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 https://bit.ly/3gMANYS.   

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.” 

Joan Watson departs diocese to pursue writing, speaking engagements

Joan Watson is departing the Diocese of Nashville’s Office of Faith Formation to focus on her own writing and speaking engagements.

After six years with the Diocese of Nashville’s Office of Faith Formation, Joan Watson is leaving to “pursue the speaking and writing that I’ve been wanting to do for many years,” she said. 

With her writing and speaking engagements, she wants to continue “helping people live the Catholic life in a practical way,” she said. She wants to help people answer the questions, “How do I become a saint in ordinary time?” and “How do we live lives for Christ?”

In a letter to diocesan staff announcing Watson’s departure, Father John Hammond, Vicar General of diocese, praised her contributions. “Her outstanding leadership, inspiring content, and effective ministry to the people of our diocese have enriched the faith of so many,” he wrote. “We fully support her and wish her all the best as she enters this new season in her professional life.”

Watson joined the diocese as the director of Adult Formation in 2014, before becoming director of the Office of Faith Formation. Previously, she worked at Aquinas College and with Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

Watson said she is “really proud” of the way the diocese’s Office of Faith Formation has grown during her time with the diocese. “We’ve become better equipped to help our parishes in their mission,” she said. “We’ve really tried to listen to the needs of the parishes.” 

That translated to Watson producing content that was easy to digest and share, including Bible study programs and the popular Three Minute Theology video series. 

“I love helping Catholics know how to approach Scripture,” she said. “It’s not just for theologians or people with doctorates.”

Watson already recorded and released her final hosting of Three Minute Theology video on Tuesday, April 27, her last day with the diocese. “I hope it continues,” she said. “The diocese has worked hard to build that brand and people really like it.”

In his letter, Father Hammond noted that, “ongoing initiatives of the Office of Faith Formation such as Three Minute Theology will continue under the auspices of the diocese, after an understandable hiatus as necessary.”  

Father Hammond, in collaboration with Chancellor Brian Cooper, Vice Chancellor and Chief Mission Integration Officer Julie Perrey, and Father Austin Gilstrap, who oversees the Office of Faith Formation and the Vocations Office, will lead a search for the next director of faith formation. 

Watson’s successor will also oversee the departments and ministries recently consolidated under that organizational umbrella, which includes the diocese’s youth ministry and the family and marriage ministry.  

As Watson moves forward to pursue her own writing and speaking engagements, she will continue as the associate editor of “The Integrated Life,” a blog site “helping Catholics integrate faith, family and work.” She will also continue to collaborate with a friend to produce “The Catholic Traveler” podcast.  

Follow Watson and subscribe for updates here: https://joanmwatson.substack.com/p/coming-soon.

Vietnamese Catholic Community finds a new home at St. Pius X Church

Teenage girls in traditional Vietnamese dress perform a dance during the Mass to mark the Vietnamese New Year at St. Martha Church in Ashland City. The Vietnamese Catholic Community will soon move from St. Martha to its new home at St. Pius X Church in Nashville. The new location is more central to the families in the community who live throughout the Nashville area. Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli

For more than two decades, St. Martha Church in Ashland City has been the home of the Vietnamese Catholic Community in the Diocese of Nashville.

Vietnamese families from neighborhoods and cities around the Nashville area have traveled to St. Martha each weekend to worship in their own language and with their own cultural traditions.

Now, a search for a more central location for the more than 300 families in the community has led them to St. Pius X Church in Nashville.

“We want a more central place and a Mass schedule that is earlier so they can go to Mass and then to work if they need to work,” said Father Hung Pham, the chaplain of the Vietnamese community in the diocese.

The move will become official on June 1, and the new schedule of Masses will begin on Sunday, June 6.

“I am excited about the move,” said Father Pham, who is hoping to have a picnic at 11:30 a.m. on June 6 for the Vietnamese and St. Pius X communities. He also plans to invite the people from St. Martha. “We are grateful to them. They befriended the Vietnamese community.”

The association with the Vietnamese community has been beneficial for St. Martha, said the pastor, Father Ben Butler. “St. Martha has been the home for the Vietnamese for a long time. They’ve contributed in both spiritual and material ways to the parish, for which we’ll always be thankful.

“I don’t fault them for wanting to be closer to where they live,” he added.

Once the move is permanent, the Vietnamese Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Sundays at St. Pius. Religious education classes will be held before the Mass, and Father Pham said the classes will be open to any St. Pius parishioners who are interested.

He hopes to offer language classes and cultural events after Mass. 

Many of the families in the community are straddling two cultures, Vietnamese and American, said Father Pham, who was born and raised in Vietnam and came to the United States for his seminary studies.

“The first generation are the refugees, the boat people,” who fled their homeland at the end of the Vietnam War, Father Pham said. “They started the community.”

The next generation who grew up in the United States have started their own families here but are still connected to the Vietnamese culture, Father Pham said.

Meanwhile, more Vietnamese have continued to emigrate to the United States and Nashville seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity, he said.

There can be a language gap in families where the older generation speaks Vietnamese and the younger generation speaks English, Father Pham said. “Their parents, they spend so much time working they don’t have time to study English,” he said. 

He wants to offer language classes and other cultural events “so the younger generation can understand their parents and to help the parents understand their children better,” Father Pham said.

Father Pham, who is in residence at St. Ann Church in Nashville, and St. Pius X Pastor Father Abraham Panthalanickal both hope the move to St. Pius will be good for the Vietnamese and English-speaking communities.

