The burgeoning Catholic community in Smith County has a new home.
With members of the community looking on, representatives of the Diocese of Nashville on Sunday, Nov. 21, closed on the purchase of the New Level Church property in Carthage.
“It was wonderful,” said Father Don Tranel, a Glenmary Home Missioner who is organizing the Catholic community in Carthage and Smith County. “People are on fire.”
“It’s the kind of memory you savor, and it’s the kind of memory you’re going to use to sustain and draw strength from for a number of years,” Father Tranel said.
“It speaks of stability, it speaks of permanence to have your own place,” Father Tranel said. “Clearly, it’s going to enhance the visibility of the Catholic Church in the community.”
Having its own building will make it easier for the community to offer religious education classes, to evangelize and to invite inactive Catholics back to the Church, Father Tranel said.
The diocese purchased several lots totaling about 4 acres on Upper Ferry Road in Carthage, that included two buildings, the New Level Church sanctuary with four classrooms and a kitchen downstairs and a church hall next door, said Bill Whalen, chief financial officer for the diocese.
The purchase price was $249,900. Needed renovations to the buildings will cost another estimated $100,000 to $150,000, Whalen said.
The Carthage Catholic community will take a loan from the diocese to cover the cost. Contributions will be provided through the diocese from the Bishop’s Annual Appeal for Ministries, the diocese’s ongoing Legacy of Faith, Hope and Love Campaign, as well as from the Dorothy Neuhoff Dubuisson Fund and the D. Cliff Stone Fund, two trusts that have been established to support our churches, said Ashley Linville, director of development for the diocese.
New Level Church will retain possession of the church through the end of the year. Repair and remodeling on the hall building will begin soon, Father Tranel said. “We’re not going to move into it for quite a while,” he said.
The renovations that will be needed include a new roof, replacing some drywall, and some electric work, as well as converting the church into a space suitable for Catholic worship, Father Tranel said.
Parishioners will do some of the work, Father Tranel said, and he already has some of the items needed for the new church. “I’ve got an altar in storage,” he said, and the community has received several donations, including vestments, a tabernacle, and a dozen 14-foot pews.
When completed, the church should accommodate more than 100 people, Father Tranel said. He hopes the church will be ready for the community to move into this spring in time to celebrate Easter.
Last July, Father Tranel celebrated the first Catholic Mass in Smith County, which was established in 1799. Since then, he has been celebrating Mass at the Carthage United Methodist Church while the community looked for a more permanent home.
To secure a location so quickly in the life of a new community is unusual, Father Tranel said. “It all happened kind of fast.”
“It’s been a combination of divine providence,” Father Tranel said. “We knew it was on the market,” and it offers a good location “right on the main drag” and on the Cumberland River, which winds through Carthage, he added.
“Everybody’s just ecstatic,” Michael Manor, a member of the community’s finance committee, said of the people’s reaction to the purchase. “Obviously, we’ve got some work to do, but everybody’s pretty happy about finally buying the property.”
Beginning with the first Mass, the community has received a helping hand from the Carthage United Methodist Church, which has offered its facilities to use.
The community gathers for Mass in the Methodist church’s Christian Life Center at 5 p.m. Saturdays and at 5 p.m. Mondays, which are followed by religious education and RCIA classes. The Methodist church also made the facility available for an All Souls’ Day Mass and for a Mass on Thanksgiving.
“They’re just wonderful,” Father Tranel said of the Methodist church and the help they have provided.
The Carthage Catholic community has drawn people who had been attending Masses at several other churches, including St. Frances Cabrini in Lebanon, Holy Family in LaFayette, and St. Thomas Aquinas in Cookeville. Manor and his family had been attending Mass at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, where they were parishioners, before work to organize the community in Smith County began.
“People were anxious for their own church close to home,” Manor said. “People were going all over the place.”
The weekend Masses attract between 40 and 60 people steadily, “which has been fantastic,” Manor said. “Even the collections were just way more than we expected. And it’s been pretty steady.”
“Once we finally get the place fixed up and move, it’s probably going to spark even more interest,” Manor added.
About 35 members of the community were on hand for the closing at the New Level Church, Father Tranel said. “They embodied happiness.”
Representing the diocese were Whalen, Linville and Father John Hammond, a Vicar General and Judicial Vicar for the diocese as well as pastor of St. Patrick Church in Nashville. Their presence gave Father Tranel a sense of connectedness with the diocese, he said.