Pastors look to a bright post-pandemic future

Bishop J. Mark Spalding presided at the public Triduum Services at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, including the Good Friday service on April 2. The faithful of the Diocese of Nashville were eager to return to public liturgies for Holy Week in 2021; all public services were cancelled last year when the coronavirus first hit Middle Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Father Gervan Menezes

As the country begins to crawl out from under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches around the Diocese of Nashville are looking forward to a better and stronger future.

“I can remember when everything was locked down, there was a sense of disorientation,” said Father Jean Baptiste Kyabuta, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Madison. “I feel like now is the new hope, a new beginning.”

Pastors have watched as their churches have been filling up in recent months.

“We really long for that time we can be together,” said Father Austin Gilstrap, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville and the Vocations Director for the diocese. For Holy Week and Easter, Father Gilstrap preached “about the gratitude we all feel to be together,” he said. “We don’t want to take the faith for granted, especially after last year. That was the general consensus among the people there.”

After every liturgy and service during Holy Week, someone would come up to Father Gilstrap to tell him it was their first time back in person in a year. “There was such joy,” he said. “You sometimes don’t realize how much you miss it until you come back.”

“It’s been difficult for people not to be able to gather” as a parish community, noted Father Justin Raines, pastor of St. Christopher Church in Dickson and the dean of the Northwest Deanery for the diocese. “The people are very happy to be back.”

“In this pandemic, they have found faith,” Father Kyabuta said of his parishioners. “Through this we have learned the love of God. We sometimes take it for granted.”

Now that people are starting to return, pastors are looking to the future.

Father Gilstrap and his parish staff have been talking about what the church will look like after the pandemic. “We look at this as an incredible opportunity for evangelization,” he said.

“It’s not just that people are grateful for their parish and the community they have,” he said. “We know what we’ve been missing. There’s a huge number of people who have really suffered in a way they’ve never suffered before. They’re missing meaning in their life. 

“We have an obligation to witness to the joy we have for the benefits of being Catholic,” Father Gilstrap added. “As we do see people coming back, we have an obligation to witness to the world there is joy here, there is community here. … Everything you long for, it’s here.”

Father Michael Fye, pastor of St. Ann Church in Nashville, delivers his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 11. He is looking forward to a bright future for the parish in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Andy Telli

Father Michael Fye, pastor of St. Ann Church in Nashville, is also looking to the future. “I want to be better than the way we were before. And in many ways, we’re achieving that,” he said, noting that the parish added about 100 new families in the last year, during the pandemic.

“Unlike other churches in the area, we’ve been here for generations and will be for many more,” Father Fye said of St. Ann, which this year is marking the 100th anniversary of its founding. “We’ve got the long view. 

“St. Ann is a beautiful place,” Father Fye said. “We want to attract people through beauty,” both through the beauty of the parish’s liturgies and the beauty of its community, he added.

He has been encouraging people to form relationships with other families in the parish, to reach out to others on their own, rather than wait for a formal parish event, Father Fye said.

The pandemic has held lessons for us, Father Gilstrap said. “It’s taught us what’s important:  my relationship with people. That’s what I want. That’s what I need.”

It also provided lessons about new tools churches in the diocese can use to reach out and stay connected to their parishioners, including using social media platforms, livestreaming Mass and other events, and posting faith formation videos on their websites.

“Over the course of the pandemic, we realized we had to do it more and do it better,” Father Gilstrap said. 

At St. Christopher, Father Raines, like many other pastors and churches in the diocese, turned to the internet to post faith formation videos during the pandemic.

“I definitely did more of that during the lockdown time,” he said. But after the public celebration of Mass returned and more people started coming to Mass rather than watching online, the need for the online videos wasn’t as great, Father Raines explained.

Most of the religious education classes at St. Christopher have remained online for the entire school year, he said, while the classes preparing for their First Communion and Confirmation were able to meet in-person for the spring semester.

Going forward, Father Raines said, “I think people are more open to having more faith formation online.”

Our Lady of the Lake has brought on a new part-time communications coordinator to work on the parish website and social media platforms, Father Gilstrap said. “Putting out communications in a more effective way, we see that as the next step, whether the pandemic had happened or not,” he said. “It will be important into the future.”

Some churches have begun planning parish-wide gatherings to welcome people back as they become more comfortable in crowds. The staff at Our Lady of the Lake have had tentative discussions about such a gathering in the late summer, Father Gilstrap said. “I am very optimistic.”

