Friends and family from far and wide join the 25-year priest at St. Catherine Labouré in Copperhill
By Dan McWilliams
Family was on Father Tom Moser’s mind June 30 as he celebrated his 25th anniversary as a priest during a Mass at St. Catherine Labouré Church in Copperhill.
In the front pews were the priest’s sisters, two brothers-in-law, and nieces who came from as far away as Cebu, the Philippines, as well as Hawaii, Colorado, El Paso, and Father Moser’s native Minnesota.
Bishop Richard F. Stika and Father Moser’s longtime friend, Father Mike Creson, concelebrated the Mass, with Deacon Loris Sinanian assisting.
A total of 151 people attended the Mass, with an overflow of more than 40 sitting downstairs in the parish hall watching via closed-circuit TV.
The occasion was somewhat bittersweet, as Father Moser’s five-year turn as pastor of St. Catherine Labouré would come to an end July 15.
“In thinking about family coming in and things like that, nothing is more important than family. I think we can all agree with that,” Father Moser said in his homily. “That’s where, especially with our mom and dad, that’s where the formation came from.”
Father Moser traced his vocation to one question he asked his father.
“Back in our home in Riverwood Place in St. Paul, one day I walked up to Dad, Larry, and asked him about Jesus Christ. It was about 1976, and I was in my 20s. Dad of course had a great library right there in our home, mostly Catholic authors. After all, he had studied at the Pontifical Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. He once studied very briefly for the priesthood himself there, but he met Mom, so that changed things.
“So instead of a long response, Dad graciously, kindly told me to read one book. And along the way he had me read some other ones. But we just heard in our prelude before the entrance hymn ‘Late Have I Loved You,’ that beautiful song. I asked the choir to sing that today. The book was The Confessions of St. Augustine. And Augustine in there says—he was addressing God— ‘Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, O beauty ever new. You, God, were within me, but I was outside. . . . Now I hunger and thirst for more.’ So I’ll always be thankful to Dad for such guidance.”
The jubilarian said his dad or mom “always had some kind of book to read.”
“Later on at some point I came across Psalm 32, which seemed at that time to speak directly to me. The psalmist says, ‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you.’ Later I was guided by a friend to the writings of Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien and also the writings of C.S. Lewis. So I started to devour all of them, and I couldn’t get enough. I never stopped finding these authors to read.”
Another saint also influenced Father Moser, just recently.
“One of the writings I came across not too long ago was by the great St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests . . . St. John Vianney has been a favorite of mine, too, for many years. He wrote this extraordinary thing. He said, ‘All of the good works in the world are not equal to the holy sacrifice of the Mass, because they are all the works of men, but the Mass is the work of God . . . . The Mass is the sacrifice of God to man.’” Bishop Stika spoke at the end of Mass.
“It’s really hard to believe that Father Tom was ordained a century ago, in the 20th century. He looks good for his age,” he said. “It’s a great joy for me to be here, to be with all of you, especially his family and with Father Tom. Celebrating 25 years is a significant event in the life of a married couple but also especially in the life of a priest, who is called to be of service to God’s people.”
Father Moser was ordained by Knoxville’s founding bishop at St. Leo Church in St. Paul, Minn.
“Sometime in that ceremony his name was said and he ‘presented himself as a candidate for the priesthood of Jesus Christ,’” Bishop Stika said. “And for 25 years he has served faithfully, a long time here at Copperhill, but now he’s been traded to another team. He’ll be at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga. But 25 years of service is an extraordinary thing in the life of a priest: the baptisms, the funerals, the anointings, the moments to console someone, the sacrament of reconciliation.
“For the most part in the life of a priest, we never know what happens down the line [after a baptism, e.g.]. A lot of times in our work, in our ministry, you just don’t know the results, but in our life as sacramental ministers, you just put it in the hands of God and also in the hands of the people, who will then make decisions and choices for the rest of their lives.”
