St. Anthony celebrates a dream come true for long-awaited addition

Bishop J. Mark Spalding blessed and dedicated the St. Anthony Catholic Faith Formation Center at St. Anthony Church in Fayetteville on Sunday, May 2. The new building, which includes 12 classrooms, a large parish hall, a full kitchen and storage areas, among other features, has long been a dream of the parishioners at St. Anthony. Bishop Spalding cuts the ribbon for the facility. Photos by Andy Telli

The perseverance of the parishioners at St. Anthony Church in Fayetteville has finally paid off with the dedication and blessing on Sunday, May 2, of the new St. Anthony Catholic Faith Formation Center.

“Today will be a historically memorable day in the annals of St. Anthony Parish,” said Pastor Father George Panthananickal, CMI.

“It’s good to look around and see all God has blessed us with,” Bishop J. Mark Spalding told the parishioners gathered in the new facility before he blessed and dedicated the building. “You are a community that has endured.”

“God sent a lot to test you. He gave you the rain and the rock and even a pandemic to struggle through,” Bishop Spalding said. “But we’re here.”

The new faith formation center includes 12 classrooms, a full kitchen, storage space and a hall that can accommodate up to 300 people and can also be used for basketball and volleyball games. The cost of the multi-purpose facility is about $1.3 million.

For the parish to grow, Father Panthananickal said, “this facility is absolutely necessary. This will definitely give a boost for the faith formation of the children, and I hope more families will join.”

The parish’s religious education program has been constrained by a lack of space for years, said Patty Wright, St. Anthony’s director of religious education. 

Before the pandemic, the religious education program had about 120 students each year. The parish had to turn every available space into makeshift classrooms, including dividing the old parish hall with foldable walls, the cry room in the church, and even the pastor’s house, Wright said.

The catechists were keeping their materials in plastic tubs. “It’s just very difficult to conduct class,” Wright said. “We have these kids one hour a week for 30 weeks. There’s a lot to teach.”

But in the new Faith Formation Center, each class has its own room, where the teachers can keep all their materials. “They have space for everything,” Wright said.

New Faith Formation Center will provide needed space for religious education program
Bishop Spalding blesses the people who attended the dedication.

She hopes the new facility will make it easier to recruit teachers for the program. “With volunteers, you want to make sure it’s easy for everyone,” she said.

The Faith Formation Center will also open new possibilities for the parish’s youth program.

With the pandemic, the number of students in the program has fallen to about 60 students, Wright said, but she hopes with the pandemic easing and the new facility, the number will grow to pre-pandemic levels and beyond. “It opens up so much potential for growth.”

When the late Bishop David Choby first gave his approval for the parish to move forward with the project, he advised that they build the faith formation center big enough to accommodate the parish’s future needs, recalled Richard Paladino, the chair of the parish’s planning committee and the liaison between the parish and the contractor, Brindley Construction of Pulaski.

“We have enough space for the next 20 years,” Paladino said. 

The parish, which has about 240 registered families, is growing, Paladino said. Much of the growth is fueled by the growth of the city of Huntsville, just across the Alabama state line. 

People who are drawn to jobs in Huntsville are moving to Fayetteville where it is cheaper to buy homes and property, Paladino explained. Many of the parish’s families live in Alabama but attend St. Anthony because it is the closest church to their homes.

The Hispanic community in the parish also is growing, and St. Anthony added a Spanish Mass and Father Panthananickal learned Spanish so he could celebrate Mass for the community.

Having the Faith Formation Center “means we can plan on doing things we never could do before because we didn’t have the space,” Paladino said. “We were constrained.”

Overcoming obstacles

The project has been years in the making. The idea to build a new facility first sprouted in 2007, but those plans were put on hold by the recession that soon followed.

When Father Panthananickal was appointed pastor of St. Anthony in 2013, parishioners approached him about reviving the effort to expand. A former school principal for more than 20 years in his native India, “I know the challenge of construction,” Father Panthananickal said. “But it was the will of the people.”

In 2013, Bishop Choby and the diocese gave the parish permission to begin a campaign to raise funds for the project. “The people, they all cooperated,” Father Panthananickal said. 

By the end of 2015, the parish had enough money to move forward and awarded a contract in May 2016. 

The parish hit the next big obstacle in April 2017 when the City of Fayetteville declined to issue a building permit because the water supply to the site was insufficient to support the fire sprinkling system.

The diocese, on behalf of the parish, sued the city in federal court, and two years later reached a settlement for the city to upgrade the water supply to the site and approve the building permit.

But the two-year delay meant that the original cost estimates were no longer valid, Paladino said. “We had to start all over.”

St. Anthony signed a new contract with Brindley Construction in June 2019, but the project immediately faced new obstacles, Paladino said.

“Along the way we encountered more rock than anticipated by the initial geotechnical survey, and much harder than typical rock in this area, along with some of the wettest months ever recorded for this area,” Paladino said.

The pandemic also slowed progress, said Tim Rohling, the project manager for Brindley Construction.

The project was finally completed and the State Fire Marshal’s Office issued a certificate of occupancy in March 2021.

“Oftentimes we have big ideas, ideas that define our hopes and dreams. At times our hopes and dreams seem too big,” Paladino said. “It would have been easy to give up and walk away. But we persevered. We said yes, this is one dream, one goal, which we were not willing to give up on.”

