It’s been a steady start in Overton County, Tenn., Glenmary’s newest mission area. As Holy Week and then Easter season unfold, the beginnings of a Catholic community are forming. That’s thanks to the gentle, persistent presence of Glenmary lay missioner Lorenzo Aju, who moved, with his wife, Nicolasa, to Livingston, the county seat, last year. You may remember them from a piece in this newsletter back when Lorenzo was looking for a place to live. He found one, not far from town. And local Catholics have been finding their way to the first home for Catholic worship in Overton County.
“The Methodist Church gave us a space to use,” says Lorenzo. During Lent they had Way of the cross services there. “I have numbers, 1, 2, 3, through 14,” he explains. “The little ones help me to put them on the wall before we start. Then the children take care of the Cross. One of them carries it across for two stations, then another. I also have a booklet of prayers that I prepared for everyone.” Lorenzo is an experienced pastoral minister, who worked in Glenmary parishes in Mississippi years back.
About 20 people came regularly to the Stations this year.
Lorenzo also has started attending the monthly meeting of the local ministerial association, an ecumenical effort of the local pastors. That came about in a typical Glenmary way. “In the beginning, about a year ago, I just started asking around, ‘Do you know some Catholics here?’”
People would tell him they knew no Catholics, but would point him on to someone who might know. Person to person he went. One day, having lunch with Nicolasa in the local diner there was breakthrough, small but important. Lorenzo, Nicolasa and Glenmary Father Samuel Mungai (associate at Holy Family Parish in nearby Macon County) found a table. Lorenzo tells the story best: “Before we eat, we pray. Afterwards we were chatting, then when we were finished we tried to pay, and the waitress said, ‘No, someone paid for you.’” He asked who, and the waitress pointed out a man in the back corner. “So we went and met him. He is the pastor at the First Christian Church, James Shenko. [Pastor Shenko is also chairman of the local ministerial association.] We asked to come and talk with him about the local churches and what’s going on in town. So we had a great time with him. And he invited us to the monthly meeting. So that’s how we started meeting with the local ministers.”
He found the local Catholics along the way. “I used the newspaper to announce the first Mass, in a room at the local library.” Two of the library staff, it turns out, are Catholic. Father Samuel drove over from Macon County. “I think three or four families came. I took their information.” Over the past year he has visited parishes in towns where local Catholic families may have traveled to in adjacent counties, in Cookville and in Celina, to tell them what is happening in Overton County.
Lorenzo, with Father Samuel, has organized to have a local Mass monthly at the Methodist church hall, with about 20 attendees.
Easter Season this year finds Lorenzo and Nicolasa driving over to the Glenmary mission at Celina, in Clay County. They look forward to the day when they will celebrate Easter in Livingston.
This story first appeared in Glenmary’s Cultivate newsletter.