Father Schuster installed as St. Alphonsus pastor

Bishop Stika presides and also blesses a bell that will go in the Crossville parish’s new church 

By Dan McWilliams

Father Mark Schuster takes the Oath of Fidelity at his installation Mass on Oct. 9 at St. Alphonsus Church in Crossville.

Parishioners of St. Alphonsus in Crossville received a double kindness when they attended Mass on Oct. 9 as Bishop Richard F. Stika formally installed Father Mark Schuster as their pastor and at the end of the liturgy blessed a bell that will go in the new church now under construction there.

Father Schuster, a priest of only a little more than three years, is a pastor for the first time. He became St. Alphonsus’ shepherd in summer 2021.

“It’s with great relief that I’m officially the pastor,” he said. “To be named that and to be entrusted with this, it’s a great honor.”

St. Alphonsus parishioners have been meeting for Mass in a parish life center dedicated in May 2003, a building in which they have to move chairs into place for every Mass and then clear them away as the center is used for other needs. The drive for a new church has gained ground in recent years. Father Schuster said the finish line for the new building is in sight.

“I think the early prediction is the end of January 2023. So hopefully, very soon,” he said.

The church bell “will go in the new bell tower to the front-left of the new church being built now,” he said.

Deacon Peter Minneci assisted at the installation Mass.

Bishop Richard F. Stika smiles as Elizabeth Dolfie, who along with John Peaslee, witnessed the signatures of the bishop and Father Mark Schuster (left) on the pastor-installation documents. Also pictured is Deacon Peter Minneci.

In his homily, Bishop Stika spoke of a recent trip he made to Colorado, where he saw Pikes Peak shrouded in mist. He said the famous sight was thus a mystery to him that visit.

“Today, we celebrate mystery,” he said. “We celebrate the mystery of your faith, my faith, faith that allows us to go beyond ourselves, faith that allows us to do things that we never thought we would be able to do. Faith, trust, looking into the future, not knowing what that future will hold but giving thanks for that future.”

Gratitude also was a theme of the bishop’s homily, which followed the proclamation of the Gospel reading from Luke 17.

“Isn’t that the lesson of the Gospel today? Ten lepers, and only one came back to say thank you,” the bishop said. “I don’t know about you, but my mom made sure that I would always say thank you, to be gracious and grateful for all that God has done for us. For all those moments that might seem insignificant, but they’re there. Isn’t it nice to hear thank you from people? Whether it was a small thing or almost like saving your life, to express from our heart gratitude. And that’s why it is so special for me to be with you today.”

Bishop Stika recalled a meeting at St. Alphonsus a few years ago when some parishioners told him they would like the parish life center to be the new church.

“I said no,” he said. “Oh, I got a few letters after that. I said, ‘This is a hall. It’s a beautiful hall, but I don’t see how it could ever be a beautiful church.’ Churches need windows, for one thing. This was never meant to be a church. It was always meant to be a hall. In some ways, that no was a challenge. By the grace of God, things have worked out.”

Deacon Minneci gave a blessing to a young St. Alphonsus parishioner, who then extended his hand for Holy Communion as his mother extended her hands.

The bishop asked the assembly about Father Schuster’s leadership.

“Has it worked out so far?” he said. “Yes!” came the enthusiastic response.

William and Maureen Schuster of All Saints Parish in Knoxville, the St. Alphonsus pastor’s parents, attended his installation Mass. The bishop introduced them to a round of applause.

Bishop Stika also looked back to the time he assigned Father Schuster to St. Alphonsus.

“When I got Father Schuster in, I said, ‘I’d like you to be the eventual pastor of a parish, Crossville.’ And he looked a little stunned,” the bishop said. “Then part two was, ‘I need you to build a church.’ It took me 25 minutes to find him—he just went off. No, he was excited about that. There are always doubts when you go into a community brand new, and all of a sudden you want to build and collect money to build and all that, but I knew that he was the right person. He’s a good and holy priest. And by the mystery of God, it has come together, right? It took a while, but it always takes a while.

“I ordained Father Schuster, and I don’t ordain junk. He came into the diocese a little bit older, wiser, and I knew he was the right person. That’s why I asked. That’s why today, with the mystery of God, he becomes the pastor here, following in the line of pastors.”

Bishop Stika eyed a return trip to Crossville.

“I look forward to coming back to consecrate and dedicate the church,” he said. “It’s a beautiful ceremony: anointing the walls and instituting the Eucharist in the tabernacle—a grand celebration, but that’s for later. For today, by the mystery of God, like being that one leper who comes back and says thank you, we say thank you to God for the creation of this parish. By the grace of God and the mystery of God, this day we install Father Schuster as pastor, and he will guide you into the future. I don’t plan on moving him, at least for another half-year or so. I ain’t going to fix what isn’t broken.”

