Bishop Stika joins Msgr. Humbrecht, Fr. Creson, Fr. Glennon to celebrate parish’s 20th anniversary
By Bill Brewer
Holy Spirit is thriving … because of the Holy Spirit.
As the parish in Soddy-Daisy marked its 20th anniversary this year, Bishop Richard F. Stika joined Holy Spirit pastor Monsignor Al Humbrecht, founding pastor Father Mike Creson, and Father Bertin Glennon, ST, on Sept. 21 for a Mass to celebrate the milestone. Deacon Mick Spencer assisted.
Members new and old, current and former gathered to commemorate the occasion, reflect on the early days, and discuss what lies ahead for Holy Spirit, which began with 49 families—a number that has swelled to more than 300.
As Mass began, Bishop Stika asked how many in the congregation were founding members. A number of hands went up.
He then asked if they remembered what some of the suggested names for the parish were. One member seemed to recall the “Catholic Church of Soddy-Daisy,” prompting the bishop to deadpan in response, “Well, that is very descriptive.”
As laughs subsided, Bishop Stika credited Monsignor Humbrecht, Father Creson, and the founders for deciding on a more appropriate parish name that established a Catholic community in Hamilton County north of Chattanooga.
“It is a great joy for me to be with all of you as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of this parish, Holy Spirit,” Bishop Stika said. “Every time I pull into the driveway here I see this church standing so beautifully. Monsignor Al, when he bought this property, he was pretty smart. He still is. In so many ways, this is a shining example of what our faith should be.”
Monsignor Humbrecht was dean of the Chattanooga Deanery when Father Creson was named pastor of Holy Spirit. Together they worked with members to build the parish. Early gatherings were held in homes until First Presbyterian Church of Soddy-Daisy offered to share church space with Holy Spirit so it could hold Masses.
Bishop Stika recalled the early days of the parish’s founding compared with the early days of the Church. In his homily, he referenced the early Catholic Church, when the gifts of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles.
“We see on that Pentecost day the wind rushing into the room, and the apostles had tongues of fire over their heads, and they went out and spoke all of these languages. And because of what happened on that Pentecost day, you’re here today,” he said. “Because of what happened in those earliest days of the Church, when the gifts of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, the Church was just a few people but began to spread and began to teach.”
Bishop Stika related a story about former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin, who was trying to annihilate the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe. Under his reign, Soviet authorities arrested people who worshiped publicly, and it was illegal to believe in God. People began to question how the Church could survive under such brutal rule.
“Where is the Soviet Union today? And where is the Church? It is in Soddy-Daisy. And despite best efforts by so many inside the Church to destroy it, it will continue to grow, and to shift, and to shrink, and to continue to grow because it is alive,” he said.
Bishop Stika applauded the Holy Spirit members for their determination to grow the parish over the past two decades.
He said he often thinks of the “old-timers” in East Tennessee who had to face so much religious discrimination. But he pointed out that Holy Spirit has not been shy about sharing the Catholic faith, and it continues to do that by growing, through adult education, Christian formation, celebration of the sacraments, the proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God, and the love of the Blessed Mother.
“The love of God is proclaimed here in so many different ways, following in the long tradition that started so far back when the voice came down from heaven and said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him,’” he said, emphasizing that Holy Spirit Parish is thriving because of the Holy Spirit.
After a demographic study was done in the early 1990s to determine the need for another Catholic Church in Hamilton County, a recommendation was made to build one in Soddy-Daisy, just north of Chattanooga near the Hamilton County-Rhea County line.
A new Catholic community was created between the borders of St. Jude Parish in Chattanooga and St. Bridget Parish in Dayton. The first Mass was held Sept. 12, 1999, at First Presbyterian Church of Soddy-Daisy.
That’s when Joyce and Ralph Rogers, residents of the Soddy-Daisy-Sale Creek area, came across a large field that was for sale. Mrs. Rogers, among others, prayed to the Blessed Mother for her intervention in a sale of the land to build a Catholic Church.
Soon after, diocesan approval was given to purchase 46 acres between Dayton Pike and Highway 27. Money was raised, including funds from the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee, and the land was bought. A rectory and 10 additional adjoining acres were purchased for the site.
Ground was broken for the $1.6 million, 12,000-square-foot church building on July 15, 2003, led by Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who decreed that the new parish’s name would be Holy Spirit.
Monsignor Humbrecht said he is appreciative, but not surprised, by the parish’s success over the past 20 years.
“It’s a great parish. There’s really a good spirit of community and welcoming. This is such a welcoming parish. And there is such a good spirit of volunteerism,” the pastor said.
Monsignor Humbrecht praised the priests of the Chattanooga Deanery for their support in helping Holy Spirit thrive after its modest beginning. Father Creson and Holy Spirit members praised Monsignor Humbrecht for his leadership of the parish, continuing its welcoming and volunteer spirit, and his commitment to teaching.
The parish has a robust Christian formation program that involves many in the parish.
“I’m very concerned with doing spiritual formation because everything else flows from that,” Monsignor Humbrecht observed.
Monsignor Humbrecht pointed to a new columbarium Holy Spirit will soon dedicate as a new way the parish is serving the Catholic community of northern Hamilton County.
“Ahead, we’re looking toward some form of a parish life center because we need more space. We cannot accommodate all the parish groups in our church basement anymore. That’s a good problem to have,” he said.
