In describing the Diocese of Nashville, people have used a variety of numbers of parishes within its boundaries. The number has changed as parishes are established or as communities lose their official designation as a parish.
At the same time, some large and vibrant communities of the faithful that are not designated as a parish under canon law have been left out of the number.
“We’ve been in this confusing situation for the recent several years,” said Father John Hammond, Vicar General and Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Nashville and pastor of St. Patrick Church in Nashville.
To clear up the confusion, the diocese has settled on the number 58 churches, which includes all 52 parishes, three missions, and three stable faith communities that are ministries of the diocese with their own priests and churches, Father Hammond said.
“This is a number that makes sense when we talk about the churches we operate in the Diocese of Nashville,” Father Hammond said.
“The 58 is based on the canonical term ‘church.’ which means something very specific,” Father Hammond said. Canon law states: “The term church means a sacred building intended for divine worship, to which the faithful have right of access for the exercise, especially the public exercise, of divine worship.”
The number of parishes in the diocese has changed in recent years, Father Hammond said. For awhile, the community at Mary Queen of Angels Assisted Living Facility was designated as a separate parish, but is no longer designated as a parish, he explained.
The bishop of a diocese decides which communities will be designated a parish, Father Hammond explained. “It’s a process. Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is now a parish, began as a ministry of St. Edward. It took on a life of its own, moved into its own church, with its own pastor, and eventually was designated as a parish.”
The factors in establishing a parish include things like the stability of the community, its financial independence and the availability of a pastor, he added. “A parish always has a pastor,” although he might not always been in residence, Father Hammond said. “Some priests are pastor of more than one parish.”
The number of churches in the diocese also includes three mission churches: St. Mary Margaret in Alto, attached to Good Shepherd Parish in Decherd; St. Michael Mission in Cedar Hill, attached to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Springfield; and Divine Savior Mission in Celina, attached to St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cookeville, “but for the last several years has been taken care of by the pastor of Holy Family Church in Lafayette,” Father Hammond said.
“A mission is a church with a community which is a stable community of the faithful but is not big enough to be self sustaining, so it’s attached to a parish,” Father Hammond said. “A mission operates as an off-site part of a parish.”
There are three ministries of the diocese that serve communities of the faithful, including the Sagrado Corazon Hispanic Ministry, which is the largest church in the diocese and uses the church and office space at the Catholic Pastoral Center, Father Hammond said. “In many ways, it looks like a parish, which is why they’re in this number.”
“In addition to everything they do here, they also provide pastoral care and sacraments at several other parishes in the diocese,” he added.
“Like the missions, they are a community of the faithful with their own identity, not a parish, nor a mission attached to a specific parish,” Father Hammond said.
The other ministries included in the diocese’s number of churches are:
• The Church of the Korean Martyrs on Lebanon Road in Donelson, which serves the Korean Catholic community in the area. “They have their own building and their own priest provided by a diocese in Korea,” Father Hammond said.
• The Mother of Divine Mercy Coptic Catholic community, which serves families primarily from Egypt and celebrates its liturgies in the St. Joseph Chapel at the Catholic Pastoral Center.
The community’s director, Father Elia Gawarge, who was assigned by the Coptic Catholic Patriarch in Egypt, also helps the diocese in other ways, Father Hammond said. He is a bi-ritual priest who can celebrate the Mass according to both the Coptic Catholic rites and the Roman Catholic rites. He lives in the rectory at Holy Rosary Church in Donelson and helps celebrate the sacraments there when needed.
Several other communities of faithful are not included in the number of churches in the diocese for a variety of reasons.
The St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata Syro-Malabar Mission, which celebrates its liturgies at the Church of the Assumption in Nashville, is actually a mission of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of St. Thomas of Chicago, which covers all of the United States.
Although the Diocese of Nashville is supportive of and welcomes the Syro-Malabar mission in Nashville, “they’re not ours,” Father Hammond said.
A Burmese Catholic community “is a community of the faithful, but they don’t have a stable priest or church,” Father Hammond said.
The Vietnamese Catholic Community meets at St. Martha Church in Ashland City and Father Hung Pham is the community’s chaplain, but they are not included in the number of churches because they don’t have a church building of their own, Father Hammond said.
By referring to the 58 churches in the diocese, it is hoped there will be no confusion going forward, Father Hammond said. “It’s a messaging consistency.”