Giving thanks

During his remarks before the blessing, Father Panthananickal gave thanks to all the people who have supported the project, including those who didn’t live to see its completion. 

“There are many who longed to see what you see, who longed to hear what you hear but they could not,” said Father Panthananickal, noting the contribution of Bishop Choby who approved the project and was present for the groundbreaking ceremony in 2016.

Father Panthananickal also thanked Bishop Spalding “who has always been supportive of this project.”

Paladino also thanked Bill Whalen, the diocese’s chief financial officer, “without whose involvement and encouragement this event would likely not be happening,” and Brindley Construction. “It was fortunate to have a Catholic in charge of the project,” Paladino said of Rohling, the project manager, who lives in Lawrenceburg. “He understood our requirements and he bent over backwards to help us when he could.”

“On behalf of the parish, bishop, we are thankful to the diocese for the financial and moral support and advice,” Father Panthananickal said. “We are really honored and blessed to have you to dedicate and bless the building today.”

Several hundred people attended the dedication, along with 12 visiting priests from parishes across the diocese.

“It took many years and great efforts and the faithful generosity of parishioners and the Diocese of Nashville in order to bring us to completion,” Paladino said. “Today we celebrate that we have finally achieved the dream for this much needed facility and achieved that long-sought goal.”

Pope thanks health care workers, urges equal access to care for all

Pope Francis speaks in a recorded video message to an online health care conference May 8, 2021. Health care must be free from inequality and open to all those who are ill, the pope said in his remarks to the “Exploring the Mind, Body and Soul — Unite to Prevent and Unite to Cure” conference. The conference was organized jointly by the Pontifical Council for Culture, its Science and Faith Foundation and the New York-based Cura Foundation and Stem for Life Foundation. (CNS photo/courtesy Meagher Group)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for all those who are committed to caring for the sick and supporting those in great need.

“All of us are grateful in these days to those working tirelessly to combat the pandemic, which continues to claim many lives, yet at the same time has represented a challenge to our sense of solidarity and authentic fraternity,” he said in a video message to an online conference on health care May 8.

“For this reason, concern for the centrality of the human person also demands reflection on models of health care that are accessible to all the sick, without disparity,” he said.

The pope’s message in Italian helped close a three-day virtual conference featuring more than 100 speakers presenting the latest advancements in medicine and innovative ways to deliver health care as well as discussing their theological, ethical and cultural impacts.

Titled, “Exploring the Mind, Body and Soul — Unite to Prevent and Unite to Cure,” it was the fifth health care conference organized jointly by the Pontifical Council for Culture, its Science and Faith (STOQ) Foundation and the New York-based Cura Foundation and Stem for Life Foundation, which seeks to promote stem-cell therapy and research.

In his address, the pope underlined the importance of the conference uniting philosophical and theological reflection with scientific research, especially in the field of medicine.

Thanks to such interdisciplinary studies, he said, “we can come to appreciate better the dynamics involved in the relationship between our physical condition and the state of our habitat, between health and nourishment, our psychophysical well-being and the care of the spiritual life — also through the practice of prayer and meditation — and finally between health and sensitivity to art, and especially music.”

This broader vision of and commitment to interdisciplinary research helps expand human knowledge, “which, applied to the medical sciences, translates into more sophisticated research and increasingly suitable and exact strategies of care,” he said.

One example where this has happened, he said, is in the field of genetics, with research aimed at curing disease.

“Yet this progress has also raised a number of anthropological and ethical issues, such as those dealing with the manipulation of the human genome aimed at controlling or even overcoming the aging process or at achieving human enhancement,” he said.

The pope explained the importance of understanding and describing the many facets of the human being — as body, mind and soul — in an “interdisciplinary way.”

Speaking as well to the many university students watching the conference online, the pope said, “I encourage you to undertake and pursue interdisciplinary research involving various centers of study for the sake of a better understanding of ourselves and of our human nature, with all its limits and possibilities, while always keeping in mind the transcendent horizon to which our being tends.”

The pope asked God to bless everyone’s work and expressed his hope that participants would “retain your enthusiasm, and indeed your wonderment, before the ever-deeper mystery of man.”

JPII hires new women’s basketball coach

Pope John Paul II High School has hired a state championship winning coach from Illinois to be its new women’s basketball coach.

The school announced the hiring of Kim deMarigny, who will succeed Angie Puckett, who is stepping down after six years to move closer to her family.

Kim deMarigny

deMarigny comes to JPII from Maine West High School in DesPlaines, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where she served as the head women’s basketball coach from 2016-2021.

She led the Warriors to a 121-9 record over the past four seasons with multiple Sectional and Super Sectional Championships along with a 4A State Championship in 2018, where the Warriors finished the year with a 35-0 record. She was awarded coach of the year honors four consecutive years beginning in 2017.

deMarigny, who will also teach math, will become JPII’s fourth Women’s Head Basketball Coach in the school’s history.

“In my conversations with Coach deMarigny, I feel she and Coach Puckett are cut from similar cloth,” said JPII Athletic Director John Dempsey. “Coach deMarigny stresses defense and knows the importance of teaching more than the game of basketball to players. She has a genuine concern for the students she teaches and coaches.