Father Creson was confident Holy Spirit would get off the ground and soar soon after Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell approached him in 1998 about starting a new parish. At the time, he was serving at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in South Pittsburg and Shepherd of the Valley Parish in Dunlap.
After receiving support from other churches, including First Presbyterian of Soddy-Daisy, St. Jude and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga, and Immaculate Conception in Knoxville, Holy Spirit took form.
“They were very generous to us,” Father Creson said of the surrounding faith community. “Our congregation started growing strong, but it took a big leap when we built the church.”
Father Creson served at Holy Spirit for 10½ years, from July 1999 to 2010, when Monsignor Humbrecht succeeded him.
He noted that within three years of its beginning, the parish grew from the original 49 families to more than 200. The members retired the parish debt in under four years.
“We worked really hard at community. I used to tell people that every mule pulls a plow. In those early days, people were so committed and had a vision. They were happy to do whatever to help. They’ve continued to be a great parish. Monsignor Al has brought so many gifts to the parish. He’s a wonderful teacher,” Father Creson said.
“I knew they would be in wonderful hands with Monsignor Al, and I believe he really enjoys it,” he added.
Monsignor Humbrecht, Father Creson, and a number of parishioners noted how Holy Spirit members gave their talents in addition to time and treasure to building the church, including the stained glass windows, tile and stone, and the carved wooden crucifix above the altar.
“Just about everything inside the church is handmade, from the crucifix to the mountain stone exterior, and the chairs. This church is very special,” Father Creson said.
Founding member Helen Barbeauld and her family were members of St. Jude, but decided to take a “try it and see” approach to changing churches. She recalled the early days when church members gathered in homes.
Mrs. Barbeauld noted that a main attraction to Holy Spirit was the number of teens who were her children’s age who were at Holy Spirit 20 years ago. As director of religious education, she has seen that trend continue.
And she looks forward to the future.
“I’m hoping for a parish life center and even more growth,” she said.
Kathy Landry and her husband, Ernie, are not founding members. But they are longtime members who visited Holy Spirit and decided to stay.
The Landrys relocated to the Chattanooga area from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While staying with relatives in Chattanooga, Mrs. Landry was offered a job at Memorial Hospital and immediately started looking for a church to attend.
After discovering Holy Spirit, the Rogerses began house-hunting.
“That’s how important the Church is to me. We had to find a church before we could find a home. When we found Holy Spirit, that was it. I was hooked,” she said. “It’s beautiful, and it’s incredibly friendly and welcoming. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit, but it felt like home. It’s like the Spirit said move, and I moved.”
Mrs. Landry’s mother and sisters still live in New Orleans, but she and her husband don’t plan on returning there. They are settled in Hamilton County and at Holy Spirit, where she teaches CCD and serves in the choir and on the parish council.
“I love it here in Chattanooga. It’s wonderful and so is Holy Spirit.”
Margay Gebele is another member who was sold on the parish’s warmth—not once, but twice.
“Everyone is so friendly here. At the time, it was known as the friendliest parish in the deanery. I went to another parish, but I felt called to come back,” said Mrs. Gebele, who plays piano for the choir.
She was moved at how Holy Spirit and its priests support the faith community surrounding the parish. She noted how Father Creson and Monsignor Humbrecht have reached out to other churches and community groups, an extension of the parish’s friendly reputation.
“A lot of people have liked it here, and many have retired here,” Mrs. Gebele said. “We’re each other’s family. We pray for each other.”
Founding members brought up the gifts during Mass, including Mr. Rogers, who continues to receive thanks for locating the farmland Holy Spirit sits on and making the Chattanooga Deanery aware of the available acreage.
After the land was purchased, the Rogerses donated their time and work to help build the church.
“It’s hard to believe this place has turned out as nice as it did from that farm,” said Mr. Rogers, who met with Bishop Stika following Mass. “It’s been a pleasure from the first day. There are so many nice people that I’ve met here.”
Mr. Rogers grew up in the Soddy-Daisy-Sale Creek area and served in World War II. After the war, he relocated to Michigan to work for Chevrolet. That is where he met Joyce, who was Catholic. Eventually, she wanted to move back to Hamilton County, where she actively sought a Catholic church for Soddy-Daisy.
“You can’t believe how much she worked toward that,” Mr. Rogers said.
Not long after Father Creson met Mr. Rogers in those first days of Holy Spirit, Mr. Rogers converted to Catholicism.
“I like this parish so much because my wife and me are part of it. Since its beginning, everything has turned out good at this church,” said Mr. Rogers, who is 92. His wife died in 2002.
Mr. Rogers joked with Bishop Stika that legend has it he tore down the For Sale sign on the property to keep others from buying it before the Diocese of Knoxville could acquire it.
Bishop Stika said Holy Spirit’s picturesque location atop a rise surrounded by 57 acres in the rolling hills of northern Hamilton County is one of the most “gorgeous” church sites in the Diocese of Knoxville. He praised the Holy Spirit community for their efforts over two decades.
“Again, I want to thank all of you, especially the ones—I’m not going to call you old-timers—who are part of the foundation of this parish that allows a church in Soddy-Daisy to shine brightly in faith, in love, respect, charity, in knowledge, wisdom, in fear of the Lord, by prayer, by sacraments, and by activity. I congratulate you for these past 20 years,” Bishop Stika said.