Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Our version of the Holy Family
The Celebrations of December are almost over, but the joy of them lingers on.

In the last two weeks between the two communities we have had many celebrations.  At John Paul II nine days of Posadas were held which included a "Pastorilis", a humorous nativity play.  At Teresa of Calcutta we had our first soup and penance service.  Then last weekend was our first Christmas celebrations in both missions including the first communion and confirmation of John, our 81 year old harmonica player.  Each of these were wonderful experiences and each of them bonded us tighter as a family of God.

Pastorilis at Blessed John Paul II
The Posadas in Rutledge were terrific and grew each night.  The first night it was rainy, but we still had a great turnout.  I joined them for Sunday and the last three days.  Br. Craig and Angel joined on the other days.  The two highlights for me were Wednesday when they drove from Rutledge in caravan to hold the Posadas and Pastorilis with the Spanish speaking people of Blessed Teresa in Maynardville.  Over fifty people made the journey across the mountain.  The folks here were thrilled.  The Pastorilis is a little Nativity play which involves the shepherds journey to see Jesus.  The shepherds encounter the devils on the way and all sorts of humorous things happen before they get back to the right path.  Then on Friday the final night was held at our store front church in Rutledge and the folks from Maynardville traveled across the Mountain to join them.  The procession, the rosary, the Pastorilis, the "comida" (food), and the pinata were all celebrated with joy.   It was awesome to see folks working together, laughing and singing and praying.  What a beautiful unifying experience.
The altar at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

At Blessed Teresa of Calcutta on the Monday before Christmas we held our first soup and penance service.  This is something I learned from our Glenmary priest, Fr. Wil from his time in Mississippi.  People really enjoyed themselves.  Since part of reconciliation is healing relationships, it seems to make sense to have a time to eat together as families and as a church family as a sign of what we are about to celebrate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We had a good response, a choice of four excellent soups and variety of homemade breads.   Many individuals stated that the penance service itself was prayerful and meaningful for them.  This was a more important part of getting ready for Christmas than shopping.

Christmas Eve Mass at Blessed John Paul II
Christmas Eve Mass began at 5:00 p.m. at Blessed John Paul II with our largest English speaking attendance ever:  27 people!!  The joy of everyone was clearly present.  "Midnight" Mass began at nine o'clock at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and was a bilingual service.  We had several new families, some who saw the ad in the newspaper, thus, it was the first time they realized there was a Catholic Church in Union County, TN. 

Youth Christmas Choir at Blessed Teresa
Christmas day Mass at 9:00 a.m. was the highlight of all the celebrations.  The young people provided the music with their various instruments.  We had flute, piano, trumpet and saxophone as well as a soloist.  John joined in playing with harmonica.  Yet the greatest moment was John making his first communion and confirmation at age 81.  Br. Craig serve as his sponsor and his wife and daughter stood at his side.  The joy in his face in receiving the Body and Blood for the first time was obvious.  This is why Glenmary came to Union and Grainger county: to bring folks closer to Christ and grant them an opportunity to receive the sacraments.  What a beautiful blessing this celebration was for him and for our faith community. 

John making his first communion

John playing his harmonica
My last Mass was at 11:00 a.m. in Spanish where we had a smaller congregation than usual.  The joy of Christ coming into the World was celebrated in this quiet atmosphere of Christmas morning.

The Brothers and myself finished the day with a meal at 2 p.m. at one parishioners home followed by another meal at another persons home at 5 p.m.  This, of course, is the tough work of missionary life.  Eat, Eat and Eat.  All in the name of Jesus and community.  So Lord keep sending me the tough work of joyous celebrations filled with spiritual food and tasty meals.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers!!!
Pastorilis at Blessed John Paul II

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Guadalupe Celebrations

The drama of the Our Lady of Guadalupe at JP II
Sunday and Monday we held celebrations in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas.
A little preaching at JPII