Seminarian Education Event will feature virtual tours of seminaries

Bishop J. Mark Spalding joins hands with Deacon Nonso Ohanaka when he was ordained a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Nashville on March 27. Deacon Ohanaka is studying at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, one of the seminaries that attendees at the 2021 Seminarian Education Event and Auction will be able to tour virtually. Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli

This year’s Seminarian Education Event and Auction will once again 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 will be videos of the seminarians giving virtual tours of their seminaries, said Ashley Linville, director of development for the diocese.

The videos will give people a peek into the rhythm of their daily lives, Linville said. “I am excited with what we’ll be able to share through the event,” he added. “It will be fun for people to see the seminarians and the seminaries.”

The virtual fundraiser will begin at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 25. 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.

The goal for this year’s event is $275,000, the same as last year, which raised about $280,000. The total cost of educating the seminarians for the diocese is about $1.4 million annually, Linville noted.

At last year’s event, the seminarians were at the Catholic Pastoral Center taking calls from people making donations. “It allowed me the opportunity to really get to know these young men,” Linville said. “After meeting them, I was very much impressed with the quality of their character.

“It made me excited about what our future priests will look like,” Linville added. “Already here in Nashville, we have such a great group of priests. Meeting the seminarians, I’m certain we’ll have great priests into the future.”

The event will also feature recorded messages from Bishop J. Mark Spalding, Director of Vocations Father Austin Gilstrap and Associate Director of Vocations Father Luke Wilgenbusch.

“We’re planning on it being brief,” Linville said.

He thanked the Serra Clubs of Williamson County and Nashville and the Tennessee Knights of Columbus for their ongoing support for the event. 

People can visit www.dioceseofnashville.com/SEDA 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.

Auction items will be posted on the website closer to the date of the event.

Anyone interested in helping to sponsor the event can contact Linville at ashley.linville@dioceseofnashville.com or 615-645-9768.

Parishes saw a surge in attendance for Easter Masses this year

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a pall over the Easter and Holy Week liturgies, the apex of the Church’s liturgical year.

But this year, the Diocese of Nashville celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ with a resurrection of its own as a surge of parishioners returned to in-person celebrations of Holy Week and Easter liturgies and services.

“It felt like we had a year-long Lent that ended with a beautiful Easter,” said Father Austin Gilstrap, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville and Vocations Director for the diocese. “It made that weekend so much more beautiful and sweeter.”

People have been gradually returning to in-person Masses throughout Lent, pastors reported. And some parishes were near capacity with social distancing protocols in place.

“We had standing room only at the 11 a.m. Mass on Sundays and almost for the 8:30 Mass for months,” said Father Michael Fye of St. Ann Church in Nashville. “I expected maybe a 20 percent jump for Easter. I think we had something like an 80 percent increase.”

“I think it’s probably a combination of people saw less threat from the virus, but also people being really hungry to come back to Mass in person to receive the Eucharist,” said Father Justin Raines, pastor of St. Christopher Church in Dickson and dean of the Northwest Deanery for the diocese.

There was a surge in attendance for Palm Sunday after Bishop J. Mark Spalding lifted the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. 

“People looked to the bishop for assurance that now it was safe to come back,” Father Gilstrap said.

“Everything started on Palm Sunday. We saw so many people excited,” said Father Jean Baptiste Kyabuta, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Madison. “We even ran out of palms. That was a good beginning.”

The growing number of people returning to in-person services continued throughout the Triduum, climaxing with the Easter Masses.

At St. Christopher, the turnout of the two Easter Sunday Masses was about 200 people at each, Father Raines said. “It was very big for us,” he said. This was only the second Easter Father Raines has celebrated publicly as St. Christopher’s pastor. “It may have been the most people I’ve ever seen at St. Christopher.”

Our Lady of the Lake added an Easter Sunday Mass at 9:30 a.m. in the parish’s St. Joseph Hall to provide more social distancing, but still had about 900 people at the 8:30 a.m. Mass and 800 at 11 a.m. The church holds about 1,100 people.

Father Gilstrap was appointed as Our Lady of the Lake’s pastor in July 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. The Easter crowds were the largest he’s seen since becoming pastor, he said.

Easter and Holy Week this year was a sharp contrast to 2020 when the pandemic forced the suspension of public liturgies.

“It was surreal and sad last year,” Father Gilstrap said.

“Parishioners felt we had deserted them,” Father Kyabuta said. “Is the Church afraid? Who’s going to give us comfort?”

It was sometimes hard to explain that the decision was made to protect everyone, he said. When the diocese announced guidelines for the resumption of public celebrations of Mass last spring, “that was very helpful,” Father Kyabuta said. “I felt some unity and mutual understanding and support.”