“We are excited for her to join our JPII family and look forward to seeing where she takes our women’s basketball program in the future,” Dempsey added.

“I have spent my entire life in the educational and sporting arena,” deMarigny said. “I have participated in or coached many women’s sports, and I am still a very active athlete. I run half marathons, triathlons, play tennis, women’s soccer, golf, and work out regularly. I see this all as very important to be a role model for young women in today’s world.

“Young women can have a healthy balance of faith, family and career, and I hope to instill confidence and a work ethic into every player and student that my life intersects,” deMaraigny added.

“We are incredibly grateful for the past six years Coach Puckett has led our women’s basketball program,” Dempsey said. “Under Coach Puckett’s leadership, the Lady Knights have made three consecutive State Quarter-Final appearances while competing in the highly competitive DII-AA Region.  She was named Sumner County Coach of the Year in 2018-19 and JPII’s Most Inspirational Coach two of her six years.

“Coach Puckett has been a terrific coach, mentor and role model to our female athlete,” he added. “Her influence goes well beyond the basketball court, extending to the weight room, classroom, and community. We have been blessed to have Coach Puckett at JPII, and she will be truly missed. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

“I am forever grateful to Head of School Mike Deely and Athletic Director John Dempsey for the belief they’ve had in me and the support they’ve shown me through the years,” Puckett said. “Also, a thank you to (former headmaster) Faustin Weber and (former athletic director) Alan Mila for hiring me in 2015 – allowing me to serve as Head Women’s Basketball Coach and Strength and Conditioning Coach for our female athletes.

“I am so proud of this basketball program, what we have built here, and all that we have been able to accomplish,” she said. “Because of the hard work of our coaches and players, we were able to move the program forward in a significant way.

“I have the most heartfelt appreciation for assistant coaches Jay Fitts, Casey Raybourne, Haley Topper, Debi Akin and Jen Brogdon,” Puckett said. “Each coach has brought their unique gifts, talents, and passion, and we are all better people because of their presence on our team. It was also a great pleasure working alongside men’s basketball coaches Kip Brown and Charles Wade.”

deMarigny and her husband Robbie will move to Middle Tennessee this summer, and she will begin her new responsibilities in July.

As she retires, Sister Maria leaves legacy of compassion at Our Lady of the Lake

Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville held a retirement reception on May 2 for Sister Maria Edwards, RSM, who worked as a parish pastoral associate there for more than 40 years. Photos by Theresa Laurence

Sister Maria Edwards, RSM, a beloved pastoral associate at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Hendersonville for more than 40 years, received a joyful sendoff into retirement on Sunday, May 2.

Parishioners and others who knew Sister Maria from her various ministries, including counseling and RCIA, lined up around Our Lady of the Lake’s parish center for a chance to give her a hug and share a few words with her.

“It was wonderful the whole time,” Sister Maria told those gathered for her retirement party. “This is the best parish I’ve ever been in,” she said. “When I found it, I stopped looking,” she added with a laugh, referring to her long tenure at Our Lady of the Lake, the one and only parish where she served as a pastoral associate.

Before coming to the Hendersonville parish in 1980, Sister Maria taught at several Catholic schools in Memphis and Nashville, including St. Bernard Academy and Cathedral High School, and worked in youth ministry for the Diocese of Nashville.

In fact, she wrote one of the first books ever published on the topic of youth ministry from a Roman Catholic perspective, “Total Youth Ministry,” which was published in 1976 by St. Mary’s Press. In addition to that book, she has published 50 articles on prayer, religion, spiritually and psychology. 

After her experience working in schools and youth ministry, Sister Maria knew she also wanted to work more closely with adults, and she wanted to work as a counselor. So she sent a letter to “every priest in the city,” about offering parish-based counseling services, she recalled, and Father John Henrick, then the pastor of Our Lady of the Lake, responded and welcomed her.

And she stayed there ever since, offering counseling, spiritual direction, and running the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, from 1985-2020. When she started that, “it was a whole new thing,” she said. “There was no manual.”

During her time building and overseeing the RCIA program, she estimates she helped welcome some 700 adults into the Catholic faith.

Sister Maria was born and raised in Memphis, and attended schools run by the Sisters of Mercy there for 12 years. “I fell in love with the Sisters,” she said, and they encouraged her to join their religious community.

She entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1959, when convent life hewed more closely to a monastic model. By the time she took her final vows in 1967, after the Second Vatican Council, she was ready to minister out in the world.  

“Our foundress Catherine McAuley wanted us to be people of the times,” Sister Maria said, “educating, helping the poor, advising people who are hurting.”

The change in the Church ushered in by Vatican II, “I was so happy about it,” she said. “I think the Holy Spirit was really visibly operating at that time.”

With more doors opening and more areas of ministry available, Sister Maria was able to move more freely between education, counseling and parish ministry.

She earned a master’s degree in counseling and became a licensed professional counselor and psychological examiner.

At her retirement party on May 2, Sister Maria told attendees that in her counseling practice, she always tried to approach people through the eyes of Jesus. “How would Jesus react to this person? To this situation? He would always love them and never condemn them,” she said.

“He would always give compassion and love,” Sister Maria said. “I want to leave that legacy.”

