Diocese’s Faith Formation Office shares Lenten resources

The Diocese of Nashville’s Office of Faith Formation is planning several Lenten programs this year.

One is a new initiative: offering Three Minute Theology “microcourses” online that include short pre-recorded episodes of the popular 3MT videos, all focused on the themes of Lent, accompanied by further reading suggestions, a brief quiz, and an online discussion board. 

“We’ll have a special focus on the practices of Lent, including fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and confession,” said Joan Watson, director of the Office of Faith Formation. 

Re-packaging the Three Minute Theology videos into microcourses on the Teachable online platform will allow people to “go a little deeper” into the lessons, access them at their own pace, and discuss with others, Watson said. 

People will need to sign up for a free account to access the materials on Teachable. There is no charge for the class, but participants can make a donation to support the work of Three Minute Theology. 

All the content is now available at https://3minutetheology.teachable.com/ and people can move through the 10 lessons at their own pace. 

“We want to be a resource for people,” Watson said, whether in a Catholic school classroom, a parish education program, or for families at home. The content is “very accessible,” she said, and can be used for parents and children together. 

During a season when “we feel like we’ve already given up a lot,” Watson said, “take this course and learn more about the faith. Do this as your Lenten practice.” 

Once again this Lent the Office of Faith Formation will offer the “Reflect” video series. The videos, featuring different priests from the diocese reflecting on the upcoming Sunday’s gospel, will be released every Thursday during Lent, available on the Diocese of Nashville’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DioceseofNashville.  

The Faith Formation Office will also offer an in-person speaker series with talks on Wednesdays during March at the Catholic Pastoral Center. The same talk will be offered at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on the day listed. The theme for the spring speaker series is “The Year of St. Joseph.” 

  • March 3: “What’s All the Fuss About Joseph?” by Joan Watson 
  • March 10: “Fatherhood – Quiet Strength: Reflections on St. Joseph & Fatherhood” by Graham Honeycutt 
  • March 17: “Working Well, Working for Love: St. Joseph and the Sanctification of Work,” by Michael Gilstrap 
  • March 24: “Oh Happy Death, Where Art Thou?” by Judy Orr. 

Gilbert Krenson remembered for love and support of his family


A memorial service for Richard Gilbert Krenson, husband of Ann Krenson, the former Chancellor of the Diocese of Nashville, and father of Deacon John Krenson, was held on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Mr. Krenson died on Jan. 28, 2021. He was 91 years old. 

“Gilbert achieved three things so many strive for,” recalled his family. “He was devoted to and adored his wife of nearly 60 years, and she adored him back; he raised three sons who loved and respected him; and he provided well for all of them.” 

Mr. Krenson was born on Aug. 19, 1929 in Atlanta. His family moved to Nashville in 1934. He graduated from Father Ryan High School, St. Bernard Junior College in Alabama, and received his bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University. 

In January 1951, Mr. Krenson enlisted to serve four years in the U.S. Air Force. While in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1952 he was promoted to Staff Sergeant and volunteered to serve duty at the radar base at Cape Lisburne, 170 miles north of the Arctic Circle and the first and western-most part of the Distant Early Warning Line. In 1954, his father, who was suffering with terminal cancer, received a letter from the Dow Air Force Base, Maine, Commanding Officer that Mr. Krenson had received the “Outstanding Airman” Award of his Squadron for the past six-month period. 

After his honorable discharge from the Air Force, Mr. Krenson worked at Ford Motor Co.’s Nashville Glass Plant, retiring as a financial analyst. He enjoyed gardening, bowling, tennis and golf. He was elected Tennessee State President of the Senior Catholic Youth Organization for one year, was a Cub Master for two years, a Junior Achievement business advisor, and a Mass lector for 12 years at the Cathedral of the Incarnation and Christ the King churches.  

Mr. Krenson volunteered at Saint Thomas Hospital, Room in the Inn, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, the Metro Adult Literacy Program, and served on the Davidson County Grand Jury. He and his family did two two-week Appalachian Missions. He received an American Red Cross “Thank You” certificate for his lifetime donation of more than 10 gallons of blood.  

After retirement, Mr. Krenson worked five years part-time as Tuition and Finance Officer for St. Ann Church and School. During retirement he enjoyed family time with his children and grandchildren, built six Adirondack chairs, lawn furniture, a gazebo and a Koi water garden and deck.  

Mr. Krenson was preceded in death by his parents, James Robert Krenson and Mittie Lahatte Krenson; his brother James Robert Krenson Jr. and his sister Patsy Hibbett.  

Survivors include his beloved wife, Ann Krenson; children Eddie (Martha), John (Carrie), and Jay; five grandchildren, Jennifer (Adam) Thompson, Jason Krenson, Constance (John) Hill, Dasha Krenson and Evan Krenson; nine great-grandchildren, Anna, Sarah, Nathan, Mary and Rebecca Thompson, Caitlin and Landon Krenson, and Savannah and Wyatt Hill; his sister Mickey Beazley; and numerous nieces and nephews. 

The family expressed their gratitude to the Alive Hospice staff, residents and staff of St. Paul Senior Living Community, and to Mr. Krenson’s many friends and relatives for their love and support.  

