Our Lady of Fatima Parish is debt free in 2023

Fr. Iorio, church members mark occasion by ceremonial burning of the mortgage

By Bill Brewer

Our Lady of Fatima celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi with Mass and a eucharistic procession on the campus of the Alcoa parish. But the celebration didn’t end there.

Father Peter Iorio, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, also announced the parish is now debt free by holding a mortgage-burning ceremony to conclude the liturgy on Sunday, June 11.

Our Lady of Fatima parishioners Monica Gawet, who chairs the finance committee, and Shannon Hepp, chief financial officer for the Diocese of Knoxville, informed members that Our Lady of Fatima has paid off its most recent mortgage of more than $2 million five years early. The mortgage helped pay for the Blount County campus and its church and parish hall buildings at 858 Louisville Road.

The news was met with applause and thanksgiving for the dedication and cooperation of parishioners who were determined to pay down the debt.

Father Peter Iorio, left, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Alcoa, is joined by parishioners Shannon Hepp, center, Monica Gawet, right, Deacon Bill Jacobs, back left, Father Adam Royal, parochial vicar, back center, Deacon Leon Dodd, back right, and Our Lady of Fatima members in burning the mortgage on the parish buildings.

“On behalf of the entire finance committee, we gratefully thank you parishioners who have donated to ensure that our budget costs were met, donated to the Home Campaign, which was a big part of us being able to pay off the debt, and also all of you who kept paying with those (Home Campaign) envelopes, that made a tremendous contribution to all of us being here today. Thank you,” Ms. Gawet said to the congregation.

“I just wanted to thank everybody and point out that the original payoff date for this debt was December 2028, so five years early this debt has been paid off. That is amazing,” Ms. Hepp added.

The congregation followed Father Iorio from the church nave outside to the front sidewalk, where a small fire was burning.

Father Iorio then led the parishioners in prayer, saying, “We cannot fully offer to God what is not ours. We have now completed payment on the debt for this house of God’s Church. It is unencumbered and completely ours. There to God we now offer it with gratitude and joy. Amen.”

The mortgage document was then dropped into the fire for the ceremonial extinguishing of the debt. The blaze and ashes were met with cheers and more applause.

“Let us now give thanks to God for this accomplishment, for this assembly and all of God’s holy people, for generous hearts and hard-working hands, for successful sacrifices and patient saving, for faith and hope and love, for those who dared to dream and to build, for founders and for ancestors, for all who have gone before us. Lord, we give you thanks,” said Father Iorio, Ms. Gawet, and Ms. Hepp.

“Receive, God, the heartfelt prayers and thanks of your people, who are mindful of the ultimate gift of Your Son on the cross. May our worship in this place unite us always with the one true sacrifice of Christ now and forever. May God, the loving Father, bless us who gather here in worship. May Jesus, the Son, unite us always in heart and soul. May the Spirit animate us and send us forth in loving service. And may we be blessed now and all days. Amen,” Father Iorio concluded in prayer.

Our Lady of Fatima traces its beginning to 1950, when Mass was first occasionally celebrated in a private home in the area where Blount and Sevier counties join. But residents of Blount and Sevier counties most often drove to Knoxville for Sunday Mass. That year, Diocese of Nashville Bishop William L. Adrian requested a survey to determine the number of Catholics living in the two counties.

The survey resulted in the establishment of the Maryville-Alcoa Mission Parish, which celebrated its first Mass on Sept. 3, 1950, at a Maryville funeral home. The young parish soon after leased a two-story house in Maryville, remodeled it into a church, an office, and a rectory.

The first Mass celebrated in the converted home was on Sunday, Nov. 5, 1950. Subsequently, fundraisers were held to raise money for a dedicated church, and Our Lady of Fatima purchased 4.5 acres in Alcoa from the Aluminum Company of America. Bishop Adrian dedicated the new church on Dec. 6, 1952.

As the parish grew, the swelling congregation outgrew the church building. Fundraising once again led to the purchase of the current campus on 11.2 acres, which included two houses, a storage building, and a 24,810-square-foot office building that had been used by AT&T.

Ground was broken on May 3, 1998, for a $2.8 million, 17,000-square-foot church building to serve the parish’s 675 families. The current Our Lady of Fatima church was dedicated on March 11, 2000. Since then, a $1.7 million addition and renovation to the Fatima Parish Life Center has been completed. And the parish now has 1,350 registered families.

Father Iorio attributed the debt retirement to “the generosity of the people of Our Lady of Fatima and good leaders who helped us make wise choices.”

“And also, I would have to say, a year ago as part of the efforts of the Holy Father’s synodality of consulting everybody, we surveyed everyone in the parish. Our original plans for the Home Campaign were thwarted somewhat because of rising costs and other factors. We just presented it to everybody, and the overwhelming response was No. 1 priority pay off the debt. So, we’ve done that within the last year,” Father Iorio said.

Ms. Hepp noted that the mortgage that was paid off was a 15-year loan that was paid in full in 10 years.

Ms. Gawet said credit also goes to Our Lady of Fatima members through the years who served on the parish finance committee and steered the parish through membership growth and facilities expansion.

She singled out Blount County real estate agent and parishioner Donna Bailey for working so diligently on the purchase of the current campus once used by AT&T as well as former pastor Father Joe Brando, who led the parish through much of the most recent expansion. Father Brando died in 2021.

“And as Father Iorio said, we were incredibly fortunate that we had the Home Campaign contributions that were made and dedicated. Then, when it came time for the decision on how we should use those funds, the parish decided the best use of those funds would be to pay off the debt. Everyone absolutely agreed with that, and the finance committee supported it. We couldn’t be happier,” Ms. Gawet said.

Now that Our Lady of Fatima is debt-free, the parish isn’t necessarily going to sit back and take it easy.

Father Iorio said there are early discussions about addressing some needs of the parish.

“We are talking about that. We’re taking a year to discern really what our major capital campaign projects would be. Some things have already surfaced. But we also have maintenance issues with the church being 23 years old—the roof, parking lot, siding of the church, and HVAC all need repairs,” Father Iorio said following Mass and the procession.

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