St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish outgrows the carport and storefront, celebrates move into church
Story and photography by Dan McWilliams
An overflow crowd witnessed Bishop Richard F. Stika dedicate the new St. Teresa of Kolkata Church on Feb. 2 in Maynardville, just seven years after the parish’s first humble gathering for Mass in a nearby carport.
St. Teresa parishioners helped build their church, which replaces the storefront meeting site the Glenmary parish has used since its founding in 2011.
“It’s amazing what you can do with a little paint and wood,” Bishop Stika said to begin his homily.
Concelebrants at the dedication Mass were Glenmary Father Steve Pawelk, St. Teresa’s founding pastor, and Father Chet Artysiewicz, Glenmary Home Missioners president. Priests, deacons, and brothers attending included several from the Glenmary family. Nearly 300 of the faithful filled the church.
The first St. Teresa Mass, in the parish’s mission days, was held in a carport, before the storefront church came along. A purchase in December 2013 of 26 acres by the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee provided land for the new church, across from Union County High School on Maynardville Highway, and the parish then began saving for its first permanent building.
Father Artysiewicz called the dedication day “incredible.”
“One of the things is the speed with which this has taken place. Really seven and a half years, to see this dedication is incredibly fast,” the Glenmary president said. “Part of it goes, I think, in thanksgiving to this foundation in the diocese that helped provide the ground, because so often a small parish has to save, and then they expend all their savings on the land, and then they have to start all over again. So they had a jump-start with that, but even with that, it’s still just incredible speed, and it’s just wonderful to see the place overcrowded today for the dedication. It looks like we’re going to have to knock out a couple of walls to get everybody in.
“For us, as missionaries, to see this thing grow up from the seed, where the first outdoor Mass had I think about 26 people. To see the faith and the response of the local people here, it’s just been wonderful to see the ministry of Glenmary priests and brothers that has taken place here.”
Parishioners gathered outside before the Mass began to witness Bishop Stika receive the key to the church from Jack Palmer of Brewer, Ingram, and Fuller Architects Inc. The bishop then formally knocked on the church door, and the assembly processed inside for the start of Mass.
The St. Teresa of Kolkata Dance Group, indigenous dancers dressed in traditional costume, performed before the Mass and provided a column for the entrance procession into the church.
“Their dance is a stomp dance — what they’re doing is praising God by stomping on sins. It’s a very religious, spiritual dance for them,” Father Pawelk said.
Once inside, Bishop Stika blessed the water in the baptismal font.
“Sanctify,” he prayed, “therefore, with your blessing this water that has been created, that sprinkled on us and on the walls of this church, it may be a sign of the cleansing waters in salvation, in which we have been washed in Christ and made a temple of your Spirit.”
The bishop then blessed the walls of the church.
“This has been a particularly good last 12-14 months,” Bishop Stika said in his homily. “Last March 3, after 30 years, we built a cathedral that welcomes everybody, that’s kind of a home place where we all gather for festive occasions and solemn ceremonies. Recently, I was at St. Michael the Archangel [in Erwin], which the Glenmary community staffs, to bless their new house of worship….
“Looks like we’re going to have to add on to the church we’re in [at St. Teresa] … depending on how you and your sisters and brothers welcome people into the church to celebrate the Eucharist.”
The bishop referred to the architects and to the contractor, Jenkins & Stiles LLC.
“Right now it’s just a building … we have the architect; because of his gifts to design, we have this building; [we have] the work of the contractors; but also the work of the people of this parish, who did so much to build a house that what we take today will no longer be a house but will be a home, because, after all, isn’t home where the heart is? I saw that on a Hallmark card. But that’s true.”
Bishop Stika acknowledged the new tabernacle at St. Teresa and the parish’s statues in the narthex and statues of St. Teresa and St. Joseph in the sanctuary.
“Those statues remind us that there are people just like us who are recognized by the Church and presented to us as role models,” he said.
The statue of St. Teresa was a gift to the parish from the bishop.
“We have a woman by the name of Agnes — Mother Teresa. She was born in Albania and felt the call to be a religious sister and wound up in Ireland,” the bishop said. “She taught in Ireland for a long time, but she felt that call of Jesus, the Lord, to do something else. So eventually this Albanian, with a little bit of Irish in her now, wound up in India. She saw the poverty. She saw people dying in the streets; she saw people who were hopeless, kids who were not educated. She took a risk, just like you all did in starting this parish.
“She founded a religious community that numbers in the thousands now, this little woman who was not even 5 feet tall. And now this church, this parish, is dedicated to her protection.”
A letter signed by St. Teresa is in the narthex at the Maynardville church. When Bishop Stika returns to the new church for St. Teresa’s feast day in September, he will bring a first-class relic of the saint for public veneration.
“Mother Teresa, one of her favorite expressions was, ‘Do something beautiful for God every day,’” Bishop Stika said. “That she wants to happen here. So continue to do that: do something beautiful for God every day. St. Faustina, the great saint of Divine Mercy, what did she say? ‘Every day, do an act of mercy.’ That’s going to be your challenge. How about that? That’s your homework forever.”
