by Dan McWilliams
St. Mary parish life center, new missions, other projects are the face of expansion
St. Mary Parish in Athens has come a long way from the late 1960s when parishioners gathered for Mass in a converted funeral parlor and later in a former restaurant on Congress Parkway that served as the church building for more than three decades.
The parish moved to a spacious new church on Madison Avenue in 2004. The latest step in the parish’s growth occurred June 30 when Bishop Richard F. Stika dedicated a new parish life center at St. Mary. Work on the $1,709,613 structure began last September and was completed in June.
Bishop Stika celebrated Mass before beginning the dedication ceremony outdoors in triple-digit temperatures. Concelebrating were St. Mary pastor Father William Oruko, AJ, and two former pastors, vicar general Father David Boettner and Father Jim Vick. Seminarian Jeff Emitt assisted.
“This parish, dedicated under the patronage of the Blessed Mother, has been able to continually grow,” Bishop Stika said. “Father David was telling me about the previous church. It sounded like a magnificent structure. And the first rectory—the trailer—still sits across the road. Just think of what you’ve accomplished: new property, a new rectory, a new church, and now the parish life center. When’s the golf course going in?”
Golf course quips aside, the St. Mary project is among eight building or renovation efforts under way in the diocese—at a total cost of nearly $6 million—that illustrate the diocese’s expansion.
And they are in addition to recent projects that attest to the diocese’s dynamic expansion, such as the creation of the St. Albert the Great parish in Knoxville, completion of new churches at St. John Neumann in Knoxville, St. Thomas the Apostle in Lenoir City and St. Christopher in Jamestown, renovation and expansion at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in LaFollette, a new gymnasium at St. Joseph School, and creation of new missions in Maynardville, Rutledge and Erwin.
“As I travel throughout the diocese, parish to parish, so many of our parishes have projects that are so important,” Bishop Stika said. “It just demonstrates the vitality and the growth of the diocese. For example, St. Mary’s in Athens—it’s a parish center, a family center, so that will allow them for education as well as a place to gather, and it just again shows the dynamic growth of the diocese as well as the commitment of people to expand their parish locations.”
Already completed is a new parish office, youth center, and maintenance building at St. John Neumann in Farragut, finished in April at a cost of $529,430. St. Therese in Clinton completed a $364,699 church renovation in April. St. Henry in Rogersville underwent a $451,745 church addition and renovation in a project that wrapped up in June.
Knoxville Catholic High School this month is completing a $468,988 project to install FieldTurf at its football stadium. All Saints Parish in Knoxville is scheduled to complete a $585,750 expansion of its parish offices in November.
And construction is scheduled to start soon on two additional projects around the diocese. Our Lady of Fatima in Alcoa is planning a 3,300-square-foot addition to and renovation of the Fatima Center in a project costing $1,704,789. St. John Neumann is building a 40-by-80-foot pavilion at a cost of $147,273.
The St. Mary parish life center has a large event hall, a conference room, and a kitchen as well as space for youth activities.
Paul Kessler, who chairs St. Mary’s building committee, spoke at the end of Mass. Mr. Kessler thanked several people involved with the building project, including Deacon David Lucheon, the diocesan finance officer; architect Chris Malone of Foxhollow Goodson in Farragut; project manager Chris Myers and site construction manager Rocky Welch, both of contractor Rentenbach Constructors; and Tim Rentenbach.
Building-committee members also were saluted by Mr. Kessler. Father Oruko is on the committee, along with John and Melanie Fortuna, site construction managers Lou Dionne and Ed Fiegle, Sissy Aparicio-Rascon, Jim Rodgers, and Mary Guthrie.
“I would say it was a great synergistic mix of left-brained and right-brained people who took their job seriously and made my job much easier,” Mr. Kessler said.
The new building “represents the continuation of a dream,” Mr. Kessler said, “starting with the founding families of St. Mary Parish having Mass in a funeral home before moving to our former site on Congress Parkway in 1967 and having Mass in the social hall until the church was built in 1973. I’m sure they envisioned great things for our parish.”
The building also “represents the visions of our parish priests,” Mr. Kessler said, citing Father Joseph Fiedorowicz, who formed a parish building committee in the 1990s. Father Boettner, Father Michael Cummins, and Father Vick followed as pastor before Father Oruko came on board.
Father Boettner shepherded the parish as it was preparing to build a new church in 2004, which was dedicated in Father Cummins’ time as pastor. Father Vick “placed some things in motion” for a parish life center, Mr. Kessler said.
“He passed the torch on to Father William,” Mr. Kessler said. “Father William was able to develop the support and pursue the project, which has led to the building you will see in just a few moments.”
St. Mary Parish has 314 families, and the new building “represents the can-do attitude of our parish,” Mr. Kessler said.
“It is quite an accomplishment to have a relatively short capital campaign for such a project within a relatively small parish that resulted in enough commitment to fund the project. Kudos to the capital-campaign committee for its work in getting the project funded.”
In many ways, the church building is the parish life center, Bishop Stika said at St. Mary.
“For without the Eucharist, without the sacraments, without baptism, without confirmation, whatever the sacrament might be, there is no parish life,” he said.