Diocese buys ‘piece of heaven’ for new parish in Nolensville

Responding to the tremendous growth in eastern Williamson County and northwestern Rutherford County, the Diocese of Nashville has purchased a 166-acre site in Nolensville that will be home to a new parish, and potentially more.

“It could accommodate a very large parish and school,” Brian Cooper, Chief Administrative Officer and Vice Chancellor of the diocese, said of the property. There also is room to build in the future a middle school and high school, “to truly be a Catholic campus,” he said.

At some point in the future, the diocese could even put other facilities on the site to serve the Catholic community, Cooper said. “The possibilities are endless.”

The diocese closed on the purchase of the property, which is located on Nolensville road, four miles south of Nolensville proper and three miles north of I-840, on Jan. 24. 

A team from Holy Family Parish in Brentwood worked with a team from the Diocese of Nashville to find and purchase a 166-acre property that will serve as the site of a new parish with room for an elementary, middle and high school at 7668 Nolensville Road in Nolensville. They are pictured here onsite Thursday, Feb. 13. The group is, from left, Randy Wolcott, George Sasser, Teresa Nacarato, Mike Nacarato, Father Joe McMahon, Brett Wesnofske, Betty Lou Burnett, Brian Cooper, Father Anthony Stewart, Fran Bedard and Charles Reasor. Development of a master plan for the site will begin in the near future.

The price for the land, which has been used as a horse farm, was $4.2 million, of which $3.2 million was provided by two anonymous donors, Cooper said.

“We feel the property has very good value at the sale price of $4.2 million,” Cooper said, “and with the gift of $3.2 million it’s truly a gift of the Holy Spirit to the diocese from the action of these donors.”

The area is one of the fastest growing in Middle Tennessee and has long been identified by the diocese as a location for a future parish. The last three bishops over the past two decades have considered purchasing land in the area.

Since his arrival in the diocese in 2018, Bishop J. Mark Spalding said, he has heard about the need to address growth in certain areas of the diocese, particularly south of Nashville.

“We all can see the immense growth and continued growth in the Nolensville area,” Bishop Spalding said. “And we need to address it now.”

“Williamson and Rutherford counties have had tremendous growth for decades,” Cooper said. “We have a significant need for a parish and school to serve that growth. … That entire region was underserved. The diocese needed to address that.”

The Diocese of Nashville recently purchased a 166-acre piece of property in Nolensville, Tenn. that will be the site of a new parish and school. A map shows the location of the new property in Nolensville, near the intersection of Highways 31A/41A and 840, as well as nearby parishes in the diocese.

Bishop Spalding expressed his gratitude for Father Joe McMahon, pastor of Holy Family Church in Brentwood, who not only described the need for a new parish in the Nolensville area but offered to help move the project forward.

“All due thanks and gratitude to Father Joe and those he gathered around him to assist in this endeavor,” Bishop Spalding said.

About two years ago, Father McMahon, with the help of an informal task force of parishioners and Catholic professionals in the community, began looking for potential sites for a new parish and school, Cooper said. 

“In that process over the two years, because of our collaboration together, two anonymous donors materialized because of their commitment to the Church and the excitement about the future this property represents for all the Catholic community,” Cooper said. 

“With the Holy Spirit guiding us and under Father Joe’s leadership, we feel very blessed about obtaining this property,” Cooper said.

The site the diocese purchased had been proposed as the site of a new subdivision. But when that project fell through, the diocese stepped in.

One of the people helping the diocese find a location for a new parish showed the property to Father Anthony Stewart, associate pastor of Holy Family.

Father Stewart described the property as “a piece of heaven.”

“There’s a real wow factor when you walk onto the property,” he said. There’s a gradual hill at the front of the property, Father Stewart explained. “Once you’re at the top of the hill … it’s really breathtaking.”

They then brought Father McMahon to see the property. “Father Joe was blown away by it, and was like, ‘This is it,’” Father Stewart said.

The work of organizing a new parish will fall to Father McMahon as a ministry of Holy Family.

“The process of establishing a parish starts with a group of parishioners coming together who are interested in forming that community,” Cooper said.

That group will explore both the facility needs and the spiritual needs of the community, he added. “Father Joe is putting together his resources to begin exploring that within the Holy Family parish community.”

“I can’t be happier with the lay people that have become involved with this,” Bishop Spalding said. “Even in their anonymity, they have stepped up with their generosity.”