Another saint’s relic went into the St. Teresa altar on dedication day.
“Every altar that is permanent has a relic. … People want to venerate relics again, not as an end in themselves, but as a reminder that there was actually a physical person who followed Jesus,” the bishop said. “Today, the relic that is going to be placed in this piece of wood … is a relic of St. John Neumann. St. John Neumann will now be a part of this altar.”
Cardinal Justin Rigali of Knoxville, who was a successor of St. John Neumann as archbishop of Philadelphia, gave Bishop Stika a ring that belonged to St. John Neumann and which the bishop wore at St. Teresa.
“I only wear it when I ordain priests and when I dedicate churches and altars,” Bishop Stika said. “So, in a very special way, I place the relic in the altar and, eventually, when I chrismate [the altar], it’s almost like St. John Neumann guiding my hand and reaching out to all of you who are here today. … When I chrismate that altar, that piece of wood, it then, according to our Church teaching for centuries, becomes sacred.”
The bishop also stated that he would “chrismate the walls in four places … because I’m dedicating this church — I’m setting it apart. Eventually, candles will be there, and on special days the candles will be lit to remind us that this is sacred space.”
The Litany of the Saints would follow the homily, the bishop said in closing his sermon.
“In our ritual now, we’re going to invoke the saints, and in invoking the saints, we’re going to ask them to pray for us: Mary and Joseph, Teresa of Kolkata, John Paul II — whoever the saint is,” he said. “Because what is a saint? A person who knows that they are really, really, really a sinner.”
Also after the homily, Bishop Stika signed documents confirming that the building was “dedicated to God as the Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata.” A round of applause followed.
The bishop anointed the altar and blessed the tabernacle.
“One of the beautiful symbols in a Catholic church is that whenever you enter, you see that red candle burning, it’s a reminder that the Blessed Sacrament is present in sacred space,” he said.
At the end of Mass, Father Pawelk thanked a number of groups who contributed to the building project, but before he got too far along, Deacon Larry Rossini stepped in to talk. Deacon Rossini thanked the bishop for the gift of the St. Teresa statue, and he gave the bishop a small statue of the saint.
“That’s when she was a child,” the bishop said.
Deacon Rossini thanked Peter Waraksa of St. Mary Parish in Oak Ridge for his work on the sound system. The deacon then expressed his gratitude to Father Pawelk for his long hours of work on the building effort.
A long ovation followed for the St. Teresa pastor.
Father Pawelk thanked his family that had traveled to Maynardville from Minnesota and Colorado for the Mass, and he announced that Bishop Stika will ordain two Glenmary deacons as priests.
The bishop had the last word at Mass.
“There are always a couple of things I enjoy about being a bishop. Actually, there’s a lot,” he said in his closing remarks. “For one, the ordination of a priest is my favorite. From the priesthood comes the sacraments. I’m overjoyed that I’ve been invited by the Glenmary community to ordain two priests.
“The second most favorite thing I like to do is to do what I’m doing today: to bless, dedicate, and consecrate a new church.”
The bishop said “other things” at St. Teresa “have come from other places.”
“This [sanctuary] floor used to be pews in the original cathedral of our diocese. The statues, Mary and Joseph, came from our retreat house. St. Teresa flew over here to be with you today from Rome. The Sisters of Mercy — they had a lot of religious items, and so the sisters were gracious, and some of those items are now here in this church and in other churches within our diocese.”
Bishop Stika acknowledged Catholic Extension, Glenmary Home Missioners, and the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee.
“The property here was purchased by the diocese, the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee, and given to you as a gift, so you don’t start in debt.”
He thanked Father Pawelk and Father Artysiewicz.
“Without these two individuals, especially Father Chet, who was the president when I showed up in Knoxville, this would not be a parish. Glenmary does a wonderful job of finding Catholics who are hiding in the woods. I just want to thank both of these guys,” the bishop said to rounds of applause.
Deacon Rossini said after Mass, “This is seven years of a lot of prayer, a lot of work, and more importantly trusting in Jesus Christ that He will give us this beautiful campus, and we will grow it for the people in Union County.”
Father Pawelk marveled at the short time it took to progress from the carport Mass to the church dedication.
“It’s amazing to come in August 2011 in a storefront — we actually had the first Mass in a carport with 26 people — to now to have a dedicated church for the people of God in less than eight years. That’s the Holy Spirit in action, and every hand in the parish had something to do with it happening.”
The new church is 4,400 square feet. The Patricia Cassels Parish Center, which the bishop also dedicated next door to the church, has six rooms and a large conference room.
More facilities are on tap for St. Teresa Parish.
“The future dreams, eventually there’ll be a true parish hall with a commercial kitchen,” Father Pawelk said. “We’re going to have a prayer walk. We’re going to have a St. Francis garden. We’re going to have a disc golf course — the kids want that — and we’re going to have a sports field. The next project is cementing out the parking lot, then the bell tower, which is $40,000. If anybody wants to make a donation to the bell tower, we’d love to have that.”