Memorial contributions can be made to the Pinson Hospital Hospitality House, which was founded in 1974 by Mr. Krenson’s wife Ann Krenson and his sister Mickey Beazley. 

Marshall Donnelly Combs Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements. 

Minnesota priest plans to auction coveted baseball cards to aid low-income students

Father John Ubel, rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minn., shows baseball cards Feb. 10, 2021, that he will sell during an online auction in March to raise money for the Aim Higher Foundation. In his hands are the two most valuable: Jackie Robinson, left, and Hank Aaron. CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — A baseball card collection worth thousands of dollars was a split second away from being dropped into a trash can and disappearing forever in a landfill. 

Father John Ubel, rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul, recalled that moment more than 15 years ago when he was transferred to a different priestly assignment and wanted to purge some of his belongings. He wasn’t sure what to do with a box containing hundreds of cards in mint condition from the 1970s. 

“Every time you move assignments, it’s a great opportunity to divest yourself a bit,” he said. “I literally had them out at the trash, and changed my mind and brought them back in.” 

Eventually, he began to add more to the collection, and now estimates its value at more than $25,000. Soon, he will make good on his urge to get rid of the cards. This time instead of a trash can, they will go to avid collectors and the proceeds given to the Aim Higher Foundation in St. Paul, where he serves on the board of directors. 

The nonprofit organization gives scholarships to low-income students at Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Students receive $1,000 every year they are enrolled in a Catholic school through eighth grade. A student can receive as much as $9,000 if he or she qualifies beginning in kindergarten. 

Father Ubel, 57, is organizing an online auction for the weekend of March 12-14, the fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. 

He was inspired to sell his collection after watching how Catholic schools have courageously offered in-person learning despite the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept many public schools closed since last March. 

Although archdiocesan schools closed as well and quickly implemented distance learning, they reopened in the fall for in-person learning. 

“I thought to myself, (Catholic) schools are hitting it out of the park. And, I thought, it’s time to give something back,” he told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. 

He has more than 2,000 cards, but will focus on the most valuable — about 50 — at the auction. Two big sellers are expected to be a 1948 Jackie Robinson rookie card and a 1954 Hank Aaron rookie card. 

Father Ubel said the Robinson card is worth more than $15,000 and the Aaron card worth about $6,000, although the latter figure is continuing to climb since the slugger’s death Jan. 22. 

Robinson became the first African American player in the major leagues in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and faced racial discrimination. Father Ubel noted that Aaron likewise faced discrimination, most notably while chasing Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs, which stood for nearly four decades. But break it Aaron did April 8, 1974. The slugger retired having clubbed 755 homers, today the second most in major league history. 

Father Ubel started collecting cards in 1970 while in the first grade at Visitation School in Mendota Heights. He bought most of his cards between 1970 and 1974. His interest waned after transferring to nearby St. Thomas Academy, graduating in 1981. 

The cards were stored in a Girl Scout cookie box in the attic of his family home for several years before he eventually retrieved them and started taking them wherever he went after ordination as a priest. His interest picked up years later and he added the Aaron card in 2009 and the Robinson card in 2010. 

The reason he fell in love with baseball is simple: “It’s the only sport I ever really played.” He was a member of a city championship team in 1977. 

The reason he fell in love with baseball cards is equally simple. 

“This is nostalgia, and it brings you right back. … And, I think memory is very 

powerful, and memory is very compelling. It brings us back to a simpler time,” he said. 

For sentimental reasons, it would be understandable for Father Ubel to want to keep his collection. He admitted there’s a tug on his heart to do so, which creates tension surrounding his decision to let go. 

“On a human level, I don’t want to part with these,” he said, “but I also think there are other needs right now that in my life are more important. And, the benefit I received from a Catholic education is really immeasurable to me, my whole life, from kindergarten all the way through seminary and beyond. 

“And, to me, it’s time (to sell the cards). I just felt the Lord speaking to me. You know, Matthew 19 (verse 21): ‘Go, sell what you have.’ It’s time. It’s time to do something and to give back.” 

Diocese offers social media reflections, prayers for Year of St. Joseph

On Dec. 8, 2020, Pope Francis proclaimed the start of the Year of St. Joseph. The Diocese of Nashville is sharing prayers to and reflections about St. Joseph on its social media platforms to help people delve more deeply into a devotion to the Foster Father of Jesus during the year. The painting “St. Joseph with Infant Christ in his Arms” is by Guido Reni (1575-1642). 

Pope Francis has put a spotlight on St. Joseph in declaring this the Year of St. Joseph. And during this year, the Diocese of Nashville is trying to help everyone deepen a devotion to the foster father of Christ. 

“So often he’s the silent piece of the Holy Family. But he had such an important role in supporting Mary and raising Jesus,” said Libby Byrnes, coordinator of high school youth ministry for the Office of Youth and Young Adult Formation. 

“The pope refers to St. Joseph as a father in the shadows,” Byrnes added. “We would like to bring him to the light through reflections and prayers focused on him.” 

The Solemnity of St. Joseph is March 19, and every day in March, the Office of Youth and Young Adult Formation will post a short reflection and prayer about St. Joseph on the diocesan social media platforms. The reflections and prayers will come from the book “Day by Day with St. Joseph” By Msgr. Joseph Champlin and Msgr. Kenneth Lasch, which is published by Catholic Book Publishing Corp. of New Jersey. 

