Our Lady of Perpetual Help celebrates milestone

Chattanooga parish and school hold events to mark 85th anniversary

By Jim Wogan

The list is long and illustrious, but Father Arthur Torres did a good job reciting from memory the names of some of the pastors who have served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish during its 85 years in Chattanooga.

“Father (Harold) Shea, Father Joe Brando, Monsignor Al Humbrecht, Father Mike Nolan, Father Jim Vick. It’s a blessing for me also to be a pastor here,” Father Torres said.

Father Mike Nolan, a former pastor at OLPH, joins in the anniversary celebration with OLPH members.

After serving as parochial administrator of OLPH since 2020, Father Torres was named pastor of the parish this year. On Aug. 28, he joined Bishop Richard F. Stika and associate pastor Father Zach Griffith in the celebration of a Mass commemorating the establishment of the parish and the adjoining OLPH school 85 years ago.

“I would be hard pressed to find flowers today in Chattanooga. The ones here at the church are so beautiful as we celebrate something magnificent — 85 years of the existence of this parish, founded in 1937,” Bishop Stika said in his opening remarks. “We give thanks to almighty God for the presence of this parish and this community.”

Our Lady of Perpetual Help isn’t the oldest parish in the Diocese of Knoxville, but it certainly has seen its share of history.

The church was built on about 40 acres of land—the former Anderson farm—on South Moore Road in the East Ridge area of Chattanooga. Masses were celebrated at Brainerd Junior High School until the church was completed in September 1938, according to The History of the Diocese of Knoxville, a book written and edited by Dan McWilliams in 2013.

Among its clergy was Father James D. Niedergeses, who was named bishop of the Diocese of Nashville in 1975.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, which sits next to the church, also was launched in 1937 with the help of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Dubuque, Iowa. Students were originally taught in the Anderson farmhouse.

Bishop Richard F. Stika delivers the homily during Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Chattanooga on Aug. 28.

“I think like in all parishes, the parishioners here, in a good sense, feel that they own the parish, that this is really their home, both the parish and the school,” Father Torres said. “They really love OLPH. This is their passion and that makes me passionate about it, too.”

More than eight decades after the establishment of the parish and school, which has seen numerous additions to its campus footprint over the decades, current members of the community gathered on Aug. 26 for an anniversary weekend kickoff celebration.

The event was an open-invitation festival that attracted OLPH school parents, potential parents, parishioners, alumni, former teachers, and staff. School tours were conducted. The outdoor event included a band performance. An estimated 250 people attended.

“I don’t think you are fully aware of the magnitude of the legacy (of the school) until you start diving in and you see in photos, and in scripts, and in journals, and in diary entries, the power of the story that is OLPH,” said Dr. Caroline Carlin, OLPH principal.

“It’s such a historical embrace that our community, the current and past students, faculty, and staff all are just excited to see this event come together. It has been a powerful experience,” she added.

On Aug. 28, many from the parish community filled the church for 10 a.m. Sunday Mass, which officially commemorated the parish and school anniversary. Bishop Stika was the celebrant. Fathers Torres and Griffith concelebrated. Deacon Wade Eckler and Deacon Hicks Armor assisted.

Bishop Stika is joined by Dr. Carlin and OLPH pastor Father Arthur Torres.

“It’s a significant day in the life of this community,” Bishop Stika said as he opened his homily. “Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish is like a river. Why is that? Because the water usually never stays there. It continuously flows. Isn’t that true of a parish?

“At one time this parish was established by the bishop of Nashville. It had boundaries, and it was almost like the wild, wild, West, not that Chattanooga was that wild … but he saw and recognized that there was a need in this part of Chattanooga. There were other parishes like the basilica … but he saw a need and he established the parish and appointed a pastor, and then it began to flow, the graces of a parish, the sacramental life of a parish, the education of a parish, burying the dead, baptizing the babies and the adults, everything that makes up a parish.”

Bishop Stika also focused on the Sunday readings and drew particular attention to the need for humility.

“Sometimes people tell me they have left the Church. Why? Because the Church doesn’t agree with them. That’s the challenge of parish life, but also the blessing of a parish… that we are about Jesus.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help members and friends celebrate the 85th anniversary of the church and school during a festive event on the parish grounds.

“Today, as I celebrate with you, I celebrate all the previous pastors, and deacons, and associates, and religious. All those people who witnessed and continue to witness to you today, their belief in Jesus. Never give up on that belief even when times are difficult, whether it’s in the life of a parish, the life of a family, the life of the Church, or your own personal life, the struggles. Jesus is there with us, right?”

A lot has changed along South Moore Road since the original parish church was built during the height of the Great Depression. Over the years, neighborhoods have risen, roads have been constructed, and the two main parish buildings—the church and the original school—stand out in stately fashion.

“It’s an older community, but we are getting more young families that are following in those (early) footsteps,” Father Torres noted. “Because of the school, we are attracting more young families, and they are getting drawn into parish life. Together, we are trying to get more involved in the ministries and to also allow our new families the opportunity to experience that joy. The history of the school and the parish has become for me a legacy, a testament … how this was a farm before and what we have today: a nice building for the church and the school to bring Jesus’ ministry in.”

One of the most noticeable refinements inside the church during the anniversary Mass were the abundant blue and white flowers that graced the altar and side chapels—especially a statue of the Blessed Mother. The arrangements were designed by María Félix Morales and Marlin Guerra and were fragrant and vivid reminders of the patron saint of OLPH—The Blessed Virgin Mary.

OLPH supporters staff the merchandise table.

“Years ago, when I was a newly ordained priest, I was working with the RCIA. There was a man, he was a non-practicing Mormon, and he asked, ‘The Blessed Mother … how many are there?’” Bishop Stika remembered.

“There is Our Lady of Perpetual Help, there is Our Lady of Knock, there is the Immaculate Conception, there is Our Lady of Czestochowa, and on and on. Is she one or many? I said she is one, but there is such affection for the Blessed Mother, the mother of Jesus, that simple handmaid, that so many people wish to honor her, to express gratitude for what she has done.

“And that’s what we do today, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, as she appears before God … we pray that through her intercession, she may continually guide this parish community into the future, as we celebrate the past. May the Lord continue to bless this parish and its leadership and all of you, and all of us, as we celebrate 85 years today, and may the years continue. God bless you all, and as the bishop of this diocese I wish to thank you for everything that you do.”

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