A pedestal in front of the church is currently empty but will soon bear a gift from the Sisters of Mercy.
“The pedestal is where the image of Jesus from St. Mary’s Hospital is being moved to,” Father Pawelk said. “We are blessed by the Sisters of Mercy, and though it was sad for the old hospital to close, many of the items here are all from the hospital. We’re glad to incorporate it and keep it alive for people’s memories.”
The narthex has space for six statues: for St. Jude, patron of impossible causes; St. Oscar Romero, patron of social justice and peace; St. Philomena, patroness of health issues, pregnancy, infants, babies, and youth; St. Michael the archangel, patron of soldiers, police, and first responders; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patroness of schools, children, parents, and in-laws; and St. Anthony of Padua, patron of lost items.
“We wanted to make sure that we represented various issues that people have, so we wanted the patrons of various common issues, like lost causes,” Father Pawelk said. “And then it went by what we could find in our price range, so it was kind of a combination but we wanted to be sure we had St. Michael the archangel to defend us, and we feel it’s a time our country needs his intercession.
“And we wanted to have one American saint, and they chose St. Elizabeth Seton. And then St. Oscar Romero — we have a number of people from Central America, and he’s one of the more recent saints and a saint for justice. Everything was thought out, but it was also kind of practical. It’s the way the Spirit works: some thinking and some practical decisions.”
Father Pawelk said that most of the subcontractors were parishioners in the building project.
“As a matter of fact, all the subcontractors but the drywall, roofing, and cement (contractors were parishioners). The framing, the siding, the flooring, the finishing, the brickwork. Then we had a group from five churches in Cincinnati — they came down three weeks in a row to help assist those individuals with the tiling, the painting, and the carpentry work for the framing of the windows.”
Glenmary Brother Joe Steen, part of the original team at St. Teresa since 2011, made major contributions to the new building.
“He repurposed the pews of the old Sacred Heart Cathedral to make our flooring for the sanctuary, and part of that wood was used for the ‘barn doors’ — the sliding doors by the tabernacle — and part of it was used for the altar itself,” Father Pawelk said. “Eventually, some of it will end up as pews inside.”
Mrs. Cassels, the parish center namesake, is the mother of the St. Teresa bookkeeper, Lynn Doria, Father Pawelk said.
“Patricia Cassels and the family moved here in the fall, and she happened to die fairly quickly,” he said. “This is how it went. I stood up at the church and said, ‘We’ve got something we can use for the parish center and for classes, but I need $30,000,’ so [her daughter and her husband] came to me the next day and said, ‘You have it.’ So we’re very grateful for them. She loved children. In New York, she was part of the Altar Society and part of the Children’s Foundation, so this was a natural way to honor her.”
Charter parishioner Carole Wilson came to the first Mass at the storefront church.
“I’ve been here ever since,” she said.
She called the dedication “amazing.”
“I’m a person who thinks about money all the time, and I’m saying, ‘There’s no way in a county like ours we’re going to be able to raise these kinds of funds.’ But everybody has stepped up. We’ve had help from all over the country. It’s been amazing. It chokes me up thinking about it.”
The parish has had rummage sales, carnivals, and turkey shoots to raise funds, Ms. Wilson said.
She said the dedication Mass “was very moving, and there were far more people than I ever expected. It made me feel great.”
Nedra Headen joined St. Teresa three years ago.
“I started in January 2016,” she said. “They were already working on the plans, and it’s just amazing to watch the church be built and take pictures of it as it’s going along. I’m the church photographer. I’ve seen the new church progress from plain dirt to what we saw today, which is really amazing.”
Sandra Zamarron and Jesus Perez were among the first Hispanic families at St. Teresa.
“It was a beautiful Mass,” Mrs. Zamarron said. “It was well-organized — the bishop, Father Steve, everyone did well. Father Steve looked really happy.”
She said the growth of the parish has “been a great improvement. We started out with about eight families, and now we don’t even fit in the church.”
Former county Mayor Mike Williams attended the St. Teresa dedication, along with several county commissioners and city officials and the county attorney.
“I think it’s a very special day for the Catholic Church in Union County,” said Mr. Williams, Union County mayor from 2010 to 2018 who helped break ground for the new church in 2017. “No. 1, it’s not easy to start up a church in an area. It’s the first of its kind in our area of Union County. They do a lot of things for a lot of different people. They do a lot of things in our community.”
St. Teresa joins a number of other churches in Union County that have programs to benefit the community, Mr. Williams said.
“There’s a growing contingent of Catholics in Union County. That will only help their programs. I think it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s been a blessing for our county,” he said.
Mr. Williams added that he thought the dedication ceremony was not only inspirational but educational.
“It’s really nice to see something bear fruit, to have a vision of what you want to accomplish, and to see them accomplish it is wonderful,” he said.