The bishop added, “Father, I just want to say congratulations, Godspeed in your new assignment. Change is part of the life of a priest. I want to thank his family. I’ve been practicing this for two weeks, especially knowing that Father Tom was from Minne-SO-ta. Did I say it right? Because down here in Tennessee we say it a little ‘differ’nt.’
“Father Tom, there’s an expression in Latin, ad multos annos: many more years of service to God’s people.”
Bishop Stika then blessed an icon of Mary, Untier of Knots, that graced the back wall where the church’s tiny confessional used to be. Both the icon and the confessional were dedicated in honor of the late Mary Jabaley Joseph. With the bishop’s advice, the church opened a newer, larger confessional in the front of the church building that straddles the Tennessee-Georgia line.
“A number of months ago I was here to offer my opinion about the removal of the confessional back there. I know it was dedicated to the memory of Mary Jabaley Joseph, who served in the family that has been part of the foundation of this parish so long,” the bishop said.
“One of the problems with the confessional was that it was so small that Father Tom had a hard time fitting in it. His knees would pop out. It was pressed up against that last pew. If you were really nosy, you could sit in that last pew and find out what was going on with your neighbor.
“So they asked my opinion, and they still wanted to honor Mary. The confessional was donated to honor her memory. So my suggestion was to use the confessional here [up front] with a little more space and to do an icon. The icon I’m going to bless now is dedicated to the Blessed Mother, the Untier of Knots. What does that mean? A lot of times in our lives, we tie ourselves up. Through the intercession of Mary, she’s able to unblock those things [that get in the way] of following the Lord. In the Eastern Church, they believe an icon is an opening to the heavens. Icons are beautiful teaching methods of faith. You look at the eyes and the hands. They all represent something. It’ll be an honor to dedicate this icon to the Blessed Mother.”
The bishop closed with an expression of gratitude to the Copperhill parishioners, who, though small in number, he said, are still important to the diocese.
“Again, thanks to all of you here at Copperhill. As I travel through the diocese, and I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, I just remind all the parishes that I visit: big or small, one parish is just the same as the other. They’re all important,” Bishop Stika said. “It’s not the size of the parish. A lot of times it’s the location that dictates the size, but we’re all communities of faith. We all belong to that which is called the body of Christ. I just want to thank you for all that you do for the Church, for this local community, for your families. Also please give my best wishes to all those members of your family who might be ill or unable to come to Mass.”
A breakfast feast downstairs followed the Mass.
Father Moser, whose actual anniversary was June 11, said his 25th jubilee day was a special one, especially with his family present.
“Absolutely, they came from all corners of the world,” he said.
Father Moser was grateful that his friend of more than 30 years, Father Creson, took part.
“Very special to have him here. Glad he came and could make it,” Father Moser said.
Father Moser has served in a variety of assignments for the Diocese of Knoxville, as associate pastor or pastor in locales ranging from South Pittsburg to Kingsport and from Chattanooga to Fairfield Glade.
“I guess by this time I’ve been all over the South, all the different deaneries,” he said. “I’ve visited quite a number of parishes, so I get to know East Tennessee and the Diocese of Knoxville pretty well by this time.”
He will miss his time in Copperhill.
“There are a lot of good people, wonderful people, supportive people in this parish who are just so giving in whatever we ask for,” he said.
The St. Catherine Labouré family clearly loved their departing pastor.
“That’s what I’m hearing,” Father Moser said with a laugh. “They hate to see me go, and they get attached, as is normal.”
Knights of Columbus member Dave Pierman, serving as an usher for Father Moser’s anniversary Mass, said he will remember the priest for “his easygoing personality.”
“He is so down to earth and easy to talk to,” Mr. Pierman said. “I would say the main thing, though, is his love of the liturgy. He is very musically talented, but we can’t get him to sing at Mass. He works with our organist very closely, so the music that we do, we try to coincide with the liturgy for that week.
“Personally, I find myself often getting phone calls from him to do things, but as I said earlier about the Knights of Columbus, this is what we do: we’re supposed to support our pastor, but in his case it’s very easy. I was amazed at how fast the five years went.”