Bishop Stika performs the rite at OLPH in LaFollette and again at Christ the King in Tazewell
By Dan McWilliams
Father Sam Sturm recently had the feeling that it was déjà vu all over again, to quote the great Yogi Berra.
Although Father Sturm has had his current assignment for some time, Bishop Richard F. Stika installed the priest as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in LaFollette on Feb. 13. Father Sturm, however, is also pastor of Christ the King in Tazewell, so Bishop Stika installed him there on March 6.
After the second event in Tazewell, Father Sturm commented on the double installation.
“I feel I have a split personality,” he said. “No, it’s great. I’m still getting used to the drive between the two counties. I live in LaFollette in Campbell County, and I drive 40 miles to Claiborne County,” home of Christ the King in Tazewell.
Bishop Stika greeted the assembly at OLPH, a parish of some 70 families, at the start of Mass.
“It’s a great joy for me to be here with you at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Even though Father Sam has been here for a bit, today I’m going to officially install him,” he said.
The bishop’s homily followed the Gospel reading from Luke 6.
“Are you the kind of person who says a glass is half-full or half-empty? Or perhaps, are you the kind of person when confronted with good news or bad news, you would prefer the bad news first, or the good news first? That’s kind of like the Gospel that we have today,” Bishop Stika said. “First of all, Jesus is very positive. And when we look at it on the surface, it seems now, how could you be blessed when you are hungry or when you are in need of something? How can you be blessed? There are some folks who believe that the more we acquire, the more possessions we have, the more comfortable we are now—that’s all it takes. And yet, in different places in the Scriptures, God tells us that that’s not always going to be the case. So the question that is raised: do you possess possessions, or do possessions possess you? You see about possessions, how they can control us and distort us and cause us to be people that we would rather not be.
“I think the lesson of the Gospel today, what Jesus is saying to us, is there are things that are the opposite of what we believe, and we have to be careful that that balance is never disrupted, because it doesn’t take much. Have any of you ever committed a white lie? Don’t confess now. But we do. People do. And then all of a sudden one white lie is built on another white lie and another white lie, and all of a sudden someone at a door says they’re from the IRS. So be cautious. Be honest, and believe in what Jesus is calling us to be. The only thing that we can possess in some ways is just ourselves, and we present that to God after a long or a short life.
. . . There’s another adage out there: if you were arrested tomorrow and charged with being a faith-filled Christian, would they have enough evidence to convict you?”
In the pastor-installation rite, the bishop asked questions of both Father Sturm and the people assembled.
“As he formally begins his service, it is right to remind both pastor and people of the mutual commitment that you make to one another in this new relationship,” Bishop Stika said. “So I ask Father, are you willing to continue to proclaim the Word of God in the tradition of the Apostles with compassion and faithfulness to the people now trusted to your care? Are you willing to continue to celebrate the sacraments of the Church and thus nourish and sustain your brothers and sisters both in body and in spirit? Are you willing to guide, counsel, and cooperate with the good people of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the work of building up the Church and in the work of service to all who are in need?”
Father Sturm answered “I am” to each question.
“And now I ask you all, my sisters and brothers and the members of this parish you represent, are you willing to continue to hear with open ears and open hearts the Word of God as it is proclaimed to you?” the bishop asked. “Are you willing to encourage and support Father in his responsibility to continue to lead you in prayer, nourish you in your faith, and especially to celebrate with you the Lord’s sacrifice of the Mass? And are you willing to cooperate with him as he exercises the service of pastor, enabling this community of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to grow in the light of the Gospel?”
The people answered “yes” to the bishop’s queries.
Following the profession of faith by the assembly, Father Sturm laid his hand on the Bible and took the oath of fidelity.
“I, Father Sam Sturm, in assuming the office of pastor, promise that in my words and in my actions I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church. With great care and fidelity, I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church, both universal and particular, in which, according to the provisions of the law, I have been called to exercise my service. In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety. I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it. I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church, and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law. With Christian obedience, I shall follow what the bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish. I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan bishops so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church. So help me God, and God’s holy Gospels on which I place my hand.”
Two witnesses from OLPH parish, Olivia Kuhens and Charles Herman, joined the bishop and Father Sturm in signing the documents of installation.
“Father Sam is now officially the pastor,” the bishop announced, and a round of applause followed.
At Christ the King, the bishop also greeted the faithful.
“Today I will officially install Father Sam as the pastor here at Christ the King. Is it all right? Do you want to keep him?” he said.
In his homily, the bishop talked about the children being killed in Ukraine and the more than 1 million refugees from the country.
“There is evil in the world. How do we know that? Because it’s in the Scriptures. It’s the reminder to all of us that Jesus talked about the devil and how he is the prince of lies, that he likes to convince, cajole, and sometimes demand,” Bishop Stika said. “I always find it interesting, anytime there’s an exorcism that needs to be done, they don’t call Ghostbusters. They always call a Catholic priest. Why? Because we believe that goodness always conquers evil. Goodness always wins. Truth always wins.”