Catholic leaders welcome Biden’s promise to raise refugee cap

Heba Ibrahim, 8, left, the youngest daughter in a family of Kurdish refugees, receives a rose from a family friend in Nashville in this 2016 file photo. The girl’s family had been in Turkey after fleeing Syria’s civil war and was now relocating to the U.S. with assistance from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Nashville. President Joe Biden increased the annual refugee admissions by almost 48,000 people May 3, 2021. Tennessee Register file photo by Theresa Laurence

WASHINGTON. President Joe Biden announced May 3 he was raising the historically low refugee cap of 15,000 left by the Trump administration, but he also warned that his administration may not be able to meet the new number of 62,500 refugees it is seeking to resettle in what remains of the fiscal year. 

In a statement, the president said that while the previous cap set by Trump did not reflect the country’s values “as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees,” it may be difficult for his administration to meet the new goal.

“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year. We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway,” he said in the statement. “We have reopened the program to new refugees. And by changing the regional allocations last month, we have already increased the number of refugees ready for departure to the United States.”

The announcement was aimed at sending a signal, he said, “to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin.”

Kellye Branson, Refugee and Immigration Services Director for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Nashville, welcomed the news, and agreed that “the infrastructure is not what it was, and it will take some time to build the program back up.” 

Since October 2020, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Nashville has only seen 29 new refugee arrivals, a historic low, Branson noted. For comparison, the last full fiscal year President Obama was in office, they helped resettle 637 refugees. 

Catholic Charities has helped resettle refugees since the organization was established in 1962 and has helped more than 10,000 refugees from 35 countries resettle here.

Before refugees arrive in the U.S., they are heavily vetted, including face-to-face interviews with U.S. Customs and Immigration agents. “That has not really been happening for the last year and a half,” Branson said. “The pipeline of refugees ready to travel is not as robust as years past.” 

Starting with the 2022 fiscal year in October, “we hope to start to see some significant increase in the pipeline,” Branson said. 

In November, Biden said during a virtual Jesuit Refugee Service event that he would be heading in a dramatically different direction than the previous administration on refugee admissions and said he would raise the ceiling when he took office to 125,000.

That soon proved to be a difficult goal, given the dismantling of the program under the Trump administration.

Hours after taking office in January 2017, the Trump administration announced it was cutting the cap of 110,000 allowed under the Obama administration to 50,000. The Trump administration consistently lowered the number each fiscal year until it reached the record-low last year. In April, Biden began facing harsh criticism from refugee advocates because he wasn’t raising the number set by Trump.

Biden’s May 3 statement said that while he will stick to the original figure he first promised, that, too, was proving to be a challenge.

“The budget that I have submitted to Congress also reflects my commitment to the goal of 125,000 refugee admissions in the first fiscal year of my presidency. That goal will still be hard to hit,” he said.

“We might not make it the first year. But we are going to use every tool available to help these fully vetted refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries. This will reassert American leadership and American values when it comes to refugee admissions,” Biden added.

On May 4, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration said it welcomed the news.

Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and committee chairman, said the news comes during a particularly difficult time for people on the move, with more than 26 million refugees worldwide and more than 47 million people who are internally displaced.

“As a nation of immigrants, we have a moral obligation to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are in need. The updated refugee admissions cap is a step in the right direction to help those who need it most,” Bishop Dorsonville said.

The bishop said he was pleased with the administration’s previous decision to reinstate the regional allocation framework, but this increase was a crucial step toward rebuilding the crippled Refugee Admissions Program. “We view this number as a steppingstone toward the administration’s stated goal of 125,000 admissions, a figure more consistent with our values and capabilities as a nation.”

He said that the United States had long been a leader in refugee resettlement, and as the world finds itself “in the midst of the greatest forced displacement crisis of our lifetime,” it was important to ensure the safety of those facing dangerous conditions.

“The Catholic Church teaches that every person is created in God’s image and must be valued, protected, and respected for the inherent dignity that he or she possesses. It is more important now than ever that our country continue to lead as we address this humanitarian emergency,” he said.

Theresa Laurence of the Tennessee Register contributed to this report. 

Renowned artist donates painting for Seminarian Education Event and Auction

World-renowned painter and portrait artist Igor Babailov has donated this painting as an auction item for the Seminarian Education Event and Auction to be held on Tuesday, May 25. The painting was used as the cover of the book “The 13th Disciple” by Paul Stutzman.

Painter and portrait artist Igor Babailov is once again donating one of his paintings to be auctioned off as part of the Seminarian Education Event and Auction to be held on Tuesday, May 25.

The painting was originally commissioned to be used as the cover for the book “The 13th Disciple” by Paul Stutzman, said Ashley Linville, director of development for the Diocese of Nashville. “It’s an original painting,” he added.

Babailov is a world-renowned portrait artist. In 2010, his portrait of Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI was selected by the pope for the Vatican Splendors international museum tour. The portrait was displayed alongside the works of Michelangelo, Bernini, Giotto and other Renaissance masters.

Besides Benedict, Babailov has painted the portraits of Pope Francis and St. John Paul II. Others he has captured on the canvas include President George W. Bush, Nelson Mandela, former First Lady Hillary Clinton, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, retired Gen. David Petraeus, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and other world leaders, celebrities and distinguished individuals. 