For some this may be a new feast, but it is very ancient since the aspiration of "Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe" as it is called in Spanish, took place in 1531.  In a nutshell, with a bias towards evangelization, I often tell the story in this manner.   Christianity came to Mexico following the violence of the conquistadors.  The Friars who followed may or may not have participated in this, but many people were forced to convert or be killed.  Yet, Saint Juan Diego was a true Christian and a daily Mass goer.  On his way to church, Our Lady visited him and asked him to build a Church in honor of her Son, Jesus.  The Bishop of Mexico born in Spain did not believe him.  He tried a second time without success.  Another time, Juan Diego went a different route because he wanted to get a priest to cure his sick uncle and did not want to see Mary that day.  She came to him anyway. " Where is my Church?" she asked.  Juan had excuses.  So she had Jesus cure his uncle.  Then told him to pick flowers as proof to the Bishop.  He did has was told.  This time when to Bishop received him, he lowered his "tilma" and roses fell to the floor.  Furthermore on his tilma, which hangs today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, was her image.
The dance of "los viejos" from a troop in Grainger County

It is the image of Our Lady that intrigues me to most.  The Azetcas worshiped the "lights"-- the sun, the moon and the stars as gods.  Mary demonstrates by her appearance that her Son, Jesus Christ, is more powerful than any of these lights.  The Black tie around her waist signifies that she is pregnant with Jesus.  This is why Blessed John Paul II appointed Our Lady of Guadalupe as patron of children, especially the unborn..  She is standing on the moon.  Her Son is more powerful than the moon.  She is standing in front of the sun because her Son is more brilliant than the sun.  She is wrapped in the stars because heaven is openned by her Son.  Her Child Jesus is the LIGHT of the WORLD.  He is the only true God!!!

Now that is a powerful message for a farmer to carry to the Bishop and for a people to understand.  This has lead to the conversation of millions of people and for many centuries has contributed to the strong Catholic faith of the Mexican People.  Blessed John Paul II, who visited the Basilica four times, appointed her patroness of the Americas.  In some ways it is the same message for the people in Eastern Tennessee.  Mary has visited them and told them form a Catholic faith community, develop a Church in honor of her Son. 

I have posted the pictures of the event at Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission on my facebook and will post some more for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta soon.

When you view these pictures, keep in mind that this is the first time for any celebration of Guadalupe in either county.  The leadership, the drama, the decorations, the food and the music were all planned are developed by the local people.  I am so happy about their leadership skills and the faith.  The Lord sure is blessing us here in these Tennessee Hills.
The closing dance at JP II
The Planning Committee for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Angel and an Altar

The New Altar at Blessed JP II
An Angel and an Altar arrived in the last two weeks.

Time has moved fast as we are preparing for many feasts.  Advent is half way through.  We just celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the United States.  This weekend and Monday we are celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas.  Then it is on to the Posadas, Christmas and New Year's.  All in all, a very busy but joyous time.

Many helpers have come along the way.  One is in Tom, a member at Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge, who constructed by hand our beautiful altar.  We are so grateful to offer the Holy Eucharist on this beautiful work of art.  Hopefully, when folks view it they give praise to God.

Mike, Maria and Angel preparing for English Mass
Another helper, has been Angel, a vocation prospect for the Glenmary Home Missioners.  He came just in time!!!  So far in the ten days he has been here, he has offered the adult education classes in Spanish in both places.  Furthermore, he is providing music at our daily Masses.  He is playing for Guadalupe festivals for both churches.  In Rutledge we are celebrating tomorrow all afternoon and Monday we will celebrate the feast in Maynardville.

Angel, an angel of joy
When he finishes this, he will most likely beginning organizing the Posadas.  We are blessed to have angels named Tom and Angel in our churches.  They join a choir of heavenly and earthly hosts who  make this mission alive in Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Services

Getting ready to give thanks
Last week there were many reasons to give thanks and many services to provide the opportunity.  Both our small churches, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paul II held Thanksgiving Day Masses.  The attendance was wonderful. 

