Nestled in the hills of eastern Tennessee, Glenmary’s St. John Paul II mission is celebrating resurrection. Local Catholics have worshiped in a rented storefront for about a decade; now they are building a Catholic church from the ground up. It is the first permanent Catholic church in Grainger County.
“We had hoped to be worshiping in the new church by Easter,” says Glenmary Father Neil Pezzulo, pastor. Even in the yet-unfinished space there might even have been an Easter Mass, “but I’m not planning on it, only because I think it’s going to be too muddy.” It’s been a very wet winter and spring, which really has slowed things down.
Delayed or not, church-building still is about the Resurrection, says Father Neil. “Jesus is offering us a home, a place that we can be safe, a place that we can be welcomed and affirmed. Basically there are very few native Catholics here.” But there are Catholics, including retirees who have come for the milder climate and immigrant families and others who have come for the work. “The church offers a home for all people. For Catholics, this is a place comfortable and familiar, with the sights, smells and the ritual of home.” Eventually others will be drawn in, says Father Neil.
“In my priestly career I have not been very effective going out there, finding someone in his own church and trying to convince them why they need to be Catholic. People come to the church because of their experience of Catholics themselves, Catholics who are kind, generous, prayerful. The prayer life of the people who we serve is what attracts a lot of people.” That especially includes all of the Catholic rituals—Mass, other sacraments, group rosaries, Stations of the Cross and the like that take place in a Catholic church building.
Living the life of faith is the purpose for all of it, of course. But a permanent church, the local Catholic church, is a key part of Glenmary’s effort.
Glenmary Brother Joe Steen, builder of many a church over his long career, is now predicting the job will be complete by October. The church is being built with volunteer labor for the most part, “but when the weather gets good, everybody is busy with paying work. They have to make hay while the sun shines, too. There’s a building boom going with new houses and remodeling, so everybody who was going to volunteer can only do it on the weekends.”
Brother Joe’s not discouraged though. He and various volunteers work at the site daily. As Father Neil says, “We’ll get this church built. And like any other time we build a church, people will come out of the woodwork.” There’s something about a permanent structure that draws them. Maybe they had only an inkling of a Church coming, or didn’t want to squeeze into a small space. Now they drive by and see a home of welcome.