Although the youth office is posting the reflections and prayers, they are meant to be shared with everyone, not just youth. “Anybody who wants the content, we want to provide it,” said Robert Strobel, associate director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. 

The youth office has also been posting on the Diocese of Nashville’s Facebook page every Tuesday a short excerpt from Pope Francis’ apostolic letter on St. Joseph, “Patris Corde.” 

In the letter, which was issued on Dec. 8, 2020, the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church, Pope Francis shares some personal reflections on St. Joseph, whom he calls an “extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience.” 

“Patris Corde” looks at the different roles of St. Joseph, including: a beloved father; a tender and loving father; an obedient father; an accepting father; a creatively courageous father; a working father; and a father in the shadows. 

Using social media to share reflections and prayers about St. Joseph is an “opportunity to grow outside our regular postings, to try to reach as many people as we can, especially when people can’t come to church” during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Strobel. “It’s an opportunity to reach out and evangelize,” he added.  

Diocese celebrates Rite of Election for people to be baptized at Easter Vigil Mass

Bishop J. Mark Spalding accepts a Book of the Elect from one of the churches of the Diocese of Nashville during the Rite of Election held Sunday, Feb. 21, at Sagrado Corazon Church. Photo by Joan Watson

During the Rite of Election, held Sunday, Feb. 21, at Sagrado Corazon Church, Bishop J. Mark Spalding welcomed catechumens from across the Diocese of Nashville to the phase of purification and enlightenment as they continue their journey to being received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass. 

Eighty-four catechumens from parishes across the diocese attended the Rite of Election, said Joan Watson, director of the diocese’s Office of Faith Formation. Attendance was limited this year due to COVID-19 and the recent winter storm. 

Catechumens are people entering the Church who have never been baptized. They will receive the sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation, and communion – at the Easter Vigil Mass in their parishes. 

People entering the Church who have already been baptized in another Christian denomination are called candidates. In most parishes, they will receive the other two sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil Mass. 

Earlier in the day, the catechumens who are completing the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults signed the Book of the Elect at their parishes during a Rite of Sending. Each parish presented its Book of the Elect to the bishop during the Rite of Election, Watson explained. 

Parishes plan COVID-safe Lenten fish fries

The COVID-19 pandemic has scrambled life in parishes across the Diocese of Nashville. One of the casualties of the pandemic has been the popular Lenten fish fries at so many parishes.

For Lent this year, several parishes are trying to reclaim that feature of parish life, within the safety guidelines necessitated by the pandemic. Among the parishes hosting meals or drive-through fish fries are:

Immaculate Conception Church, Clarksville. Knights of Columbus Council 3537 will sponsor a weekly drive-up Lenten fish fry at the church, 709 Franklin St., Clarksville.

  • March 26, 5-7 p.m.
  • Menu: Fried fish dinner plate (two pieces of fried cod, French fries, coleslaw); fried shrimp dinner plate (fried shrimp, French fries, coleslaw).
  • Cost: $8 per plate. Proceeds will benefit the council’s Loaves and Fishes Blessing Bag program and the Hope Pregnancy Center.
  • Order when you get there or order in advance by phone or email. Phone Frankie Ramos at 931-801-3328. Email kofc3537@gmail.com.

St. Rose of Lima Church, Murfreesboro. Knights of Columbus Council 4563 will host a weekly drive-through fish fry at the church, 1601 N. Tennessee Blvd. Council members will be strictly following the FDA’s pandemic safety best practices to safeguard them and parishioners.

  • March 26, 5-7 p.m.
  • Menu: Fried fish, French fries, hush puppies, white beans, slaw.
  • Cost: Donations only. Proceeds will benefit the St. Rose School scholarship program and pastoral needs.
  • The drive through location will be on the Stonewall side of the church. Follow the one-way around the school and pick up at the Knights of Columbus tent. Exit onto Tennessee Boulevard.

Church of the Nativity, 2793 Buckner Lane, Thompson’s Station. The parish Men’s Club, Women’s Club, Fraternus, Fidelis and Knights of Columbus Council 16604 are jointly sponsoring a Lenten Friday Fish Fry with take-out dinners only.

  • March 26 at 5:30 p.m.
  • Menu: Choice of either baked or fried fish, French fries, coleslaw, mac and cheese, hush puppies, and choice of vanilla, banana or chocolate pudding.
  • Cost: $10.00 per Adult, $6.00 per child (10 years old and younger).
  • For more information, call 615-794-4004.

St. Stephen Catholic Community, 14544 Lebanon Road, Old Hickory. Knights of Columbus Council 9282 is sponsoring a curbside pickup only fish fry on every Friday of Lent.

  • March 26, 5-7 p.m.
  • Menu: Your choice of fried or baked fish, hush puppies, onion rings, coleslaw, an additional side that will change weekly.
  • Cost: $10. Order online at https://kofc9282.org/home/coming-events/meals-to-go/. Pre-ordered meals are guaranteed. Some meals will be available for people who don’t pre-order for as long as they last. Payment for drive-up is by credit card only.

Our Lady of the Lake Church, 1729 Stop Thirty Road, Hendersonville. The Knights of Columbus Council 9132 will sponsor a dine-in or take-out Lenten Dinner.

