A day after the April 5 government raid at Southeastern Provision in Grainger County, Father Patrick Brownell, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Morristown, was standing outside St. Patrick’s family center and reflected on the quick mobilization of his staff, parish volunteers, pastors from other churches, and those in the community to address the needs of families affected.
He compared the scene to his 17 years serving in the U.S. Army National Guard.
“Being in the military, this is not out of place,” Father Brownell said.
It was the same weekend Father Brownell, a major who serves as a chaplain, was scheduled for National Guard duty. He drove to Chattanooga on Saturday morning, April 7, in his military fatigues.
On Sunday, April 8, Father Brownell returned to Morristown, arriving in time to serve as principal celebrant at his parish’s evening Mass in Spanish.
Father Peter Iorio, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Johnson City, and Father Michael Cummins, pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Kingsport, concelebrated the Mass. Deacon Jim Fage also participated.
“I think there are over 700 people here. Wow,” exclaimed Father Brownell after the procession into the church. “It makes me almost emotional when I see so many people from the parish community come to the Mass this evening, but I am a soldier and I am not allowed to cry,” he added.
The Spanish-language Mass at St. Patrick on the second Sunday of Easter was significant because it was the first Hispanic Mass since the raid in Grainger County that saw nearly 100 people detained for possible immigration violations. The families of many of those arrested were St. Patrick parishioners. Before the Mass, Father Brownell extended an invitation to the parish’s Anglo community to attend.
Nearly every seat in the church was filled.
“What I have seen the last three days makes me extremely proud of you. People have found courage to help brothers and sisters in need and to do that in the most excellent way,” Father Brownell said.
His remarks were translated into Spanish by parishioner Luis Crespo.
“It just seemed very strange that this would not be expected from people who believe in the mercy and generosity of God. If there is any good that can come from this event, it is to show one another and to show the community that we are strong and that we are faithful; that we may not know our future, but then, none of us knows our future. But we are proud to acknowledge we know the one who has the future in His hands, God,” Father Brownell said during his homily.
Also attending the Mass were ministers and parishioners from at least four non-Catholic churches in Knoxville and Morristown.
“I was having lunch with [Father Brownell] on Thursday when he got the call [about the raid], and we were talking that the real issue of this raid was greed, and these were innocent, hardworking people who suffered. To be silent wasn’t an option, and so my presence was speaking out,” said the Rev. Mark Holland, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Morristown.
During his homily, Father Brownell told worshipers he wanted to “tie this into one of the readings so you can get your money’s worth today.
“There is no expiration date on the gift of the Holy Spirit,” he pointed out.
“So, as Christians, we have to believe that the Holy Spirit is still with us and that it enflames us into action. And that we see in the first reading, in the Acts of the Apostles. The apostles were busy being Christ for others. They were sharing things in common. They were feeding the hungry. Sound familiar? What do you think we were doing yesterday, and the day before yesterday, and today, and what do you think we will be doing tomorrow? It’s the mission of the Church to take the Holy Spirit that was promised to us and to allow it to give us courage to do the things that we can do. And there is a lot to do,” Father Brownell said.
During his remarks to worshipers, St. Patrick’s pastor took a few moments to thank his parish staff, including Veronica Galvan, director of religious education.
“I have been to war twice in Iraq and Kuwait,” Father Brownell said. “And I have seen people work under great pressure. But I have never seen anyone, even in the military, who had better skills at organizing and getting things done than Veronica. We owe you a great debt of gratitude.
“You know, we may be hosting the space down here, but this is a Christian activity with many, many churches that were involved, and I didn’t realize that until I started seeing the vans pulling up with the church names on the side and people unloading food. I want to thank all of the volunteers from the communities and from all of the churches. I want to thank you very much from the bottom of my heart for everything that you have done.”
At the end of Mass, Father Brownell told the Catholics and non-Catholics in attendance, “Morristown would not be Morristown without you.”