Assumption sustains major damages; will move Mass locations

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Bishop J. Mark Spalding, third from right, listens as Father S. Bede Price, pastor at the Church of the Assumption, talks about the damage to the building caused by a tornado that hit the historic Germantown neighborhood and killed 24 people as it crossed the state. Others pictured include from left, Jonathan Allen, a project manager for the construction company working on the church, Jack Goodrum, a general contractor, and Father John Hammond, the Vicar General for the Diocese of Nashville. Photos by Rick Musacchio

At the Church of the Assumption in Germantown, the pastor, Father S. Bede Price, was asleep in the rectory when a massive tornado roared through the neighborhood in the early morning hours of March 3. He was roused by the sound of an exploding electrical transformer behind the church and the building shaking as the storm passed.

He ran outside and saw the destruction in the street. “My first thought was that a plane had crashed,” he said.

Then the chimney of the rectory smashed onto the sidewalk near where he was standing, and he realized something else was going on.

As he started checking the church, he saw that several stained-glass windows had been blown out or were broken, including one near the altar, with only a picture of the face of the infant Jesus surviving the damage.

The tornado also ripped a hole in the back wall of the sacristy and had blown vestments and other items around the room.

The tabernacle had also been blown open, so Father Price removed the Blessed Sacrament and transferred it to a safe place in the rectory.

The damage to the church, built in 1859 and one of the oldest in the diocese, is extensive. Besides the damaged stained-glass windows, part of the west wall collapsed. The powerful winds of the tornado shifted the position of the roof, which caused damage to the walls of the church. The steeple is tilted and will need to be repaired.

Laura Cooper, left, the secretary at the Church of the Assumption, Mark Cassman, center, a parishioner, and Deacon Rafael Bougrat of St. Philip Church in Franklin, who happened to be in the area, examine the damage to Assumption after it was hit by a tornado in the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 3. The church sustained extensive damage and Mass will be celebrated at the Monroe Street United Methodist Church across the street until repairs are complete.

However, the altar and much of the art in the church were spared.

A full assessment of the damage and the repairs needed are still under way, but the church likely will not be usable for quite some time.

The rectory, the Buddeke House across the street, and the Father Bernard Hall next to the church all suffered minor damage but are still usable.

Assumption suffered, by far, the most extensive damage of any church in the diocese in the wake of the tornado. “They’re number one on the list,” said Deacon Hans Toecker, Chancellor of the diocese. “It’s going to require extensive renovation and repairs.”

The significant structural damage that has left the Church of the Assumption unusable until repairs are made has led to the following changes in Mass schedules:

• Daily Masses will be celebrated on the regular schedule in Father Bernard Hall.

• Sunday Masses will be celebrated in Extraordinary Form at 7:30 a.m. and Ordinary Form at 11 a.m. at the Monroe Street United Methodist Church across the street from Assumption.

• The parish has received permission from the diocese under Canon 933 for the Masses to be celebrated in a church building of a non-Catholic Christian community.

• There will also be a Mass in Extraordinary Form at 8:30 a.m. and a Syro-Malabar Rite Mass at 4 p.m. in Father Bernard Hall.

The steeple of Assumption looms in the background as neighbors begin cleaning up debris left in the tornado’s wake.

Churches withstand minor damage

Other Catholic churches located near the path of the tornado sustained minor damage, including: 

• Holy Name Church in East Nashville had roof and gutter damage to the 100-year-old school building, and some minor damage to the rectory and car port. 

A large tree fell at the edge of the property, knocking out power by pulling down a power line as well as a chain link fence. 

Volunteers gathered Tuesday morning, March 3 to clean up debris around the property. 

The Loaves and Fishes community meal program that operates out of the Holy Name Parish Center continues to serve food as they are able without power. 

• St. Vincent de Paul Church in North Nashville sustained some roof damage, HVAC system damage, and lost power. St. Mary Villa Child Development Center, which operates on the campus in the old St. Vincent de Paul School also lost power and had to temporarily close in the days after the storm. 

• Although the tornado passed near St. Stephen Church in Old Hickory, Holy Rosary in Donelson and St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cookeville, the churches did not report any damage. The parishes have been reaching out to parishioners whose homes were damaged to determine how they can meet their needs.

•No schools in the Diocese of Nashville were damaged by the tornadoes.