  • March 26, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
  • Menu: Entrees: baked cod, shrimp fettucine and grilled cheese. Sides: tuna casserole, penne with marinara and Italian vegetables. Beverages: bottled water will be available and people are free to bring their own beverage.
  • Cost: $9 per person, $30 per family. Tickets for dine-in or take-out are limited to the first 200 people. Tickets are available at https://knights-of-columbus-council-9132.square.site/.

Sacred Heart Church, 305 Church St., Loretto. The Knights of Columbus Council 4947 will host a drive-through fish fry at the Sacred Heart School gym in Loretto.

  • March 26, 4:30-6 p.m.
  • Menu: Fish fillets, French fries, hush puppies and coleslaw. The meals will be cooked by Pop’s BBQ. The meals will not include drinks or a dessert.
  • Cost: $10 per plate. Proceeds will benefit Sacred Heart School in Loretto.

St. Matthew Church, 535 Sneed Road West, Franklin. The St. Matthew Men’s Club will host a pick-up only fish fry at the church.

Holy Family Church, 9100 Crockett Road, Brentwood. The parish will host a take-out or eat-in fish fry in the Parish Hall.

  • March 26, 5 p.m.
  • Menu: Fried cod and baked tilapia with fries, slaw, mac and cheese, and hush puppies.
  • Cost: $10 per box. Order at holyfamilycc.com/lent

St. Patrick Church, 175 St. Patrick St., McEwen. St. Patrick Church is planning three carry-out fish fries during Lent.

  • March 26, 5-7 p.m. Meals can be picked up at the St. Patrick School gymnasium.
  • Menu: Two or three pieces of fish, white beans, slaw and hush puppies.
  • Cost: $10 plates and $7 plates.
  • All proceeds will benefit St. Patrick Church. For more information, call the church office at 931-582-3633.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 103, Golf Club Lane, Springfield. The Knights of Columbus Council 9705 will host a “to go” fish fry at the church.

  • March 26, 5-7:30 p.m.
  • Menu: Fish dinner with two sides, drink and dessert.
  • Cost: $10 per person, $20 per family.
  • For more information call 615-384-6200 or email ollsmchurch@gmail.com.
  • Stations of the Cross will be held at Our Lady of Lourdes every Friday during Lent; 6 p.m. in English and 7 p.m. in Spanish.

Catholic monks had a strong hand in the history of brewing beer

Scott Mertie, a parishioner at Holy Family Church in Brentwood, followed his passion for the history of brewing beer around the world and back to Nashville to relaunch the Nashville Brewing Co. in 2016 with his long-time friend Kent Taylor, co-founder of Blackstone Brewing Co. When it was founded in 1859, Nashville Brewing was the first large-scale commercial brewer in the city. Photo by Hayley Beals

Like universities and hospitals, the roots of the modern beer brewing industry run through the Catholic monasteries of Europe. 

And although many of the monasteries are gone, their beer lives on as some of the most well-known brands in the world, said Scott Mertie, a parishioner at Holy Family Church in Brentwood, a beer historian, and the owner of Nashville Brewing Co. 

“Their legacy is their breweries,” Mertie said of the monasteries. 

Mertie, who also is the president of Kraft Healthcare Consulting, LLC, an affiliate of KraftCPAs PLLC, recently gave a talk to the Catholic Business League on the history of beer and its ties to the Catholic Church. 

People have been brewing beer for millennia. Archaeologists recently discovered a 13,000-year-old brewery in a cave near Haifa, Israel, Mertie said. “The Middle East is the mecca where beer started.” 

The Romans, whose empire included the Middle East, brought the brewing process back to Rome. And as they were pushing into northern Europe, they brought the beer brewing process with them, Mertie said. 

Originally, beer was primarily brewed in homes. But in the Middle Ages, there was a shift to brewing beer in monasteries. 

The monasteries “would host people as they passed through the town,” Mertie said, offering them shelter, food and drink, often beer. Just as the monasteries were making their own food, such as cheese, they started brewing their own beer. 

Beer was an important part of the monks’ diet, Mertie said. “They were mostly drinking beer. It was safer than water.”  

In the Middle Ages, when access to education was limited, monasteries became centers of academic and scientific exploration, Mertie said. 

The monks started recording their beer recipes, documenting every batch, and keeping track of what worked and what didn’t, Mertie explained. As monks would leave one monastery to establish another, they would bring their recipes for beer with them. 

That meticulous process improved the quality and consistency of the beer, Mertie said. 

It was the monks who discovered that adding hops to the recipe acted as a preservative, which allowed the monasteries to keep their beer in kegs and ship it to other communities. It was a secret the monasteries kept to themselves, Mertie said. 

The process of boiling the hops had the extra benefit of making beer safer to drink than water, especially during the many plagues that struck Europe during the Middle Ages, Mertie said. 

St. Arnold of Metz, the patron saint of brewers, once blessed the kettle used to brew beer to convince the people of the city to drink beer instead of water during a plague, which saved many lives, Mertie said. 

It became clear that if you drank the monk’s beer you lived and if you drank the water you died, Mertie said. 

“The Church used that to their advantage,” he said. “It was a way to draw people into the Church to spread Christianity and to make money for the Church.” 