“I believe if the two communities come together, we can fill up that church,” which can hold about 320 people, Father Pham said.

Father Panthalanickal, whose parish currently has about 65 registered families, also hopes that families in the Vietnamese community will consider sending their children to the parish school in the future.

The fortunes of both communities can improve if they work together, Father Panthalanickal said. “I think it can be possible to see it as a single community.”

The Vietnamese community casts a wide net over the Nashville area, with families living in Murfreesboro, Antioch, Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Hendersonville, among other areas, Father Pham said.

The community followed its former chaplain, Father Peter Do Quang Chau, to St. Martha, when he was named pastor there in 2001.

“Father Peter was the anchor for the community to gather,” Father Pham said. “He served the Vietnamese community well at St. Martha. We definitely have great appreciation for him. 

“We’re also grateful to the community of St. Martha,” he said. “Together with the Vietnamese community they expanded the ministries (at the parish) and helped out the Vietnamese community when we needed help.”

The people “really have some fond memories there,” said Father Pham, who took over as chaplain of the community in 2019 when Father Peter retired.

Because of the pandemic, Father Pham added a Saturday evening Mass for the community at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Nashville. And early in 2021, Father Pham talked to the Priest Personnel Board about the possibility of moving the community’s Masses to a more central location, and thought of St. Pius, which had only one Mass on Sundays at 8 a.m.

Bishop J. Mark Spalding gave Father Pham permission to explore that option, and Father Pham talked to Father Panthalanickal about the possibility of the Vietnamese community meeting at St. Pius. “He said he would welcome the community,” Father Pham said.

“I thought it was very good at least to see the possibilities of using the facility,” Father Panthalanickal said. “We’re a small community; having people coming here and worshipping here, we’re always happy to see.”

Father Pham talked to the community about moving to St. Pius. A majority favored the move but about 45 percent wanted to stay at St. Martha.

“I decided, why don’t we try it out,” Father Pham said. 

He moved the Saturday Mass from St. Ignatius to St. Pius for a 9:45 a.m. Sunday Mass, and that Mass drew more people than the one at St. Martha, Father Pham said. Since the obligation to attend Sunday Mass was restored in the diocese, “the number has been getting bigger and bigger at St. Pius,” he added.

“This Easter we had 270 people at St. Pius for the first Mass and 125 people at St. Martha for the second Mass,” Father Pham said.

Bishop Spalding approved the move from St. Martha to St. Pius earlier this month and Father Pham announced the change to his congregation on Sunday, April 25.

Editorial: Bill represents a welcome step toward abolition of death penalty

Tennessee, one of the most conservative states in the union, has taken a small step away from the death penalty and toward the position espoused by the Catholic Church that the life of every human being, no matter their status or deeds, has value.

Both the State House of Representatives and Senate have passed a bill that bans the death penalty for people with severe intellectual disabilities. It allows defendants convicted of first-degree murder to petition the court to examine the defendant’s intellectual competency if the issue has not yet been decided by the court. The bill also allows people sentenced to death row before the law takes effect, to petition the court to examine their intellectual competency.

As the Tennessee Register goes to press, the bill is awaiting the signature of Gov. Bill Lee, who has expressed his support for the measure and is expected to sign it into law.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, told reporters the bill follows guidance handed down by the Tennessee Supreme Court in a 2016 case. At that time, the justices recommended the Legislature consider changing state law to allow courts to determine an inmate’s intellectual competency.

The bill passed with wide bipartisan support. In the House, the vote was 89-4 in favor with one legislator present but not voting. In the Senate, the bill passed 28-1. Those kinds of numbers approach what one might see for a resolution saluting motherhood and apple pie.

In these times of hyper-partisanship, the Tennessee General Assembly found common ground in opposing the death penalty for people with severe intellectual disabilities. Even ardent supporters of the death penalty voted for this change in the law.

It appears nearly everyone saw the wisdom of this piece of legislation. Certainly, the three Catholic bishops of Tennessee, Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis, welcomed the vote. Before the vote, they sent a letter to the sponsors, Sen. Gardenhire and Rep. David Hawk, a Greeneville Republican, supporting the measure, which they described as “Pro-Life legislation.”

The last three popes – St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis – have all spoken and written passionately in opposition to the death penalty. In 2018, Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say the death penalty is “inadmissible” in all cases as “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Pope Francis reiterated that position in his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”: “There can be no stepping back from this position. Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”

The bishops’ letter in support of the bill echoed the reasoning of Pope Francis and his predecessors. The bishops noted the many people who have been released from death row after new evidence has proved their innocence. “Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person,” they wrote.

“It is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil law,” the bishops added. “Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society.”

The Church’s opposition to the death penalty is a piece of its teaching on the respect for life and the hope for repentance and redemption, even for those who have committed heinous acts against another. Her opposition to the death penalty does not lessen her concern or care for the victims of crime. She offers continual prayers that the victims will find peace beyond their pain.

We recognize that this bill, rather than being the end of the journey toward the abolition of the death penalty, does represent some progress. And for that, we thank Gov. Lee, Sen. Gardenhire and Rep. Hawk, as well as all the other legislators who voted for the measure, for their support and leadership in seeing this bill to passage.

We pray that our state eventually will recognize the truth of the Church teaching on the value of every human life, from conception to natural death, and complete the journey that will take us to a society that rejects state-sponsored killing.