“It felt like we missed Holy Week last year,” Father Raines said. “It was difficult not to be able to have the most solemn celebration with the people. It was definitely a joy to be able to do that with the people this year.”

“Being able to baptize those catechumens at the Easter Vigil, their witness was incredible,” Father Gilstrap said. “Even with COVID they worked very hard to learn the faith. I thought that was a beautiful witness from them.”

Even as more people return, parishes will continue with safety protocols such as wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, and cleaning the church between Masses.

“We’ve been able to see our precautions worked over the last year,” Father Gilstrap said. “Ultimately we’re following the people’s lead about what they’re comfortable with.”

Public celebrations of the liturgies of Easter and Holy Week returned this year with people all across the Diocese of Nashville returning to churches to worship together. There were no public celebrations of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions. Bishop J. Mark Spalding restored the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days in time for Holy Week this year, and parishes saw an increase in attendance. The Triduum began on Holy Thursday with the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Parishes marked Good Friday with the Veneration of the Cross and Stations of the Cross. Holy Saturday saw the Easter Vigil Mass celebrated, during which people joined the Church. And on Easter Sunday, the Church celebrated the Resurrection of Lord. Photos by Rick Musacchio, Theresa Laurence and Andy Telli

Murray Lynch remembered as a ‘giant in the pantheon of Father Ryan’

John Murray Lynch Jr. age 84, a longtime commanding presence at Father Ryan High School, died April 21, 2020. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his family postponed services until the one-year anniversary of his death, and a Celebration of Life for Mr. Lynch is now scheduled for April 24, 2021. The service will be held at St. Henry Church at 11 a.m. with visitation preceding from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Lynch

St. Henry is located at 6401 Harding Pike Nashville, TN 37205.

A link to view a live stream of the service will be available at: https://vimeo.com/event/274893.

Murray Lynch was educated in the Diocese of Nashville’s Catholic schools, and graduated from Holy Name School in East Nashville, then Father Ryan High School. There he was the captain of the basketball team and excelled in baseball and football. He was a member of the first integrated graduating class at Father Ryan, the Class of 1955.

After college, he returned to Father Ryan to teach and coach at the school for his entire career.

“His love for the school was deep, his concern for the students was genuine, and his Irish spirit was on display throughout his life,” said Father Ryan President Jim McIntyre, who knew Mr. Lynch since 2004. With his passing, “we have lost another giant in the Father Ryan pantheon,” McIntyre added.

Father Ryan Principal Paul Davis, (FRHS Class of 1981) said he was grateful to Mr. Lynch for his guidance and support when he took on his current role. “He was consistent in checking on me each time he was on campus. For that I am grateful,” said Davis. “His love for our alma mater was unwavering.”

Mr. Lynch’s family recalls that “the most important decision Murray made in his life was to ask the future love of his life, Rosalyne McCabe, on a date in 1954. Murray and Sissy dated all through high school and college and were married on June 6, 1959. They celebrated 61 years of marriage this past June.” 

Mr. Lynch earned a basketball scholarship to St. Bernard College in Cullman, Alabama, and graduated in 1959. He also played varsity tennis at St. Bernard and was named captain of both basketball and tennis teams. He continued his studies at Peabody College in Nashville where he earned his master’s degree.

In the summer of 1960, Mr. Lynch began working at Father Ryan where he was the assistant football and basketball coach and taught economics. Taking over the head basketball coaching duties in 1968, he led the Irish to the State Final Four in 1974 before stepping down in 1976. He continued coaching football through the 1985 season. 

In 1969 Mr. Lynch, known to many on the Father Ryan campus as “Coach Lynch,” took over as the Assistant Principal and Disciplinary Dean.  He continued in this position until his retirement in 1998. 

Mr. Lynch was inducted into the second class of the Father Ryan Athletic Hall of Fame in 2020.

“From the time he stepped on to the Father Ryan campus in 1951 as a student, Murray Lynch knew he found his home. … He was a three-year starter on the football, basketball, and baseball teams,” according to his Hall of Fame profile.

He was a teacher and coach at an historic time in the school’s and nation’s history, his Hall of Fame profile said. Mr. Lynch was part of the first integrated class at Father Ryan and served as assistant basketball coach to Hall of Famer Bill Derrick, class of 1948, as the school led the way in integrating sports.

“He coached football and basketball, taking over the head basketball coaching reins in 1969 and leading the Irish to multiple district and region titles,” the profile included. “He ultimately became Dean of Students and served as a mentor and a guide to fellow teachers and students for decades to come.”

