Church building on horizon at St. Alphonsus

Crossville parish gets go-ahead to proceed with plans

By Dan McWilliams

Parishioners of St. Alphonsus have been gathering for Mass for nearly 18 years in a building dedicated as a parish life center in 2003, but after a February meeting with Bishop Richard F. Stika, representatives of the Crossville Catholic community received impetus to continue the final phase of fundraising for a new church building.

Attending the Feb. 23 meeting at the Chancery with the bishop and diocesan chancellor Deacon Sean Smith were Father Jim Harvey, pastor of St. Alphonsus; Angelo Farrugia, co-chair of the parish building committee; Charleen McMahan; chair of the Parish Pastoral Advisory Council; and Karen Otuonye, parish director of business and finance.

“The parish has a beautiful complex but is missing a real church building,” Bishop Stika posted on Facebook. “For years they have been using the parish hall, but now it’s time! It was an excellent discussion as they presented some plans and asked for my input, which I gave. I look forward to seeing the modified designs.”

Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz, joined by Diocese of Knoxville priests, dedicates the then-new St. Alphonsus family life center in 2003 in Crossville.

Father Harvey said St. Alphonsus has been “needing to construct an actual church building since moving to our current property [more than] 17 years ago. We had outgrown our former church and property across the street by 1990. Father Michael Roark, then the pastor of St. Alphonsus, hoped to raise funds to purchase adjacent property to expand the old parish plant, but the owners of the land declined to sell it.

“From 1996-2002, the next pastor, Father Patrick Brownell, planned and raised funds to relocate the parish. By 2003, Father Patrick and parishioners had obtained our current 27-acre property, purchased a rectory, built St. Alphonsus Community Services (community outreach center), and finished the construction of our primary building.”

Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz dedicated that $2.1 million, 18,000-square-foot building May 27, 2003.

“This building includes our administrative offices, classrooms, a chapel for daily Mass, restrooms, a youth center, a Founder’s Room (library/meeting room), and Liguori Hall (an all-purpose social hall/kitchen), which we’ve been using as our temporary worship hall until we could raise the funds necessary to build a church proper.”

Liguori Hall has its positives and negatives, Father Harvey said.

“Lacking a genuine Catholic church building that reveres God and allows us to suitably celebrate holy Mass has not been without obstacles. Some parishioners feel the space we use for worship is ‘a comfortable and relaxed’ atmosphere.

Others have expressed their disappointment that the informal appearance lacks a sense of the sacred and has prevented them from making our parish their home,” he said.

“Also, there is the dilemma that we can either use the room for a social event or for holy Mass but not on the same day. The considerable time and effort involved in breaking down the room whenever we need to change the seating from Mass (an auditorium setting) to a banquet-like environment has impeded our ability to have adequate space for parish gatherings, receptions, and social events.

“Perhaps more to the point, Liguori Hall was not constructed to be a church. It was designed to be a social hall, as the attached commercial kitchen attests to. As a temporary worship space, it’s been a workable short-term solution until our actual church building could be built,” Father Harvey added.

Under Father Brownell, the parish’s original master plan specified that when the debt on the current parish life building/Liguori Hall was retired, all future building funds should go toward the construction of an actual dedicated worship space, i.e. a proper church building, according to Father Harvey.

“Since I became the pastor, we have been faithfully placing all specified building-fund donations and most unspecified memorial gifts given toward the fulfillment of making our church building a reality,” Father Harvey said.

In 2019, director of operations Charlie Spadaro and Father Harvey asked a team of “conscientious and enthusiastic parishioners” to begin the planning process, the St. Alphonsus pastor said.

“Ever since that first meeting, these parishioners with various applicable expertise have worked diligently using the diocesan guidelines for constructing a church,” he said. “This feasibility task force reviewed multiple options; revised several of their initial plans after consulting with a fair cross-section of parishioners and parish ministry/organizational leaders; and ultimately provided us with a formal and detailed proposal that we submitted to Bishop Stika in September 2020.

Bishop Richard F. Stika is shown with, from left, Charleen McMahan, Karen Otuonye, Father Jim Harvey, and Angelo Farrugia of St. Alphonsus Parish in Crossville.

“The proposed plan was then described to all parishioners in detail via livestream in late October after all Masses. Unfortunately, the decision to put everything on hold came back from the diocese because the submitted plan was not thought to be sufficient for future growth. At this point, we have $1,315,000 saved toward the building fund but still need approximately $400,000 more to meet the cost of construction. Raising that during the pandemic was thought to be especially difficult. However, after our Feb. 23 meeting between our building committee and Bishop Stika, we have been given verbal permission to resume with our process and begin the necessary and critical fundraising.”

The proposed church building, which includes a bell tower and two transepts (the beginnings of the arms of a cruciform-style church), will be 8,009 square feet. It will initially seat 300 people, but the transepts allow future expansion. It will have an ample narthex with all the necessary space for restrooms, a gift shop, a vesting sacristy, and mechanical rooms, Father Harvey said.

“Because the purpose of a church building is different from any other building on our campus, we are very mindful that the function of our church is first and foremost to worship God and to raise people’s hearts, minds, and spirits to this end,” he added.  “This building must and will be different than Liguori Hall. The materials used will be of a simple but noble character. They will also make use of some of our past (the altar surface is from our first church).

“Because we need to resubmit our plans to the diocese, this changes our completion dates. However, the initial estimate of completion was 12 months.”

The new church will be “on the highest piece of our property and is the first prominent building you will see as you enter the property. It’s located adjacent to our offices and across the courtyard from Liguori Hall,” Father Harvey said.

Many parishioners who contributed to the new-church fund have passed on and will not see the project come to its fruition.

“As I think about the motivation for a new, dedicated worship space, I’m first mindful of all the individuals who have made such generous sacrifices for our dream: the aspiration of a place to receive the Eucharist and show reverence for God with all the traditional symbols this would entail,” Father Harvey said. “In fact, many have sacrificed their time, talent, and treasure to make this dream a reality for the benefit of future generations, knowing that they would not be alive to see this project through to its completion. As the other buildings on the campus were constructed, the vision has always been to fulfill the need for this defining piece essential to worship.

“The vision for the dedicated worship space is to inspire people to live out their faith as Catholics. Yes, we want this welcoming

space to attract people to the faith. We also want to express our love to God and His Son! As we enter this new phase of accomplishing our common, long-held goal and seeing it become reality, we are humbled and eternally grateful to all the people who have laid the foundation to make the dream come alive.”

The new church will be “simple but eloquent,” Father Harvey said.

“We have incorporated essential components, e.g. 9-foot solid portal doors, a Holy Spirit rose window, and native Crab Orchard stone for our altar furnishings, which uniquely speak to Catholic architecture as called out in the norms for construction of churches in our diocese.”

The parish pastoral council (chair is Ms. McMahan) in concert with the parish finance council (chair is Bill Schmich) supervised the feasibility study. The feasibility task force co-chairs were John Gray and Mr. Furrugia. Janet Gray was the task force administrator. Dr. Sabina Coronado and Don Homer were members. Mr. Spadaro and Frank Casale were ad-hoc members.

Readers wishing to contribute to the St. Alphonsus building fund may mail their donations to St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, 151 St. Alphonsus Way, Crossville, TN 38555. They may contribute electronically by visiting Select the Online Giving tab, then click the Give Now box and look for “Building Fund.” For more information, call the parish at (931) 484-2358.

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