Pastors Ken and Frank in conversation
On Tuesday in Maynardville we helped sponsor the first ever Community Thanksgiving Services.  Every other placed I served had a long history for an ecumenical Community Thanksgiving Services.  Often the primary purpose behind these services is to raise money for a community fund to help transients and the local poor.  This was the case for the service in Grainger County.  In Union County, however,  I discovered they did not have a Community Thanksgiving Service. Therefore, I approached the two churches that have shown so much welcome to me personally and the newly forming Catholic Community. They both agreed. So Miller's Chapel United Methodist Church offered their worship space.  Pastor Ken welcomed us and lead us in the opening prayer.  Pastor Jim from the Revival Vision Church of God and his choir provided the music.  I provided the message.

Pastor Jim practicing before the service
 It was a very rainy evening and I thought we would have a small turn out, but I was wrong.  Members from each of the three churches arrived as well as one minister from another church.  The Spirit from the praying and singing was very upbeat and a true sense of unity developed.  The fellowship afterwards was terrific.  People spent time talking to each other and mingling.  One idea that emerged was the idea of starting a quilting club among the three churches.  I hope it happens.  I truly am grateful to these two ministers and their congregations.  I certainly hope we will find more ways to work and pray together.

Three folks visiting each from a different church
On Wednesday night we gathered in Rutledge.  We had a 5:30 Mass and drove together, English speakers and Spanish speakers, to Southside Baptist Church to pray with two other Baptist Churches and one Methodist Church.  Again, we felt connected and welcomed. 

Then on Thanksgiving Day after the 9 a.m. Mass in Maynardville, Br. Joe, Br. Craig and I went to enjoy turkey and all the fixing with two different families.  At one place they had over six pies, including pumpkin.  When we arrived home the three of us were more stuffed than the turkeys.  It was a very festive day.

Personally, I am so grateful and had so many things to give thanks for this year.  I am grateful for my priesthood and for the community of Glenmary.  I am grateful to my family and friends for all their support.  I am deeply thankful to the members of these two Catholic communities and humbled by their participation.  Life is good and God is even Better. 

Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, thank you.  Thank you, too, my faithful readers.  May you be blessed as we begin this Advent season.  May every day be thanksgiving for you!!

Thank you Jesus!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Open House

Sunday afternoon was our open house at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission in Maynardville, TN.  This was our first major event.  Many folks were involved in the planning.  Over a 150 invitations were sent out including important political figures and religious leaders.

Window preparations
During the week, the final details of preparation included putting up our new sign, finishing the windows and getting the food together.  None of us were sure how it would turn out or who would respond.  We were delighted with the results.

Getting the food ready
Most of the members of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta arrived early and stayed until the end.  Each did there part.  Br. Craig gave a wonderful talk on the History of the Catholic Church.  There was also a talk on who is Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  The day ended with a prayer service of thanksgiving.  Here the music was provided by a 14 year old with her flute and an 81 year old with his harmonica.  This was truly wonderful.
Follow up questions after Br. Craig's talk

Over forty visitors were present beyond the current membership.  This included two ministers, several business people, many friends of Catholics and a few inactive Catholics who visited for the first time.  The spirit was joyous and friendly.  Of the many blessings were the opportunity for our small community of Catholics to spend an afternoon together with good food and begin to become deeper friends and bond more as a new faith community.

The joy of day
We give praise to God for this beautiful success.  We hope that we will be able to reach out to those most suffering, most lost and most in need of Christ.  Like our namesake, we hope to demonstrate the dignity of each individual by our actions in service to them in the name of Jesus.

Finally, typical of any event, the official crucifix for the church did not arrive in time for the event.  This is the way of life, always some detail is not complete.  Yet, no one notices.  However, this crucifix has special meaning for me since a donor purchased this in memory of my nephew Tyler who died many years ago at the age of 23 months.  Another crucifix identical to this one was purchased by the same donor for Blessed John Paul II in Rutledge in memory of my other nephew, David, who died at 19 years of age several years ago.  They arrived today, one day after the event.  Why?  They were ordered from a company that makes them in Peru and they got tied up in customs.  Yet, the event was a success and these images of our Lord Jesus Christ will welcome people in these churches for many years to come.

In memory of nephew, Tyler

Monday, November 14, 2011

Can we do it?