In his retirement, Mr. Lynch loved doing anything at the lake where he lived, especially boating, tubing grandkids, sunset tours, and fishing, his family recalled. He was also known as a handyman and able to fix anything, as long as he had duct tape and wire. He is also remembered for his storytelling abilities. “Murray loved life, family, and friends. He will be missed, but his stories will live on,” his family said.

Mr. Lynch was preceded in death by his father John Murray Sr., mother Margueritte, and brother James Nicholas “Nicky”. 

Survivors include his wife Rosalyne “Sissy” McCabe Lynch; sons John Murray (Brenda), Michael (Erin), Thomas (Lindsey); daughter Janice; sister Carol Moss (Perry); nine grandchildren; two great-grandchildren, and eight nieces and nephews. Memorial contributions may be made to the Father Ryan Tuition Assistance Fund and mailed to Father Ryan High School, 700 Norwood Dr. Nashville, TN 37204. 

Aquinas College prepares to celebrate 60th anniversary

Aquinas College, which first opened its doors on the Dominican Campus in Nashville in the fall of 1961, is preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2021. The college is reaching out to friends and alumni in an effort to gather memories from the history of Aquinas to share during the anniversary year.

“We look forward to this opportunity to celebrate the good work that God has done in and through Aquinas College in the past six decades,” said Aquinas President Sister Cecilia Anne Wanner, O.P.

“Aquinas College has a rich history. For 60 years, Aquinas has maintained the same central focus: a desire to serve the Church through the formation of individuals who are prepared to be witnesses to truth and charity,” Sister Cecilia Anne said. “We want to reflect on this history and give thanks to God. Friends and alumni of Aquinas College are invited to contribute to this anniversary year by sharing their memories of Aquinas.”

As part of the anniversary celebration, Aquinas is asking alumni and friends to submit updated contact information and share memories and photos either by emailing alumni@aquinascollege.edu or by visiting www.aquinascollege.edu/alumni.

Planning is underway for anniversary year events, and more information will be available as these events are solidified.

Aquinas College is a private, Catholic, four-year liberal arts college founded in 1961, owned and operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville. Offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in education and the arts and sciences, Aquinas College seeks to form educators who are “sent forth to teach, preach, and witness to Truth and Charity for the salvation of souls and the transformation of culture.”

Editorial: Make all things new as we begin to emerge from pandemic

The growing number of people who have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus brings comfort that the pandemic might be beginning to ease. With this burgeoning confidence, the faithful of the Diocese of Nashville are beginning to return to their churches to gather in person once again as a community of faith. Photo by Andy Telli

In Easter, we Catholics believe in new life and light emerging from darkness.

With his resurrection, Christ conquered death, not only for himself but also for all those who believe in him and his resurrection.

Just as the first signs of spring bring the comfort that Easter is at hand, so too does the growing number of people who have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus bring us comfort that the pandemic might be beginning to ease. With this burgeoning confidence, the faithful of the Diocese of Nashville are beginning to return to their churches to gather in person once again as a community of faith.

Bishop J. Mark Spalding, in time for Palm Sunday, ended the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, while also noting that Church law envisions situations where the obligation does not apply because of a grave concern. “Serious ongoing risks and concerns you might have about the coronavirus can certainly constitute that grave cause,” he added at the time.

The bishop’s decision gave many the confidence that it was safe to return in person to the public celebrations of Mass. The liturgies and events of Holy Week and Easter saw levels of attendance unseen in more than a year. Pastors across the diocese are happily anticipating that trend to continue, even as they maintain many of the protocols that have been in place to protect people from the spread of the coronavirus. They are also preparing for a post-pandemic world, where we can use the lessons learned in the last year to strengthen and broaden our communities.

Our churches are welcoming people back in the spirit of the Easter season, summed up in the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. … The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”

This Easter season we have the opportunity to allow Christ to make our life new, our faith new. We have felt the disorientation of being separated from our communities of faith and from the Eucharist, the ultimate expression of our communion with each other and God. Now we can feel the joy of reconnecting with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As we reconnect, we should heartily embrace the mission statement of the diocese: Living and Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, Welcoming All! We should embrace that mission in our attention at Mass, in recommitting to forming ourselves in the faith, to bringing the faith to bear in every part of our lives, in outreach to our brothers and sisters, especially those on the margins in pain or despair.

We are an Easter church, where all are given new life in Jesus Christ through his sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. We must always be mindful of that gift and of our obligation to extend that gift to all we meet. In doing so, we will be the hands of God who makes all things new.