In the installation rite, the bishop asked Father Schuster, “Are you willing to continue to proclaim the Word of God in the tradition of the Apostles, compassionately and with faithfulness, to the people trusted to your care? Are you willing to celebrate the sacraments of the Church, and thus nourish and sustain your brothers and sisters in body and spirit? Are you willing to continue to guide, counsel, and cooperate with the people of St. Alphonsus in the work of building up the Church and in the work of service to all who are in need?”

Father Schuster responded, “I am,” to each question.

William and Maureen Schuster join their son, Deacon Minneci (left), and Bishop Stika for a photo.

The assembly, in turn, answered, “We are,” as the bishop asked questions of them: “Are you willing to hear with open ears and open hearts the Word of God as it is proclaimed to you all? Are you willing to encourage and support Father in his responsibility to lead you in prayer, nourish your faith, and especially to celebrate with you the Lord’s sacrifice of the Mass? Are you willing to cooperate with him as he exercises the service of pastor, enabling this community of St. Alphonsus to grow in the light of the Gospel?”

The bishop then led the assembly in the profession of the faith, and Father Schuster took an oath of fidelity:

“I, Father Mark Schuster, 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.”

The signing of the official documents of installation followed, witnessed by John Peaslee and Elizabeth Dolfie.

“They’re also signing off on the debt,” the bishop quipped as the witnesses signed their names.

When the bishop, Father Schuster, and the witnesses finished signing, the bishop announced: “Sisters and brothers, I officially proclaim Father Mark Schuster now the pastor of St. Alphonsus Liguori in Crossville, Tenn.,” which was followed by a long round of applause.

Bishop Stika blesses the bell that will go in the tower of the new St. Alphonsus Church. The bell was made in the 19th century by the Henry Stuckstede Bell Foundry Co. of St. Louis.

The blessing of the bell concluded the Mass.

“I love church bells. I must confess, I drove up the cost of this new church a little bit because I asked for a steeple and a church bell,” Bishop Stika said. “Church bells have been so important in calling people to worship. There’s even a special blessing in the Book of Blessings for blessing a bell.”

The bishop recalled when he was in charge of Pope St. John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis in 1999 that he encouraged all churches, Catholic or not, to ring their bells during his visit.

The bell at St. Alphonsus also originated in the bishop’s hometown of St. Louis.

“This one was made in St. Louis over a hundred years ago. It’s solid,” Bishop Stika said, before joking that “I think they bought it on eBay. It’s going to add to the beauty and will call people to worship.”

In the blessing of the bell, the bishop said, “My dear sisters and brothers, bells have a special place in the life of God’s people. The peal of bells marks the hours of prayer and calls forth people to the celebration of the liturgy. Bells alert us to important events, both happy and sad, in the life of the Church and of the community. Let us now participate devoutly in this celebration so that whenever we hear the ringing of this bell, we will remember that we are one family, coming together, called forth by a bell, to show our unity in Christ.”

In his prayer during the blessing, Bishop Stika said, “The sounds of bells should summon Your people to prayer and to mark the hour. So, by the blessing, accept this bell in Your service. May its voice direct our hearts toward You and prompt us to come gladly to Your church, there to experience the presence of Christ, to listen to Your Word, and to offer You pure prayers, and both in joy and sorrow be friends to one another.”

Bishop Stika, as Deacon Minneci assists, reads the text of the bell blessing at St. Alphonsus.

The bishop then rang the bell, which drew an ovation from the assembly.

“Just now, an angel got its wings,” Bishop Stika said, quoting from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The bishop added another message for the St. Alphonsus faithful.

“I need all of you, especially when the new church is built, to invite people by your witness and by your voice to come and to pray,” he said. “The world in which we live now, there is an emptiness, and I think that’s why people are so angry.”

He added that “I hope to be back soon, God willing and the creek don’t rise—is that what they say?”

Bishop Stika again mentioned Father Schuster’s parents.

“His mom and dad gave the gift of life to Father Schuster, so if you have any complaints about him, we’ll give you their phone number,” he said.

Father Schuster was introduced at the end of Mass to another round of applause.

“I recognize that my ministry here is done with so many other people. They bore the stress of today,” the new pastor said. “I felt completely fine, which meant that I knew that other people were doing the heavy lifting, and so I’m very grateful to also people who did the heavy lifting for me today. Thank you so much for everything that you do that allows me to serve as a priest, and thank you for your hospitality.”

After Mass, Bishop Stika elaborated on the company that made the St. Alphonsus bell, the Henry Stuckstede Bell Foundry Co., which operated from 1892 to 1931, following other Stuckstede foundries that dated back to 1855.

“St. Louis had a foundry that made, among things, church bells,” he said. “Also, they have a very famous company that makes stained-glass windows, Emil Frei. This church bell was made in St. Louis I think in the 19th century. Church bells, as in the prayer of blessing, call people to worship, they praise God, and of course every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings.”

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 stalonline.org. 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.

“This parish is growing,” Bishop Stika said. “It’s going to build a church. It does wonderful charitable acts with the food pantry and stuff, the Knights of Columbus, all the different organizations, but they’re going to have a home now.”

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