Beer’s saints 

There are many saints of the Church who have connections to beer and brewing, Mertie said. 

St. Florian, the patron saint of Austria, Poland, firefighters and brewers, saved the city of Nuremberg, Germany, from a massive fire by using beer from a local brewery to put out the fire. 

St. Brigid of Kildare, one of the patron saints of Ireland, was a brewer and several miracles involving beer are attributed to her, including using one keg from her monastery to supply beer to 18 other monasteries. On another occasion, she changed the dirty bathwater in a leper colony into beer. 

St. Arnold of Soissons, the patron saint of hops pickers and Belgian brewers, is credited with improving filtration techniques for beer. 

In the 1500s, brewing beer started moving from the monasteries to secular brewers, Mertie said. Some of those secular brewers with monastic roots are still brewing today, including Augustiner, Paulaner and Smithwick beers. 

Nashville’s beer history 

Nashville’s history of beer brewing is also connected to its Catholic community. The German immigrants who settled in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville, many of whom were Catholic, brought with them the recipes and brewing techniques of their homeland, Mertie said. 

At one time, there were four breweries in Germantown. Most of them were small, family affairs serving customers in the neighborhood. 

In 1859, Jacob Stiefel, a German Catholic, started a commercial brewery, the Nashville Brewery, on what is now Sixth Avenue South near the Gulch neighborhood of Nashville. The brewery operated under several other owners until 1890, when Christian Moerlein, a prominent brewer from Cincinnati, and his apprentice William Gerst, bought the brewery, since renamed Nashville Brewing Co. Gerst bought out Moerlein and operated the brewery as the Gerst Brewing Co. until 1954. 

Mertie started studying the history of beer in Nashville, and in particular William Gerst and his brewery. That research led to Mertie’s book, “Nashville Brewing,” published in 2006. 

Mertie and his wife, Candy Johnson Mertie, have sponsored four historical markers around the city documenting Nashville’s brewing history. 

“I’m so vested in this history,” Mertie said. “It has definitely become a passion.” 

When it comes to brewing beer, Mertie has put his money where his passion is.  

He’s been an investor in several craft breweries over the years. In 2016, he relaunched Nashville Brewing Co. with his long-time friend Kent Taylor, co-founder of Blackstone Brewing Co. 

The two brands are brewed at the same production brewery on Clifton Avenue off Charlotte Avenue in Nashville. 

“We had the trademark for that name,” as well as some of the traditional recipes for lager style beers that the German immigrants in Nashville would have brewed in the 1800s, Mertie said. 

“We knew these traditional lagers were making a comeback,” Mertie said. “We’re very traditional to European styles. We wanted to stick to our guns. There’s a reason these styles have been around for hundreds of years.” 

While still young, the Nashville Brewing Co. has won several prestigious awards, including a silver medal at the World Beer Cup, the world’s largest beer competition, and a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s largest beer competition, Mertie said. 

Mertie wants to keep Nashville Brewing Co. on its current trajectory, he said. “We’re doing very well in the Nashville market. We’re very content. The dream is to get people to keep up the awareness … of the history behind beer. Every style of beer, there’s a story behind it.” 

To watch Scott Mertie’s talk to the Catholic Business League on “Beer and Catholicism: Their Unique History,” visit www.catholicbusinessleague.org.

St. Vincent provided solid foundation for families of Nashville’s Black academic leaders

This drawing shows St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nashville, which was founded, along with the parish school, in 1932 by St. Katherine Drexel and her religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Some of the top administrators at Nashville’s historically Black colleges and universities sent their children to St. Vincent, which had a reputation in the Black community as the premier elementary school in the city to educate their children. 

When Jeh Vincent Johnson died last month at age 89, he was remembered as a prominent architect and educator, well-respected and revered in his field. The son of the first Black president of Fisk University, he was raised in Nashville but had not lived in the city for many years.  

When it was time to plan his funeral services and burial, his family brought Mr. Johnson home to his childhood parish of St. Vincent de Paul, and laid him to rest in Nashville’s historic Greenwood Cemetery.   

Johnson’s son Jeh Charles Johnson, the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, reached out to Deacon Bill Hill, formerly of St. Vincent Parish, to lead a graveside service for his father. “I didn’t personally know the family, but I know that St. Vincent was important to them,” Deacon Hill said.  

After graduating from St. Vincent and Pearl High School, Mr. Johnson went on to graduate from Columbia University and then taught at Vassar College for 37 years. But  he always pointed back to St. Vincent as his educational foundation, Deacon Hill said.  

A haven for HBCU families 

When schools in Nashville and the region were still segregated, St. Vincent de Paul School was known to many in Nashville’s Black community, in particular those affiliated with the city’s historically Black colleges of Fisk, Tennessee State University, and Meharry Medical College, as the premier elementary school in the city to educate their children.  

At the time young Jeh V. Johnson started school at St. Vincent, which operated from 1932-2009, it was one of the only private schools in Nashville open to Black children, along with Holy Family and Immaculate Mother Academy, all part of the Diocese of Nashville.  

The schools, established by St. Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, served minority children from the neighborhood and beyond, poor and middle class alike, regardless of their religious background. 

Johnson’s parents were not Catholic, but they sent their son to St. Vincent, confident that he would get a good education under the tutelage of the Sisters. Along the way, he was baptized a Catholic.  