The Congregation of Blessed JP II from the priest's view.
Today's blog is dedicated to Fr. Larry Goulding, who died Saturday evening.  I lived with him for three months as a student, three years as his associate and four years as his housemate during his retirement. Fr. Larry served his country as a marine in Korea and his church as a priest in the rural areas of the United States. He told me many times over the last few months, how going to Union and Grainger County where there has never been a Catholic Church was what Glenmary was all about.  He prayed for our success. I was privileged to have known him and be missioned with him.  May he enjoy the rewards of heaven for his faithful service on earth.

Can we get it done?

Donna cleaning the door
Tuesday, November 1st, I signed a two year rent agreement for our newly established storefront church under the patronage of Blessed John Paul II.  Saturday, November 5 we cleaned the building and had Mass that evening.  Then we had Mass again on Sunday, November 6 at 5 p.m. in Spanish.  I was so excited this was to be the first full weekend of services.  We were up and running in both counties.

Br. Craig and help building the confessional wall
Yet, for the first Mass in this worship space, folks had to bring there own chairs. We had a second hand table for the altar, no curtains, and just the basics for the Mass.  Was I being foolish?  Was I trying too hard or moving too fast?  The ten people who attended that Mass were excited!!  The music was guitar and fiddle which filled the room with joy.  Yet, how would such a small congregation manage the rent?

The faithful few
At the Spanish Mass, we had only 24 people.  Before Mass a long discussion took place about the wisdom in having our own space?  Through the potential for Spanish speaking worshipers is close to 150 or more, would they come?  When they had Mass only once a month, it only cost them 50 dollars.  Could we afford to be in this space?  Yet, we spoke again at the end of Mass and the attitude changed.  Yes, we can do it!!  They began planning Guadalupe and organizing faith formation.  Yet, I was full of doubts.  Should I have moved slower?  Should I have had more conversations with the Spanish speaking population?  Was I truly listening to God and doing God's will?
First Spanish Mass in storefront chapel

So Tuesday, November 8th, I receive a call from a lady in Rutledge.  "I hear there is a Catholic Church in Rutledge.  Can I join?"  The person on the phone began to explain for how three years she has been studying about the Catholic Faith and been listening to tapes produced by Lighthouse Catholic Media.  She suffers from M.S. and is homebound, but she said, "I think I prayed y'all here."  Then I knew, even if it was only a handful of folks, it was right to begin with so little.  The faith is what matters.  Thursday of the same week was our first bilingual Mass.  The group in attendance was both English and Spanish speaking and the interaction was full of joy. They want to be one community of believers.

So what happened last weekend?  Attendance at both Masses more than doubled.  We had twenty people at the English Mass.  This was followed by a surprise birthday party for Br. Craig.  They discovered it was his birthday around noon and by 5p.m. they had every thing ready for him. 
Br. Craig's birthday party

Also Saturday we purchased twenty five chairs.  No more than fifteen minutes later, a Spanish speaking parishioner arrived with ten more chairs-- the same as we just purchased.  Wow, God was at work.  Then Sunday evening at 5 p.m. by the start of Mass every chair was filled.  We put back out the chairs people brought the weekend before and they were filled.  Over fifty folks were present. 

So I join doubting Thomas in seeing the Lord who helps my unbelief.  The Lord is in charge, not I.  Once again, He humbles me and calls me to trust more deeply in His Way.  Fr. Larry used to say, "Anything worth doing, was worth doing poorly."  In others words, if  it needs doing, then start doing,  and leave the rest to God.  May I only be aa good as a missioner as he was.

I do not know if we can get it done, but I am learning, once again, God will get it done!!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Not a numbers game

Back at Bemidji State University, Fr. Jerry Rodgers said, "The Lord never said to count the sheep, just to feed them."  This wise saying has remained with me ever since and has served as a good reminder of Glenmary's rural missionary ministry.
First English Mass attendees in Rutledge, TN

This week, on Tuesday, we signed a lease for worship space in Rutledge.  The community will be known as Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission.  The Saturday night before we held the first Mass and ten people were present.  Furthermore, last Saturday only 45 attended the Spanish Mass that followed.  Yet, even through I was disappointed at the low attendance at the Spanish Mass, I was thrilled at the ten people who attended the All Saint's Day Mass in the home of a parishioner. So it is not about the numbers, but about  providing the Sacrament to those who are present.  If anything, these small numbers compared with the potential of Catholics and unchurched in the area indicate why Glenmary's ministry is needed.  We will see what happens this weekend when we hold the first Masses in the newly rented storefront.

