of the place of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament: the tabernacle.
Cardinal Dziwisz blessed a statue of Pope St. John Paul II, co-patron of the Diocese of Knoxville, at the new cathedral’s south entrance. The Polish cardinal also donated two relics of the saint to the diocese: a stole frequently worn by John Paul II and a first-class relic containing drops of the saint’s blood. Cardinal Dziwisz wore the stole while blessing the statue.
“Today, we praise you for the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on Pope St. John Paul II, in whose honor we dedicate this statue,” the cardinal said in his prayer. “May we follow the example of Pope St. John Paul II and grow to maturity in the fullness of Christ.”
Bishop Stika said, “We are so grateful to have Cardinal Dziwisz with us. In a very special and unique way, he reminds us of the pope of Divine Mercy, St. John Paul II, who established this Diocese of Knoxville 30 years ago and who repeatedly reminded us never to be afraid.”
In his closing remarks, Bishop Stika said, “This cathedral would not be possible without you. Your devotion to God, your devotion to the Church in East Tennessee, your willingness to be involved in this parish and all the other 50 parishes that make up the Diocese of Knoxville. This is your home. This is a place where we will gather, hopefully for centuries, to celebrate the love of Jesus, to celebrate the sacraments, to celebrate the love of God in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
The bishop introduced Father Boettner, who received a long standing ovation from the assembly.
The bishop said the cathedral rector was perhaps the only person who visited the construction site more than he did in the last three years.
“He just asked for a pay raise,” Bishop Stika said. “This man is a good and holy priest, but he could run any construction company in the world.”
The bishop led applause for the musicians at the Mass and gave a tribute to the workers and craftsmen who labored on the cathedral.
“In a particular way, I want to thank all of you, my sisters and brothers,” Bishop Stika said. “You should be so proud. This is you. This is your home. This is your cathedral. So never come up to me and say, ‘Good job, Bishop.’ Look at each other and say, ‘Good job, good and faithful friend. We have built this to the glory of God.’”
Bishop Stika announced plans for the new cathedral in September 2014. The bishop operated a Caterpillar backhoe to break ground on the cathedral on April 19, 2015. Cardinal Dolan was among the dignitaries present for that occasion.
Cardinal Dolan said “thanks be to God” when asked about the new cathedral.
“What a gift and what a boost to the Catholic Church in the United States; sure, for the Diocese of Knoxville, but even we in New York say, look what these people can do,” he said. “They’re [70,000] strong [in Catholic population] only. I mean, we’ve got 2.8 million and look what they’re doing. Look at the tribute they paid to God and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and their confidence in the Church. I’d say ‘alleluia,’ but I can’t because it’s Lent.”
Cardinal DiNardo remarked how the people of the Diocese of Knoxville endeavored to make the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus a reality.
“It’s a very important place — the space of a new cathedral. The people who have helped build it have worked hard on it, and it provides a sense of pride and humility before the Lord,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
“As president of the Bishops Conference, I’m glad to be here. I’m also a local bishop myself, and we built a new cathedral 10 years ago, and I know how magnificent that can be. So congratulations to everyone in the Diocese of Knoxville,” he added.
The Diocese of Knoxville’s new mother church is the second cathedral to be dedicated in the United States in less than a year. In July, the Diocese of Raleigh dedicated its Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral.
Cardinal DiNardo noted how the building of three new cathedrals in a decade illustrates the dynamic growth of the Catholic Church in the southern part of the country.
Archbishop Pierre said the dedication of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus “shows the Church is alive.”
“I think it is very important to value that. To build such a church is a lot of sacrifice. But, you know, we have done that in the past, we do that in the present, and we will do that in the future because we believe in Christ, we believe in the Church and, for us, the Church is so important,” said Pope Francis’ ambassador to the United States.
Pope Francis blessed the dedication stone for the new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on Oct. 14, 2015, during a papal audience at the Vatican attended by Bishop Stika and Cardinal Rigali. Construction on the cathedral progressed until the final week before the dedication.
March 3 was “a magnificent day in the history of the local Church. The cathedral in our tradition plays an important role not only for the celebration of the sacraments and divine worship; it’s a sign and a symbol of the Church’s unity,” Bishop Johnston said. “This is a beautiful representation of that. It’s a magnificent building, and it’s going to help the local Church give glory to God for many centuries to come.”
The dream of a new cathedral for the Diocese of Knoxville began at its founding in 1988 and continued through the time of the future Archbishop Kurtz when he led the diocese.
“We were blessed with a cathedral from an existing parish church [in 1988], and we all knew that the people of God, as we’ve grown, need a strong center, a mother church,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “Bishop Stika, I take my hat, I should say, I take my miter off to him because he has gathered the people of God together, and he said it beautifully at the end: We’ve come of age.”
In then-Bishop Kurtz’s era as diocesan shepherd, a 2003 capital campaign “tested at that time whether that was the time to begin the cathedral work, but it wasn’t the time, so now it was,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “I have to credit Bishop Stika for the courage and the tenacity and the faith, and all the people of God.”
Bishop Stika in his homily quoted from the day’s first reading from Nehemiah.
“‘For today is holy to our Lord.’ Sisters and brothers of the Diocese of Knoxville, the Catholic Church in East Tennessee today is holy to our Lord, for we set apart the building, this temple, this church, this cathedral, for the Lord our God, and it is indeed holy.”