His father, Charles S. Johnson, a sociologist and African American scholar, came to Fisk University in 1928 to head the newly established Department of Social Sciences. In 1937 he became the first Black elected vice president of the American Sociological Society.  

In October 1946 Johnson because the first Black president of Fisk and served in that position until his death in 1956. 

According to Fisk’s archive collection on Johnson, “While president at Fisk he established its Academic Development program with headmasters, a tutorial system, and the Race Relations organization. Johnson was also the creator and editor of Opportunity Magazine, a journal dedicated to empowering African-Americans.”  

“Charles Spurgeon Johnson was a leader in making Fisk University the major Negro center for social research in the South and one of the outstanding research institutions in the entire field of race relations,” the archives continue. 

Dr. James Lawson, who taught at Fisk, Tennessee A & I University (which later became TSU), and served as president of Fisk from 1967-1975, sent his son Ronald to St. Vincent.  

“He was probably the best basketball player ever at St. Vincent,” Deacon Hill said of Ronald.  

He attended one year at Father Ryan High School, but at that time Black students were still not allowed to play sports, so he transferred to Pearl High and helped them win two national championships. He went on to play for UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden.  

Lawson returned to Nashville to coach Cameron High School to two state championships, and then coached the Fisk men’s basketball team to a league championship. He was posthumously inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame in 2008.  

‘Steeped in community’ 

Dr. Reavis Mitchell, who served as Dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Social  Sciences at Fisk University, was another prominent member of Nashville’s Black academic community with strong ties to both Fisk and St. Vincent. 

When Mitchell died last summer, his son Regan Mitchell recalled that being part of the Catholic faith meant being “steeped in a community,” especially the community of St. Vincent. “It was a very beautiful thing” to him. 

Dr. Mitchell attended St. Vincent de Paul Church and School growing up, and his mother attended Immaculate Mother Academy, and was an original member of St. Vincent in the early 1930s, both founded by St. Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. When the Mitchell boys were younger, “our life revolved around St. Vincent,” said Mitchell’s son Roland.  

When he was a graduate student at Tennessee State University, Dr. Mitchell wrote his masters’ thesis on “The involvement of the Catholic Church with the Black community in Nashville, 1954-1970,” where he examined the uneven relationship between the institutional church and its Black members.  

He previously spoke to the Tennessee Register about the important role St. Vincent de Paul School played in the community. “So much proselytizing of the Catholic Church is done through the schools.”   

For generations of Black Catholics, attending Catholic schools, and being part of the Catholic church “prepared you well for the middle class,” Mitchell said. 

Know your history 

The history of St. Vincent de Paul School may not be well known to newer members of the diocese or the wider community. That’s one reason Deacon Hill is sharing that history with others through Christ the King Church’s Black History Month series, “From dark past to present hope: Hearing Nashville’s Black voices.” 

On Feb. 14, Deacon Hill presented “Shaping the Black Catholic Church: The story of St. Vincent de Paul Parish and the Church of the Holy Family,” exploring the histories of the original Holy Family Parish in downtown Nashville, and St. Vincent, the diocese’s second historically Black parish.  

On Feb. 28, Deacon Hill will present “The color of Catholic education: Desegregation in the Diocese of Nashville,” which will explore the diocese’s response to the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.  

An alumni of St. Vincent de Paul School and Father Ryan High School, Deacon Hill first began researching and documenting the Black Catholic history of the diocese for his master’s thesis at St. Meinrad School of Theology. 

When Deacon Hill’s academic advisor, the late Father Cyprian Davis, asked him about the Black Catholic history of Nashville, “I realized I didn’t know my own history,” of his home parish and school, he said. Father Davis, a renowned scholar of Black Catholics in the U.S., “knew more than I did,” Deacon Hill said. “It’s important to know where you come from, where you are, and where you’re going.” 

All presentations in Christ the King’s Black History Month series, including the one from Feb. 21 by Paige Courtney Barnes, “Fortifying justice with fraternal charity,” and two talks given earlier in the month by TSU professor Dr. Learotha Williams on the history of the African American experience in Nashville, can be accessed at: https://www.ctk.org/anti-racism-initiative.  

Mothers, daughters share the day and their faith at retreat

St. Philip Church in Franklin and the Diocese of Nashville co-sponsored a Mother-Daughter Tea and Retreat on Saturday, Feb. 13, at the Catholic Pastoral Center. The event included speakers in English and Spanish, Eucharistic adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Mass with Bishop J. Mark Spalding, and cake, tea and coffee for the participants. Jenni Moscardelli, left, and her daughter Carrie, parishioners at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Lebanon, look over a questionnaire while enjoying their cake. Photo by Andy Telli

Mothers, daughters, and grandmothers came together at the Catholic Pastoral Center on Saturday, Feb. 13, to deepen their relationship with each other and with the Lord. And they topped off the day with tea and cake. 

“It was a great day to share together and with such a huge community of the diocese,” said Jenni Moscardelli, a parishioner at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Lebanon who attended the Mother-Daughter Retreat and Tea with her daughter Carrie. “These shared experiences are priceless.” 

“It’s important to grow in my faith with my mom,” said Carrie Moscardelli, a senior at Father Ryan High School. 