“Bishop Spalding has prioritized the initial formation of a church on the property, which will begin as a ministry of Holy Family under my leadership,” Father McMahon told his parishioners in a statement read at Masses the weekend of Feb. 15-16. “As the Holy Family team and the diocese work together to accomplish this, more information will be made available. It is likely that no official action will be taken regarding establishing a new parish until at least mid-2021.”

The new parish will be the fifth in Williamson County. The first, St. Philip Church in Franklin, was established in 1871. St. Matthew Church was established in 1978 in the western portion of the county, beginning with families from St. Philip and St. Henry Church in Nashville.

In 1989, St. Philip split again to form Holy Family Church in the northern end of Williamson County, and in 2008, St. Philip and St. Catherine Church in Columbia gave birth to the Church of the Nativity in Thompson’s Station in southern Williamson County.

“The reason for conducting this search and purchase of property is due to the incredible growth we are experiencing, not only in Metro Nashville, but even more so in Williamson and Rutherford counties,” Father McMahon told his parishioners. “We at Holy Family presently have over 2,800 registered families and we average 20 new families every month. 

“It appears that approximately 400 of our families live within a 15-minute drive of the new property,” he said.

Most Catholics who live in the Nolensville area already attend Holy Family, Father Stewart said. “Seventy-five percent of the young adult group I’m working with at Holy Family are from Nolensville,” where housing is more affordable than in Brentwood, he said.

“Ninety percent of the people who would go to that church would already be at Holy Family,” Father Stewart said. “There would be a continuity with them.”

The new parish would most likely draw people from the Nolensville, Arrington, College Grove and Lennox ViIlage areas of Williamson County, as well as northwest Rutherford County, Father Stewart said.

The area is expected to be a center of growth in the future, Cooper noted. Williamson and Rutherford counties, already two of the fastest growing counties in the state, are projected to hold that status going forward, he said.

“It’s clear over the long-term planning for both parishes and schools we need more presence in Williamson and Rutherford counties,” Cooper said.

The Nolensville property is “perfectly situated” among the existing parishes in Williamson and Rutherford counties, Cooper said, and is close to three major highways, Interstate 65, Interstate 24 and I-840.

The vision for the new parish includes an elementary school, Bishop Spalding said. Whoever is appointed as the first pastor of the new parish, he said, will have a mandate to build a parish with a school.

The interest in a school in the area is another topic people have talked about with Bishop Spalding during his two years in the diocese, he said. The closest elementary school is St. Rose of Lima School in Murfreesboro and the closest high school is Father Ryan High School in Nashville. 

Brian Cooper, chief administrative officer of the Diocese of Nashville, signs the closing documents on the property for a new parish in Nolensville at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville on Friday, January 24. Looking on from left are Bill Whalen, the CFO, Deacon Hans Toecker, the Chancellor, and Gino Marchetti, the diocesan attorney.

If the area grows as projected, the site could be home to a new Catholic high school and middle school that would draw students from both Williamson and Rutherford counties.

The Catholic Schools Office currently is preparing a long-term strategic plan, Cooper said. “How this property fits into plans for Catholic schools will come out of that product,” he said.

At 166 acres, the Nolensville site is the largest property the diocese owns, Cooper said. “And it’s probably the most highly vetted property we’ve ever owned.”

The diocese has elicited the help of demographers to look at the expected growth in the area to determine the ability to support a parish in the area, and school officials have studied the potential for the area to support future schools at the site, Cooper said.

The diocese has also had geological and engineering assessments of the property done to make sure the property is suitable for construction and has the room for everything the diocese envisions building there, he said. There has also been a review of the zoning for the land to make sure building a church and school there would be permitted, Cooper said.

All came back with positive results, he said.

At each and every step in the process, the diocese has been consulting with all the major councils and committees of the diocese, Bishop Spalding said. “So far, it’s been met with enthusiasm across the board. One test of that enthusiasm is that in the early stages some significant gifts have been made to make sure this happens.”

The purchase of the property is an example of the benefits of collaboration between the diocese and parishes, Cooper said.

“It’s positive proof when the diocese and parishes work together toward accomplishing big goals, that great things can happen,” Cooper said. “That all of us working together are stronger than any of us individually.”

“One of the great blessings and challenges of the Diocese of Nashville is we’re growing, and how do we address that challenge,” Bishop Spalding said. “You have to look at it, bring people into the circle that have expertise, and with the great counsel given, you go forward.”