Grand reopening event showcases renovated headquarters for the public
By Bill Brewer
Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre blessed Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s newly renovated Knoxville offices on Sept. 27 during a public ribbon-cutting event for supporters, volunteers, staff, and clients of the Diocese of Knoxville social-services agency.
It was the first time members of the public could tour the updated offices that reopened over the summer following a November 2021 arson fire that gutted the building at 119 Dameron Ave. The total project cost was about $2 million.
The fire forced the agency that ministers to people in need to relocate its services for more than a year and a half. The arsonist who set the blaze was never captured.
Archbishop Fabre spoke to the group gathered for the blessing and ribbon-cutting, saying Catholic Charities within the Catholic Church is the true heart and face of Jesus.
“When I desire to see who Jesus calls us to be, I look to two places. I look to the Eucharist, ‘Do this in memory of Me,’ and I look to Catholic Charities because I think Catholic Charities is the Church at its very, very best. In all of the Gospel messages of Jesus Christ, one of the consistent themes is take care of those who are needy, respond to the demands of the poor, be the heart of Jesus Christ to those for whom life is difficult, and see Jesus Christ in the faces and in the lives of our brothers and sisters who approach Catholic Charities with need,” said the archbishop, whose episcopal motto is “Comfort my people.”
The shepherd of the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Louisville Province, of which the Diocese of Knoxville is a part, recounted how Catholic Charities time and again ministered to those in need in his native Louisiana, most critically in the wake of hurricanes that batter the Gulf Coast.
“I think Catholic Charities is one of the places where the Church is at its best. Charity, something that our Lord, Jesus Christ, challenges you and me to embrace every single day. Charity is just another word for love. As I see up there (the sign) Catholic Charities, I think you could say this is Catholic love offered to the community, and that love is offered in the name of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Fabre said.
The blessing and ribbon-cutting ceremony took place on the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of charitable societies, who Archbishop Fabre called “the apostle to the poor, whose very name engenders in us a reminder of our responsibility to those who approach us with need.”
He said Sept. 27 is a day of giving thanks for all that Catholic Charities of East Tennessee has endured in recent months and all the agency has accomplished since the fire.
“That fire did not break Catholic Charities. It has made Catholic Charities stronger and even more determined to continue the mission of serving the most vulnerable just as Jesus Christ has invited we do, just as Jesus Christ demands that we do,” he noted.
He quoted the motto for Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, which is “Providing help and creating hope.”
“I think that is a wonderful motto because when we do provide help, we engender within that person hope, hope that someone cares, hope that someone sees them, and hope that someone has responded to their need,” the archbishop continued.
He pointed out that CCETN does just that—provide help and create hope—every day.
He also noted that Catholic Charities serves those in need regardless of their faith belief or even if they have no faith belief.
“As the saying goes, we help them not because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic, and that is what Jesus Christ invites us to do,” he continued.
He underscored the fact that Catholic Charities provides programs to support families in crisis, programs that support children in crisis, and programs that provide the basic necessity of food and assistance with housing stability.
And he emphasized that people who carry the cross of food insecurity, housing insecurity, problem pregnancies, mental-health issues, or other needs are greatly aided by Catholic Charities, which helps them carry their crosses and reassures them that they are not alone.
The archbishop, who compared Catholic Charities to Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry His cross, thanked Catholic Charities and its staff, volunteers, and those who pray for the ministry of the agency and those who support it financially, especially as it endeavored to rebuild after the fire.
“In the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, I thank you, and I simply say I am always, always humbled whenever I visit Catholic Charities across the country in dioceses because what you do is so critically important to the Church, and I really do believe that it is an expression of the Catholic Church at its very best. So, I thank you for the love, I thank you for the hope, I thank you for the presence, I thank you for the assistance that you provide to so many. And through the intercession of St. Vincent de Paul, may God continue to bless you in this very important work,” he concluded.
Deacon David Duhamel, diocesan vice chancellor of strategic planning, training, and school sustainability, emceed the ceremony. Deacon Duhamel also is serving as interim executive director of CCETN while a search is underway to find a permanent executive director.
Lisa Healy, who was hired as chief operating office of CCETN in 2017, served as executive director from 2019 until her retirement over the summer.
Mrs. Healy was on hand to welcome Archbishop Fabre, deliver remarks about CCETN’s grand reopening, and participate in the ribbon-cutting.
She also was recognized and thanked by Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville, for her service to Catholic Charities of East Tennessee and her work in leading the recovery efforts following the devastating fire.
Mrs. Healy singled out the CCETN staff with appreciation for their daily diligence in serving those in need and for making sure that services continued following the 2021 incident.
“One of the most wonderful things to share is that despite the hardship brought on by an unexpected arson fire, CCETN continued uninterrupted social-service programming for over 3,000 clients in the first year alone,” Mrs. Healy said. “During the rebuilding, Catholic Charities continued to focus on the mission: growing family and children programming.”
She pointed out that when the fire occurred, CCETN operated 11 social-service programs.
“Amazingly, Catholic Charities expanded its service footprint with the expansion of four of its programs during the 18-month rebuild,” she noted.
“First, it opened the sixth pregnancy help center in Helenwood, Tenn. Second, CCETN opened a Safe Place for Kids, the second children’s emergency shelter designed to support the (Tennessee) Department of Children’s Services and the children in their custody. And by the grace of God, CCETN received state licensure and opened an infant adoption program, saving lives and building families through adoption. Then CCETN purchased its first ultrasound machine, preparing for the expansion of its Knoxville pregnancy center with ultrasound services scheduled for next spring.”
While expanding its portfolio of services, Mrs. Healy pointed out that all CCETN pregnancy help centers also remained open as did community supportive-housing services, offices of immigration services, the Samaritan Place shelter for homeless seniors, the Crazy Quilt Friendship Center and food pantry, Hope Kitchen, Columbus Home Assisting Parents, and counseling services.
She also thanked people and organizations critical to rebuilding its headquarters, including Diocese of Knoxville vice chancellor Paul Simoneau, the city of Knoxville, George Armour Ewart Architect, Rouse Construction, OfficeWorks office furniture, Coldwell Banker real estate, and Knoxville Leadership Foundation.
Mrs. Healy delivered special appreciation to Jesus Christ and His healing ministry on which Catholic Charities models itself.
“I want to mention one other thing that is personally important for me to share with you. In the building there is a painting of the image of Jesus. It is the Divine Mercy image. If you are not familiar with the Divine Mercy image, the artist was asked to paint the image with the inscription ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’ This Catholic Charities painting happened to come out of Rome … and it was hung directly across the hall from the hottest point of the fire, three feet from the burning office the arsonist first set ablaze,” Mrs. Healy shared.
“The image is almost unscathed. For me personally, this image is a reminder that God is in control. God is good and makes good out of the worst things, including devastating arson fires. Look what has been built from the ashes of a fire, a beautiful building, expanded services to help more people, new community friends, challenges we overcame that made us better.
“I am confident that by God’s grace Catholic Charities will continue to provide help and hope for many years to come from this wonderful new building,” Mrs. Healy concluded.