About 250 women and girls, representing 22 parishes, attended the retreat, said Julianne Staley, the Director of Formation of the Young Church at St. Philip Church in Franklin. Staley organized the retreat, which was co-sponsored by the Diocese of Nashville. 

“I know personally, with this last year, it’s been difficult to find time to work on relationships in isolation,” Staley said. “I know a lot of churches can’t have in-person events and retreats. I know my kids were thirsting for a retreat. So that’s why I decided to open it up to everyone who wanted to come.” 

The diocesan staff helped spread the word about the retreat among other churches, and the response was strong, Staley said. “I’ve never had a retreat fill up as fast as this year.” 

“It means the world” to see mothers and daughters come together for the day, Staley said. “My mother gave me the greatest gift in my life, my faith.” 

Seeing mothers and daughters together at the retreat is “a beautiful reminder that mothers and fathers, they are the primary catechists. This is the perfect way to display that,” Staley said. 

“We wanted to remind everyone where we come from and where we are going in our relationship to the Lord,” she added. 

The retreat featured talks by four speakers, two in English and two in Spanish. Two of the talks were geared for mothers with older daughters and two were geared for mothers with younger daughters. The speakers included Franchelle Jaeger, a speaker, writer and parishioner at St. Matthew Church in Franklin, Jovita Hernandez, the associate director of Catholic Media Productions and Nashville Catholic Radio, and Dominican sisters, Sister Anastasia, O.P., and Sister Marie Isabelle, O.P. 

The retreat also featured Eucharistic adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Mass celebrated by Bishop J. Mark Spalding, and tea and cake at the end of the day. 

Julia Healy attended the retreat with her mom, Lee Healy. They attended the talk by Jaeger on three important truths about women, including: motherhood, both biological and spiritual; a woman’s sensitivity to others; and beauty. 

Emmerson Rost rests her head on the shoulder of her mother, Jerilyn Rost.

‘I definitely liked the speaker,” Lee Healy said. “She really made you think deeply. We don’t value ourselves as mothers.” 

“We both got a lot out of it, even though we’re different ages,” Julia Healy added. 

In her talk, Jaeger quoted St. Edith Stein, who said the destiny of every woman is to be a bride and a mother, although not always in the way the world typically understands those terms. In baptism, every woman becomes the bride of Christ, Jaeger said.  

“A natural fruit of our life with Christ is motherhood,” Jaeger said, and for some it will be biological motherhood and for others a spiritual motherhood. 

“If there’s a person in your life or in your class who needs to be seen and heard, it’s the mother’s role to do that,” Jaeger said. “Every woman can be that mother.” 

Women have a special sensitivity that allows them to recognize the needs of others, Jaeger said. 

Women, who are made in God’s image, are made for beauty, she added. The world is constantly barraging women with messages about what they need to be beautiful “when we already are beautiful,” Jaeger said. “It’s about how we act, how we speak, how we carry on with others, how we care for others.” 

The devil takes these truths and twists them, clothing them in a veil of untruth, which can lead people off the path to holiness, Jaeger said. “Satan has done this to women from the very beginning and he’s not done yet.” 

It was Julia Healy’s idea that she and her mother attend the retreat together. “I thought it would be good to strengthen our relationship with each other and the Lord,” she said. 

Next fall “she’s going off to college,” Lee Healy said of her daughter, a senior at Franklin High School. “We want to spend quality time together before then. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.” 

Julia is part of the youth group at St. Philip Church, where her family are parishioners. She also will be a co-director of the SEARCH retreat in March. 

Erin Martinez, a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, attended the retreat with her three daughters, Ania, 11, Catherine Rose, 8, and Regina, 4 months old. 

“We were excited to spend the day together and learn more about our faith,” Martinez said. “It’s nice to break from the busyness of life and spend time with the Lord.” 

Confirmations moving to Sagrado Corazon so people can gather safely

Bishop J. Mark Spalding confirmed Pope John Paul II High School student Jack Dyer during a Mass at the school in 2019. This year, many of the confirmations will be moved from parishes to Sagrado Corazon Church at the Catholic Pastoral Center, which has the room to accommodate more people safely in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tennessee Register file photo by Theresa Laurence 

Lent and spring are also known in the Diocese of Nashville as confirmation season. This year, many of the churches in the diocese will be moving their confirmations to the Sagrado Corazon Church in the Catholic Pastoral Center where the sacrament can be celebrated in a safe environment for more people. 

Even in the diocese’s largest parishes, there isn’t enough room for everyone because of requirements on social distancing and limiting the size of congregations, said Father Gervan Menezes, the episcopal master of ceremonies for Bishop J. Mark Spalding. “That’s where Sagrado Corazon helps us.” 

Sagrado Corazon has seating for more than 3,000 people in normal times. That’s more than any other church in the diocese. For the confirmations, the attendance will be capped at 1,400. Each candidate for confirmation will be accompanied by their sponsor and up to six family members. 

“We can bring more people together and still be safe and have the proper reverence,” Father Menezes said. 

Even at Sagrado Corazon, all the COVID-19 safety protocols, such as mask wearing and social distancing, will be in effect, Father Menezes said. “We want to make sure everyone is safe.” 