All Saint's Day Mass in Rutledge
At Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission in Maynardville, we thanked Miller's Chapel United Methodist Church for their kindness and hospitality.  Then on November 1, 2011, on the feast of All Saints Day, we held our first Mass in the worship space on Hwy 33.  We had a 90% attendance.  This might be one of the highest ratio of attendance for a Holy Day in the diocese.  Of course, that translates into 38 people.  So it is not about the numbers.
Appreciation Plague presented by Fr. Steve to Rev. Ken of Miller's Chapel
On All Soul's Day, November 2, we held our first Spanish Mass in the history of Union County, TN.  Twelve people were in attendance.  I was thrilled.  After Mass we visited and decided that every Wednesday night Mass will be bilingual followed by faith formation K- Adult.  The Adult classes will be held in English and in Spanish.

Now that we have a physical location and a patron Saint for each place a new phase of missionary development is about to begin.  We do not know how many folks will be worshipping with us.  Yet, whoever comes will be feed. 

Pray our missionary team will not spend time counting the sheep, but remain available to feed the sheep as the Holy Spirit directs us.

Inside of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Friday, October 28, 2011

Humming along

Preparing to pray for the Children
This week I have been humming a happy tune.  Everything things to be slowly falling into place.  The feeling is just amazing.

Last Sunday was my first opportunity to pray in public for the boarder community.  There was a gathering on the courthouse steps to pray for the children.  Only about forty people showed up, but the sun was out and the singing was great.  There were four of us preachers present. Therefore, we each offered a pray for the children of our world, nation, state, and county.  The result of this is the plan to pray every third Sunday at the courthouse steps.  It is not quite Occupy main street or some Tea Party rally, but maybe this small group of Christians might have even a bigger impact.  We are depending on God and nothing else!!
Praising on the Courthouse steps

Tuesday was a wonderful lunch with Pastor Ryan of Rutledge Methodist Church in Grainger County.  It was a great way to get to know each other more.  They have been allowing us to hold planning sessions in their church.  This Saturday will be the first English Mass for the Catholics of Grainger County.  It will be followed by our third Spanish Mass since my arrival.  All Saint's Day Mass will be held in a parishioners home.  We have found a building to rent and are just waiting to sign the lease.  Hopefully, we will hold Mass inside this building a week after signing the lease.

In Maynardville, we are really in high gear.  We have been humming along all week.  This week we held daily Mass in the office space which will also serve as our daily chapel.  We also held our faith formation classes in the main building this Wednesday. "Jesus in the morning, Jesus in the noontime and Jesus when the sun goes down" was sung by our ten students.  It was even better than humming!!

The main building, which will host the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission, will be set up Saturday for worship in order to celebrate All Saint's Day Mass on November 1, 2011.  All the many hands that made this possible is overwhelming.  Br. Joe guided the local people in cleaning, scrubbing, building walls, painting, laying carpet and many small things in between.  In less than 30 days we turned a storage shed and hot dog stand into a church.  God works miracles.

So hum with us as we move into our first worship space here in Maynardville. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Table Fellowship

Inside Miller's Chapel UMC
This was a week of table fellowship in both the spiritual and physical sense.

Sunday evening I had the pleasure to share with the members of the East Tennessee Catholic Foundation of Knoxville, TN.  These fine folks participate in the foundations mission of supporting the seminarians and establishing new churches within the diocese.  It was an honer to share our early beginnings here in Union and Grainger County, TN.  Also, it was inspiring listening tothe vocation stories of two of the seminarians studying for this dioceses.

