Three structures, five pastors, and generations of families have made Christ the King Church and School the community it is today, as it celebrates being “85 years strong” this year.
The community came together to celebrate the auspicious occasion with its annual Community Festival, followed by the celebration of Mass on Saturday, Sept. 10.
“Christ the King has provided a welcoming environment for the past 85 years for Nashville Catholics to come together to develop, grow and deepen their faith in Jesus Christ, with the help of five pastors who have served at the altar and also hundreds of faithful parishioners who share their gifts and talents to serve our faith community and the larger community outside our boundaries,” said Father Dexter Brewer, pastor of Christ the King. “We try to be witnesses of God’s love and mercy as a community both outside of and during the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy. We are united and supported further by our participation in the other sacraments celebrated within and outside the liturgy. Community events for the parish and the school have helped to engage and enlarge our faith community.
“Our journey to know Christ is a lifelong one that is best exemplified in the members of our community willing to serve each other, and there is no shortage of service to the broader community,” he added. “I’m proud of the manner in which the members of Christ the King over the years have embraced the teachings of the Savior.”
Christ the King was established by Bishop William L. Adrian, the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Nashville, in 1937, “to serve the needs of the rapidly growing Catholic population in the southwestern section of the city,” according to a document relaying the history of the parish.
To do this, the diocese purchased property at 3001 Belmont Blvd., including a two-story brick house on May 10, 1937, and Father Joseph E. Leppert was assigned as the first pastor, officially being installed on July 26, 1937. That little home initially served as the church, the school, and the rectory, and it’s where Christ the King parishioner Nancy Rohling’s family history, one of many family stories that continue in the parish today, begins, as her maternal grandmother, Nellie Flanary attended church there.
“It was a nice size house, and it was used for all purposes in the beginning,” Rohling said.
The home serving as the church only lasted a few months as construction began on a white-framed structure in July 1937 and was completed just two months later in September 1937. That white-framed structure would serve as the home of the parish community to worship for the next nearly two decades.
After the new church opened, the original purchased home continued to serve as the school, until the current school structure was built and opened on Sept. 3, 1946, and the rectory until the current rectory structure was built and completed in December 1955, following a groundbreaking ceremony in April 1955.
The April 1955 ceremony also served as the groundbreaking for the current church with the cornerstone of the church eventually being laid on Aug. 15, 1956, the Feast of the Assumption, by Msgr. Thomas P. Duffy, the second pastor of Christ the King. The church is assumed to have been subsequently completed and dedicated just a few months later.
And it is this structure that Rohling remembers most, having moved to the area with her parents and siblings in 1963. That year, she finished grade school at Christ the King School, graduating in the spring of 1964. Her younger siblings, Paul, Randy, Jill, Gary and Kevin also graduated from the school.
And, barring a year or two when she attended the Cathedral of the Incarnation because of the proximity to her home at the time, Rohling has remained a loyal parishioner of Christ the King, moving back once she started having children.
“Christ the King was home, and we also wanted to affiliate with a parish that had a school,” Rohling said. By then, Msgr. Daniel S. Richardson was the serving as the third pastor of Christ the King, following Msgr. Duffy’s death in February 1970.
“Msgr. Richardson was the most gentle, compassionate, kind soul,” Rohling said. While he wasn’t part of building any new structures, “his was more about serving the parish, the people and the community,” she said.
And her family’s history with Christ the King continued, with her three children graduating from Christ the King School – Daniel in 1988, Benjamin in 1992, and Angela in 1994 – and eventually getting married in Christ the King Church. Additionally, four of her seven grandchildren have attended the school and all seven were baptized in the church.
Rohling also worked for Christ the King for 30 years, starting as secretary of the school from 1988 until 2000, before working as the parish coordinator from 2000 until her retirement in 2019. During her tenure, Rohling worked under Father James K. Mallet, who was appointed the fourth pastor of Christ the King in July 1987, and Father Brewer, who was appointed pastor, following Father Mallet’s retirement, in August of 2007.
“This is truly home,” Rohling said. “I’ve watched this neighborhood evolve and change, but the parish as a whole has thrived over the years.
“I think I take it for granted, but I dearly love my relationship here as an employee, as a parent and as a parishioner,” she added.
Rohling isn’t the only parishioner with a long history with the church and school, which continued to grow and develop over the years with several renovations and special projects such as the completion of the Parish Center in 1999. Beth Long is a lifelong parishioner of Christ the King, having been baptized at the church more than 50 years ago, and graduating from Christ the King School in 1984. Additionally, her husband, Lance Long, is also a 1984 graduate of the school, and her father-in-law, Larry Long, was part of the first class that attended Christ the King School from first grade through eighth grade, graduating in 1946. And the family tradition has continued with Beth and Lance’s three daughters – Hope, who graduated in 2013; Macie, who graduated in 2015; and Sydney, who graduated in 2018.
“I just love the community; the community and the people,” Long said. “We’ve been through a lot of priests, but we keep coming back because it’s home. It’s our home away from home.”
Carolyn Goddard, who has been a parishioner for 40 years, said she thinks the pastors, at least in her experiences with Father Mallet and Father Brewer, are part of the reason why Christ the King has continued to thrive.
“Under my tenure, it was having good leadership. Both Fathers Mallet and Brewer are intelligent, pastoral and kind,” Goddard said, who served as a catechist for the RCIA program for 12 years. “They were not too hands on. They really delegated things to the laity and were just there guiding and helping without being domineering.”
Goddard has also been part of the growing vibrancy of the parish community having spearheaded two programs including a group called Fun Bunch, which brought together older parishioners for fellowship, as well as a Bible study, which continues to this day, under the name “Journey through Scripture.” And through her time of involvement, she said she’s appreciated the community’s growing diversity and the acceptance of that diversity.
“Churches provide a mediating structure. There are very few groups in my life that I attend that has the same degree of diversity, economic, some racial, politically, and I think having a place like that, especially one that is willing to look at its history, is important,” Goddard said, noting an experience she had with an African-American man who said that, in the 50s and 60s, he was not allowed to attend the church or school, and how that has now changed. “There is that sense of in Mass that there are people who I’m sure, outside of Mass, I wouldn’t care about as much, but when we go to Communion together, there is that sense of community. … Christ the King really embraces that.”
It’s something Goddard hopes Christ the King continues to embrace as it goes forward into its next 85 years.
“I hope it’s always a welcoming parish. I hope it’s a parish that continues to accept diversity,” Goddard said. “I hope it holds on to the best of our tradition while being willing to grow. That’s the nature of reality. We have to be willing to let go of some things and word things differently. … I have a lot of faith that Christ the King will do that.”
She said Christ the King has already shown its ability to adapt with the presenting challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the parish was willing to go the extra mile by celebrating Mass outside instead of having Mass online.
“Through the worst of the pandemic, the parish showed a remarkable ability to adapt,” she said, “to continue to support people in their faith in ways that were really genuine.”
Festival and celebratory Mass photos by Katie Peterson, additional photos courtesy of Christ the King