Confirmations in the Diocese of Nashville will begin on Sunday, Feb. 28, and will continue into June. 

The diocese is working on installing equipment in Sagrado Corazon to make it possible to livestream the confirmations and other large diocesan gatherings, such as the Chrism Mass and ordinations. The livestreaming capability should be ready by April. 

Moving confirmations to Sagrado Corazon and the Catholic Pastoral Center provides the opportunity to bring people together as a diocese, Bishop Spalding said. 

“It’s a great diocesan asset,” he said. “I will always be thankful to Bishop David Choby and those around him who made the decision to purchase this complex. … We’re going to optimize its potential.” 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop Spalding and the Priests Council were discussing opportunities to use Sagrado Corazon to bring together people from different parishes for large events “so we could appreciate our identity as a diocese,” Bishop Spalding said. 

“It’s a great thing to see that each parish is connected to others,” the bishop said. Sagrado Corazon’s capacity to host larger gatherings makes that possible, he added. 

“Once COVID broke out,” Bishop Spalding said, “it made Sagrado Corazon even more of an option for gathering in larger groups and still maintaining social distancing.” 

“It’s always a unique challenge to do these sorts of things,” Bishop Spalding said. “It does push us out of our comfort zones to a certain degree. But I feel it’s worth the effort to connect parishes to one another and see the variety and diversity of the diocese.” 

“When the church is full of the people from their different backgrounds, it a wonderful sight to see,” he said. 

During the pandemic, people in the diocese have not been able to come together as a parish family, Father Menezes said. Moving the confirmations to the Catholic Pastoral Center “is an opportunity to congregate as a bigger family, a diocesan family,” he said. 

“A lot of times, especially being Catholic in the South, we see our parish, we see our community,” Father Menezes said. “But then when we go to diocesan events, we see the diocese is bigger than our parish. Sometimes we see people of different colors, different languages, different cultures. We see them united in what we believe.” 

The confirmations are also a personal moment for those being confirmed. “For most of the kids, it’s their opportunity to meet the bishop,” Father Menezes said. “It’s a great opportunity to get to know the bishop, to hear from the bishop.” 

Bishop Spalding does a great job making those moments special, said Father Menezes. “He’s great with the kids,” he said. “He can speak their language. He takes each confirmandi, that’s their special moment with him. Just like there’s nobody else in the room, the bishop is there.” 

“The bishop is representative of the whole diocese,” Bishop Spalding explained. “Through my person, I am able to voice to them and physically be present to them in a way that shows the whole diocese is concerned about them, about their future, about their future in the faith.” 

Hosting the confirmations at the Catholic Pastoral Center could be a first step toward returning to normal, Father Menezes said.  

While accompanying the bishop on his visits to churches around the diocese, Father Menezes has heard Bishop Spalding talk about bringing people back to the pews when the pandemic is over.  

“He says, ‘I see those pews empty right now. But sure enough, we have to go out and get them back. We are not complete without them,’” Father Menezes said. “The confirmations could be another way to do that. In a sense, it’s a way to go back to normal.” 

“It’s been a crazy year. We’re doing what we can,” Father Menezes said. “Right now, we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

The schedule for Confirmations at Sagrado Corazon Church is: 

  • Sunday, Feb. 28, 3:30 p.m., Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville, St. Martha Church in Ashland City. 
  • Saturday, March 6, 10 a.m., Holy Family Church in Brentwood. 
  • Sunday, March 7, 3:30 p.m., St. Pius X Church in Nashville, Holy Rosary Church in Donelson, St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro, and St. Lawrence Church in Joelton. 
  • Sunday, April 11, 3:30 p.m., Christ the King Church in Nashville, St. Mary’s of the Seven Sorrows Church in Nashville, St. Henry Church in Nashville, St. John Vianney Church in Gallatin, and St. Paul the Apostle Church in Tullahoma. 
  • Sunday, April 18, 3:30 p.m., St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory, Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Springfield, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tennessee Ridge. 
  • Sunday, May 9, 3:30 p.m., St. Joseph Church in Madison, St. Edward Church in Nashville, St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cookeville, St. Christopher Church in Dickson, and St. Matthew Church in Franklin. 
  • Saturday, May 22, 10 a.m., Sagrado Corazon Church in Nashville. 
  • Sunday, May 23, 3:30 p.m., Church of the Nativity in Thompson’s Station, St. Andrew Church in Sparta, St. Philip Church in Franklin, St. Mark Church in Manchester. 
  • Sunday, June 6, 3:30 p.m., St. Frances Cabrini Church in Lebanon, St. John the Evangelist Church in Lewisburg, St. Ann Church in Nashville, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Dover, Holy Family Church in Lafayette, and St. Anthony Church in Fayetteville. 

Confirmations at other locations will include: 

  • St. Catherine Church in Columbia, Thursday, March 11, 6:30 p.m. 
  • Overbrook School and St. Bernard Academy at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, Friday, April 23, 6:30 p.m. 
  • Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, Saturday, April 24, 5 p.m. 
  • Church of the Assumption in Nashville, Thursday, May 6, 6 p.m. 
  • St. Luke Church in Smyrna, Sunday, Oct. 31, 3 p.m. 

Confirmation for St. William of Montevergine Church in Shelbyville will be scheduled at a later date.