Babailov has donated paintings in the past for the Seminarian Education Event and Auction.

Other auction items this year include:

  • A bourbon tasting hosted by Father John Hammond, Vicar General and Judicial Vicar of the diocese and pastor of St. Patrick Church in Nashville, and Father Andrew Forsythe, the chaplain at Pope John Paul II High School. This year’s tasting will feature Single Barrel bourbons, Linville noted.
  • A Brazilian dinner prepared by Father Gervan Menezes, the chaplain of University Catholic. Father Menezes is a native of Brazil and a former chef.
  • A camp session donated by Camp Marymount.
  • Dinner with Father Austin Gilstrap and Father Luke Wilgenbusch, the director and associate director of vocations for the diocese, respectively.
  • A barbecue dinner and Mass celebrated by Father Patrick Kibby, the senior priest at St. Henry Church, at the grotto at the Goodlettsville home of Chris and Patricia Casa Santa.
  • A Zoom experience with Nashville Predators play-by-play announcer Pete Weber and Tennessee Titans radio color analyst and former NFL coach Dave McGinnis.
  • A hand-made quilt.
  • Two tours of historic churches in the diocese led by Father Ed Steiner, pastor of St. Philip Church in Franklin. One tour will be of churches in the northern half of the diocese and the other tour will feature churches in the southern half.

An event with Bishop J. Mark Spalding is also being planned as an auction item, and the details will be announced later, Linville said.

The auction, like the rest of this year’s event, will be held online at The auction will open at 6 p.m. Friday, May 21, and will end at 10 p.m. Tuesday, May 25. Auction items will be posted on the website closer to the date of the event.

For the second year in a row, the Seminarian Education Event and Auction will be virtual, but it will still be an opportunity for the people of the Diocese of Nashville to meet and get to know the future priests of the diocese.

One of the features of this year’s fundraising event, which will begin at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 25, will be videos of the seminarians hosting virtual tours of their seminaries, giving people a peek into the rhythm of their daily lives. The event will also feature recorded messages from Bishop Spalding, Father Gilstrap and Father Wilgenbusch. 

The money raised will help pay for the education and formation of the diocese’s 20 seminarians, who are studying at the North American College in Rome, St. Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Indiana, St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, Louisiana, Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas, and Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.

Last year’s event raised about $280,000. The cost of educating the seminarians for the diocese is about $75,000 per year for each seminarian, Linville noted.

The event is sponsored by the Serra Clubs of Williamson County and Nashville and the Tennessee Knights of Columbus. 

People can visit to view the event and to make a donation. People don’t have to wait until May 25 to make a donation, Linville said, they can do it at any time.

Anyone interested in helping to sponsor the event can contact Linville at or 615-645-9768.

SEARCH retreat celebrates 50 years

Marie Forbes, left, and Erik Backstrom, right, hand out SEARCH crosses to the newest SEARCH alumni from their groups after the closing Mass on Sunday, April 25, at St. Henry Church in Nashville. That was also the 50th anniversary celebration of the Diocese of Nashville’s retreat program for high school students.  Photos by Theresa Laurence

Hundreds of past SEARCHers filled the parking lot of St. Henry Church on Sunday, April 25, for a joyful closing Mass of SEARCH 365 and the 50th anniversary celebration of the retreat program for high school students. 

 The SEARCH retreat is “transformative,” said Father Andy Bulso, the chaplain for the Diocese of Nashville’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and a past SEARCH participant, because it’s where many young people begin to know Jesus as “someone who knows and loves each one of us.”

Developing an authentic relationship with Jesus, beyond a theological or historical understanding of him, and realizing “the love that God has for each one of us” is at the heart of the SEARCH program, Father Bulso, who was the principal celebrant of the Mass, said in his homily.

Bill Rodgers, an alum of SEARCH 111 and 119, looks at photo albums of past SEARCH retreats with his wife Jenni and daughter Mae, who made SEARCH 333. His son Henry Rodgers made SEARCH 365, which concluded on Sunday, April 25, also the 50th anniversary celebration of the retreat program. 

The Diocese of Nashville’s SEARCH retreat program is open to high school juniors and seniors and is typically held at Camp Marymount in Fairview one weekend a month during the school year. It features talks and group discussions on a variety of subjects, led by teens who have already completed the retreat. 

It’s an enduring and popular fixture in the diocese, with all weekends during the 2020-2021 school year operating at full capacity.

“SEARCH is an experience in encountering Jesus Christ, which will assist you in living a Christian life as you enter into young adulthood,” according to the diocesan youth office’s SEARCH page. “SEARCH aims to ignite the disciple in each participant to go forth and proclaim the good news — the Gospel!”

Sally Corby, left, now retired, was the longtime director of the SEARCH program for the Diocese of Nashville. She attended the 50th anniversary celebration at St. Henry Church with her son Ed Corby, at right.

Before he made SEARCH 360, Cullen Mnich, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, said he regularly attended church with his family, but “I wasn’t really paying attention,” he said. “My relationship with God just wasn’t really there.”

A reluctant SEARCH participant, Mnich said once he arrived for his first retreat weekend, “I knew I would only get out what I put into it. … I decided to open up and make it my environment to thrive and enjoy.”