Getting ready for Mass
Then Monday night Miller's Chapel United Methodist Church held a spaghetti welcome dinner for us Catholics .  Unfortunately, I did not get pictures of this enjoyable event.  Yet, it was a very relaxed atmosphere, lots of good pasta, and great company.  Of course, Br. Craig demonstrated his Iowa roots by baking an oatmeal cake and bringing red jello with bananas and marshmallows.

Planning meeting in Grainger County
Tuesday we had a delightful and hopeful meeting with some of the Catholics in Grainger County. 

Joy of almost having a place for worship in Grainger County

Here we discussed the option of renting one of two buildings for worship.  We have agreed on one and are waiting for the reception of the contact.  Keep praying; we are almost there.  This evening was finished with more food:  Filipino Egg Rolls!!!

Then Wednesday I was invited to have lunch with Bishop Richard Stika.  Joining us was the vicar general, the chancellor, and the newest resident, Cardinal Justin Rigali.  It might seem a bit of surprise, but this is the first time in 22 years as a priest that I sat at table with a Cardinal of the church.  In the past I just watched the red cardinals out my parents window.  It was a very pleasant lunch leading me to feel a strong welcome into this diocese.  Also, some donations were made to our budding mission.  That is a desert that lasts.  (By the way, the food was fantastic)!!

So in the midst of all these meals, we are busy preparing for the Lord's supper in our own building.  The construction is moving along very rapidly.  We will hold daily Mass starting Monday in our office and November 1, 2011, the feast of all Saints day we will hold worship in the newly designed building that will host Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission in Union county and neighboring areas.  By the way, the food theme continues.  I meet today a previous renter of our worship space where he sold "HOT DOGS!"

Cleaning chairs for the church in Maynardville, TN
We are getting so close to having the physical space for worship in both counties.  I can almost taste the next stage of development where we begin to witness to all God's children in Union and Grainger Counties.  The Lord is truly blessing us each and every day.

Monday, October 10, 2011

We are official

First steps of preparing our worship space
Sunday Mass every week, an official name, first month rent paid, and a bank account:  yes we are official here in Maynardville, TN.   Bishop Stika has named us Blessed Teresa of Calcutta; we are offering the sacrifice of the Holy Mass every Sunday at Millers Chapel United Methodist Church at 8:30 a.m.  Our rental property is in a great location on Hwy 33, the main road through town, right across from Food City, the larger of two grocery stores in town.  After two Sundays, thanks to outside donations and two weeks of collections, we have paid all our bills and have money in the bank.  Yes, we are official.

It is amazing for me to realize how fast God has worked.  Br. Craig and I only arrived here on August 12, 2011.  Br Joe, who is leading the remodeling project came only thirty days ago. So in less than sixty days, we are up and running.

The enthusiasm of our local Catholics in this area is fantastic.  We have many boys and teenagers willing and wanting to serve at the Mass.  An 81 year old man is leading our worship music by his excellent harmonica playing.  A 14 year old has played Ave Maria on her flute.  People are stepping up and volunteering without any begging.   The Lord has been working in their lives and it is clear that they really wish to have a Catholic Church in this area.

Mom and son working together
Currently, we are remodeling our rental property for worship space.  We aim to be worshipping in this space no later than November 1, 2011.  Men, women, teenagers, and children have all been pitching in.  Others are providing lunch.  It is exciting!!

At the same time, as things are going along with so much joy in Union County, it is not the same picture in Grainger County.  For a number of reasons, we have yet to have an English Mass in Grainger County.  The primary stumbling block is not having a location for Mass.  We are searching and searching.  Hopefully, something will emerge soon.  We need the prayers of everyone who is reading this blog.  Your prayers will make a difference.

The future home of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission
The Lord does not promise us an easy path; He just promises to be with us always.  Whether it is among the excitement of all the positive things happening in Union County or the frustration of trying to get things started in Grainger County, God is present.  Jesus is with us.  All things will happen on His timeline and not mine or anyone elses.  He sees and knows what is best for us.  Praise God for this loving assurance.
The local deanery welcoming four of the five Glenmarians new to the area.