The bishop said that people can be like rivers, which—apart from flood stages—take the path of least resistance.
“Sometimes our lives can be like that,” he said. “There are two adages that I always enjoy: if you want to make God laugh, then tell him what your plans are for the rest of your life, and that God writes straight with crooked lines.
The homily at Christ the King fell on the first Sunday of Lent and followed the Gospel from Luke 4, about Jesus’ temptation by the devil.
“It’s just a reminder to all of us about temptation. Jesus Himself was tempted by the devil. He could outquote the devil from the Scriptures,” Bishop Stika said. “We, too, are tempted sometimes, right? Sometimes it might not be this great temptation to break one of the Ten Commandments. Sometimes it could be just something as simple as, we’re caught in a corner, and we just feel like lying’s the best way to do it. Do you cheat on your income tax? I don’t worry about that one.”
Sin causes a sense of distortion, as when a wearer of glasses takes them off and tries to focus, the bishop said.
“That’s what sin does. It distorts who we are as a child of God,” he said.
Bishop Stika spoke of a Rite of Election homily he had delivered to the newly elect the day before at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“I told them one of the ways that I can make a Catholic really nervous—I won’t do it to you today—is to ask them if they’re holy,” he said. “You might say, ‘You know, I don’t think I’m so holy.’ And yet in Genesis, what does it say to us? It says all of us were created in the image and in the likeness of God. So we are holy, but we have to discover that. And that’s what the journey of faith is all about. It’s the process of uncovering the sins, the baggage that we carry with us, uncovering all of that and discovering that we truly are holy, because God has touched us at that moment of conception when life was instilled.”
The bishop said that “when babies are born, they’re not prejudiced. They’re not racist. They’re not angry.
. . . They’re born pure, right? Where do they learn all the things that eventually separate them? From others. They allow experiences to touch their lives and then to distort. I think that the Gospel we have today is just reminding us of that. That’s why the season of Lent is such a beautiful season. It causes us to step back a little bit and to take a look at our lives to see how well we relate to God when He says, ‘come and follow,’ how well we relate to God when He says, ‘I need you to do this. I need you to trust.’
“All of us are touched by sin, and what the Lord says to us is your sins can be forgiven if you admit what those sins are. A saint is somebody who realizes that they are a sinner.”
Bishop Stika’s rounds of pastor installations have been delayed by the COVID pandemic.
“Father Sam’s been here a while, right? We know he’s shy and he doesn’t like to say anything,” he said.
To which Father Sturm replied, “I think your beanie’s on a little tight.”
“But I know he loves it here,” the bishop said, “and it seems like you all like him. I’m going to officially install him as pastor. It’s a canonical thing. Normally, I would say, I’m going to tell you all the secrets of the parish, and there are secrets about this parish that you don’t tell. You’re loving. You’re caring. You’re a community of faith. You represent the Church well. You’re also a church of hospitality, when the invasion [of tourists] comes in the summertime. But thank God, because it helps pay for the bills. That’s really not a secret, because that’s what a Catholic parish, that’s what a community of faith, does. They care for each other. They forgive each other. They work together, and they pray together.”
As Father Sturm and the assembly did at LaFollette, the priest and people at Christ the King made pledges before the bishop, and Father Sturm took the oath of fidelity again. Jim and Joan Rowe were the witnesses to the signatures in Tazewell.
“At the end of the creed, there’s a little formula he does with his hand on the Bible, and if he’s not sincere, he’ll get vaporized,” Bishop Stika said. “He’s the father of this community, even if you don’t like it and [as a baby cried in the pews] you want to cry about it, he’s still the father of this community. Let’s pray for each other.”
When the signing of the documents was complete, Bishop Stika announced, “Father Sam is now the official pastor. You can clap if you like,” which the faithful did.
Afterward, Father Sturm said he thought the ceremony at Christ the King “went very smoothly, and the people participated really well. They would have done that anyway,” he added with a laugh.
Christ the King, which has about 75 families, “is a nice parish,” Father Sturm said. “They’re almost self-sufficient because they’ve had to be over the years, I think. But I find the people very ingratiating and welcoming. They’ve enjoyed and asked for things like, ‘Can we get music in the liturgy?’ and so since that used to be my background, I said, ‘Sure, no problem.’”
The people at Christ the King cleared up one mystery for Bishop Stika, who like other travelers from Knoxville passed through the town of New Tazewell before reaching Tazewell.
“Is there an Old Tazewell?” the bishop asked.
“You’re in it,” replied one voice from the seats.
“Please know of my affection for you all,” the bishop said. “Whether it’s a small community or a large community, you’re all my communities. You’re all very, very important to me as bishop, everything that you do. In this area, there’s not a multitude of Catholics, right? That’s why we witness to others about our faith and our beliefs and what we stand for. We don’t have to apologize for that. That’s who we are.”