Mnich has indeed thrived in SEARCH, asked to be a leader for SEARCH 363 and co-director for SEARCH 365, one of the top leadership positions for Catholic youth in the diocese. 

He said SEARCH has motivated him to “pray and enjoy the sacraments more.” It’s also given him a network of like-minded teenagers who “stick with you through everything.

“It’s given me a lot of people in my life I feel like I can always talk to,” he said. 

That real connection with others is one of the hallmarks of SEARCH, Father Bulso said in his homily. SEARCH, he said, “empowers our lives and our love for each other.” The emotions and connections of the retreat weekend “are some of the most real things you can ever experience,” he said. 

Former SEARCH chaplains, including Fathers Andrew Forsythe, left, Pat Kibby, Joe McMahon, Nicholas Allen and Mark Beckman, concelebrated the SEARCH 50th anniversary Mass with current SEARCH chaplain Father Andy Bulso at St. Henry Church on April 25.

Over 50 years, there have been 365 SEARCH weekends with an estimated 15,000 participants. The late Father Ed Arnold brought the SEARCH retreat to the diocese and held the first retreat in April 1971 at the “Graystone Building” where the Fleming Center at the Cathedral of the Incarnation now stands.

Since then, very little about SEARCH has changed, and to many people, that’s what makes it so appealing.

“I saw it work, and it just continued to work,” said the former longtime SEARCH director Sally Corby. “If you see something going good, why change it?”

Many young SEARCH alumni attended the closing Mass on April 25 and enjoyed a reception after, reconnecting and looking through old photo albums of past retreat weekends, many of those memoires compiled and preserved by Corby. 

She witnessed thousands of teen-agers experience SEARCH, and still cherishes the experience and the impact the SEARCH can have on young people. “I just loved being with the kids,” she said. “Real conversions happen.”

SEARCH retreat celebrates 50 years

Encounters with Christ reshaped lives of Women’s Conference speakers

Sonja Corbitt, an author, speaker and founder of Bible Study Evangelista, speaks during the Catholic Women of Faith Conference held Saturday, April 24, at St. Philip Church in Franklin. She encouraged the women to study Scripture more deeply. Photo by Marianne Reeves

Following the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead people to the truth, one of the speakers at the Catholic Women of Faith Conference told the women in the audience.

“Don’t care about what others think. Follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance and He will lead you to truth,” said Kendra Von Esh, during her talk at the conference, which was held on Saturday, April 24, at St. Philip Church in Franklin.

The annual conference made a return this year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel last year’s event.

“Our preparations were different this year because of safety concerns,” said Sherri Isham, conference director. “The biggest challenge was listening to everyone’s opinions on how to accommodate those concerns and taking it all into consideration.”

Because the pandemic isn’t completely over yet, attendees could either watch online or go in person, with limited in-person seating available and social distancing required. Roughly 300 people attended in person, with an additional 75 tuning in online.

The day featured Mass with Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding, speakers Von Esh, Sonja Corbitt and Christine Watkins, and Catholic musician Taylor Tripodi. The women attending also had lunch together, recited the Rosary together, and had the opportunity to take advantage of the Sacrament of Penance and shop from local Catholic vendors.

Von Esh shared her powerful story of reversion to the faith after looking for happiness in all the wrong places.

“I was raised Catholic,” she said. “I was baptized, confirmed, went to CCD every Sunday. But we didn’t really talk about God at home. It was TV, magazines, and movies that raised me.”

In college, she turned to drugs, alcohol, and partying for happiness. And those self-destructive habits followed her into adulthood.

In 2013, she felt compelled to go back to church for Easter. “I wasn’t going to the Catholic church though!” she said. “I hadn’t gone to Mass even for Christmas or Easter in more than 20 years.”

But she went to Mass anyway after some convincing from her mom’s boyfriend. “He said to me ‘You’re Catholic though. Why wouldn’t you go to Mass?’” she explained. Toward the end of that Easter Mass, the priest announced that the parish would be having a Penance service for Divine Mercy Sunday.

At first, she resisted going. But dealing with a stressful situation at work left her looking for peace. She went back to the Sacrament of Penance for the first time in 26 years. “I did an examination of conscience before I drove to the service and listed all my sins on a sheet of notebook paper,” she said. “What I thought would be a short list turned into a general confession.”

She had her first real encounter with God while in the confessional. “I walked in and tried to put a light-hearted spin on things. I told the priest I hadn’t been to confession in more than 20 years. And of all the things he could’ve told me in that moment, he said ‘Welcome home.’ And I couldn’t stop crying because I knew that God was real and that he loved me!” she said.

“There is so much freedom in living for Jesus and making Him your audience of one,” she said.

Corbitt, a convert from the Southern Baptist Church and a parishioner at St. John Vianney Church in Gallatin, shared lessons she learned from her relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Our former Bishop David Choby once told me that the measure of my faith in Jesus was directly correlated to my devotion to Mary, because the best way to reach Him is through her,” she said. “The first time I ever prayed the Rosary, I had no idea of what I was doing. I just thought, ‘Lord, please don’t hate me for doing this.’ And then I learned it was basically the Bible on a string!”

She encouraged the women to study Scripture more deeply. “When Mary was saying the Magnificat, she was reciting Scripture,” Corbitt said. “The Magnificat comes from a long line of Jewish hymns and psalms. It comes from the Song of Songs, the Book of Psalms, and the song of Hannah in the Book of Samuel. If we receive the sacraments but aren’t studying Scripture, we’re only connecting with God halfway.”

Watkins, founder of Queen of Peace Media, shared the story of her conversion after a powerful encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“I grew up in an atheist household,” she said. She looked for fulfillment and happiness everywhere. For quite some time, she found it in being a professional ballet dancer. But an injury put an end to that forever.

“Since ballet was taken away from me, I started exploring different things that would give my life meaning and purpose,” she said. “But there was no way I would consider Christianity, and definitely not Catholicism!”

She found comfort in the New Age movement and the hookup culture. “I was so entrenched in sexual sin that images of Mary and Jesus became offensive to me,” she said.

But after a cervical cancer diagnosis and a Catholic friend praying for her through Mary, she had a healing encounter that changed her life forever. “My cancer was gone after that,” she said.

She now looks to Mary as her mother and encourages others to do the same. “I had hated Mary and Jesus, but they never stopped loving me,” she said. “I was disconnected from God before, but Mary’s intercession brought me back to Him.”

The day ended with a concert by Catholic singer-songwriter Taylor Tripodi, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, the oldest of nine children, and recently named one of the top 30 Catholic musicians in the world. She aspires to use her voice to glorify God and to spread the hope of the Gospel message.

Many in attendance were glad to have the opportunity to attend an in-person event after spending months in quarantine. Donna Sabash from Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville went with a handful of her fellow parishioners.

“I’m so glad to have come here in person with my friends from church,” she said. “It’s just not the same only being able to go to events that are only online. Getting to be here and see people I know from around the diocese, go to Mass in person, and listen to these great speakers has been awesome.” 

Overall, the day was a success. “If you think about the Gospel story of the woman at the well, women have always wanted to gather with each other since the time of Jesus,” Isham said. “It really has been wonderful to see so many people here today after being away for so long.”

Pope calls for monthlong global prayer marathon for end of pandemic

Anabel Mutune, a third grader at Transfiguration Catholic School in Oakdale, Minn., prays during a Children’s Rosary Pilgrimage at Transfiguration Church in this Oct. 7, 2020, file photo. Pope Francis has called for a global prayer marathon during the Marian month of May to petition God for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has called for a global prayer marathon for the entire month of May, praying for the end to the pandemic. 

“The initiative will involve in a special way all shrines in the world” in promoting the initiative so that individuals, families and communities all take part in reciting the rosary, “to pray for the end of the pandemic,” said the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization in a press release April 21. 

“It is the heartfelt desire of the Holy Father that the month of May be dedicated to a prayer marathon dedicated to the theme, ‘from the entire church an unceasing prayer rises to God,'” it said. 

The theme refers to the miraculous event recounted in the Acts of the Apostles (12:1-12) when all the church prayed for Peter, who was imprisoned until God sent an angel to free him, illustrating how the Christian community comes together to pray in the face of danger and how the Lord listens and performs an unexpected miracle. 

Each day in May, there will be a livestream from one of 30 chosen Marian shrines or sanctuaries to guide the prayer at 6 p.m. Rome time (noon EDT) on all Vatican media platforms. 

The pope will open the monthlong prayer May 1 and conclude it May 31, the council said. 

Each day of the month has a different prayer intention related to the pandemic. For instance, the May 17 intention is “for all world leaders and for all heads of international organizations.” That prayer will be celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.  

The following day, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, prayers will be for all doctors and nurses. The May 23 prayer intention at the Quebec shrine, Notre Dame du Cap, is for law enforcement, military personnel and firefighters. 

The English-language list of shrines and prayer intentions can be found at   

New Advisory Council to offer input to Schools Office

Catholic Schools logo

As the Diocese of Nashville’s Catholic Schools Office shepherds the diocesan school system into the future, it will have the help of the newly created Catholic Schools Advisory Council.

The Advisory Council will advise Bishop J. Mark Spalding and Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Hammel on matters relating to Catholic schools in the diocese, Hammel said. 

One of its first tasks will be to offer advice on implementing the 11 goals developed as part of the Catholic Schools Office’s strategic plan. “They will really help the Catholic Schools Office advance our work in the strategic plan,” Hammel said.

“It’s important for Rebecca and the Catholic Schools Office to have some insight and input from individuals who are involved in Catholic education in a variety of ways,” said Frederick Strobel, the chair of the Advisory Council.

The members offer a variety of expertise related to the strategic plan goals, Strobel said. “Having that insight and information is beneficial to the Catholic Schools Office as it implements its strategic plan,” he said.

When inviting people to serve on the council, Hammel said, “I was targeting certain areas of expertise that can guide us in the oversight of the strategic plan.” Those areas include marketing, legal, Catholic identity and operational vitality.

Most members are current or past parents of Catholic school students, but not all, she noted. And not all the members are Catholic, though a majority are, Hammel added.

The council also includes one religious sister and two priests. “It was important to me to make sure religious were represented on the council,” Hammel said. Their participation will aid the council’s understanding of the importance of spiritual formation and Catholic identity at schools in the diocese, she said.

The members include: 

  • Strobel, who will serve as chair. He is the president/owner of the Burgundy Group public relations firm with 43 years of experience in advertising, public relations and marketing. He is a graduate of the former Cathedral School and Father Ryan High School, and his two daughters are graduates of St. Cecilia Academy. His business has worked with the Catholic Schools Office as well as several schools in the diocese.
  • Sister John Mary Fleming, O.P., who will serve as vice chair. She is a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation and serves as its Director of Education. She is a former principal of St. Henry School in Nashville and served as the executive director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Catholic Education.
  • Cari Johns Isham, national director of development for 50CAN, a national non-profit that advocates at the local level for a high-quality education for all children. She is a parishioner at Christ the King Church in Nashville and her son is a student at Christ the King School and her daughter will be in the pre-school program there next year.
  • Arie L. Nettles, a professor of clinical pediatrics and director of the Office on Inclusion and Health Equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Nettles is a licensed psychologist and a nationally certified school psychologist. Nettles also serves as the music minister for the chapel at Saint Thomas West Hospital.
  • Rhonda Scott Kinslow of All Rise LLC and Kinslow Law Group. She is an attorney and has experience coaching and training business professionals. Her son attends St. Pius X Classical Academy.
  • Patrick Shepherd, managing partner of Avondale Partners LLC, a healthcare focused investment bank. Shepherd’s children attended Overbrook School and St. Cecilia Academy. He has been involved with several organizations and initiatives in the diocese, including the Advancement of Catholic Education, the Catholic Community Foundation, and capital campaigns at the Cathedral of the Incarnation and Holy Family Church.
  • Dustin Timmons, a partner in Donnelly Timmons Associates, a residential construction company. Timmons is a graduate of St. Henry School and Father Ryan; his children have attended Christ the King School, where he is a parishioner, and Father Ryan. He is a former board member for Christ the King School.
  • Christopher Callaghan, a private investor and advisor, mentor coach, and founder of Callaghan and Co. Callaghan is a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville and a former member of the board at Pope John Paul II High School.
  • Father Andrew Forsythe, chaplain and teacher at JPII High School. Father Forsythe has been a high school teacher, director of religious education, director of music, master catechist, associate pastor and parish administrator.
  • Father Delphinus Mutajuka, associate pastor at St. Edward Church. Father Mutajuka is a former chaplain and teacher at Father Ryan and a member of the St. Edward Finance Board and Parish Council.

Some members of the Advisory Council were on the steering committee that helped develop the Catholic Schools Office’s strategic plan, Hammel said. “I was happy to have the carryover because they were part of the process.”

The Council held its first meeting in March. “That went very well,” Hammel said.

The Council is now organizing its standing committees: Executive Committee, Nominating Committee, Operational Vitality Committee, Planning Committee, Policy Committee, Marketing and Enrollment Committee, and the Mission and Catholic Identity Committee.

Each committee will be chaired by a member of the Council, with the support of one of the members of the Catholic Schools Office, Hammel explained. 

People outside the Council will be invited to serve on the committees as well, she said. “It’s a way to bring other people into the work of the Catholic Schools Office to advance the mission of our Catholic schools.”

The Council and its committees will address ways to implement the 11 goals of the strategic plan, which are organized in four categories:

  • Mission and Catholic Identity: Focus on mission; nurture vibrant Catholic communities.
  • Governance and Leadership: Invite and support collaboration; build leadership capacity; communicate regularly, effectively and intentionally.
  • Academic Excellence: Sustain the delivery of outstanding Catholic education; align schools, programs and services with the needs of students, families, parishes and communities.
  • Operational Vitality: Build demand for and commitment to the Catholic schools; assess and plan for school facility and infrastructure needs; support growth of effective school advancement programs; and promote financial transparency, accountability and accessibility.

Several of the goals stand out to Strobel, he said. “One is institutional vitality. It’s important for all of our schools to be both vibrant and solid from an administrative and fiscal standpoint.”

Another is maintaining the Catholic identity of the schools, “espousing and championing the very essence of the Catholic experience,” Strobel said.

It’s also important for diocesan schools to build awareness of the value of Catholic education in both the Catholic community and the broader community, Strobel said. 

There are many private and public school options for parents to choose from, he noted. “It’s important for parents to know the real advantages of Catholic education.”

Strobel’s firm conducted a survey of the community’s opinions of Catholic schools for the Schools Office. “It’s clear a lot of people in the geographic boundaries of the diocese don’t really have an awareness of Catholic schools or more importantly the importance and accessibility of Catholic education,” he said.

He was surprised to find that most people surveyed had no opinion either way about Catholic education. “They just didn’t know about it,” Strobel said. 

“Even in our own Catholic community people had questions whether Catholic schools were the best option for their children,” he said. “It’s important for the Catholic Schools Office to continue to promote the advantages of a Catholic education to our entire community, Catholic and non-Catholic.”

Strobel is excited about the prospects for the Advisory Council. “Because of the members’ experience, the Council will be in a good position to move quickly,” he said. “It’s a very engaged and experienced group of people committed to making this Council a very valuable resource for the Catholic Schools Office.”