Father Gervan Menezes carried the Eucharist in a procession around the Diocese of Nashville to pray for the people suffering from the deadly tornadoes that hit Middle Tennessee early in March and the COVID-19 pandemic.
But he did it thousands of feet in the air as pilot Dan Schachle, a parishioner at St. Christopher Church in Dickson, flew him in a loop around the diocese.
“I think the last couple of weeks there’s been so much suffering around our diocese and our country with the tornadoes and now with the coronavirus,” Father Menezes said. “To bring Jesus to people in this way is something pretty cool.”
Praying for people “in this concrete way comforts people,” he added.
The idea of flying over the diocese to bless the people started when Sister Mary Grace Watson, O.P., the principal at St. Patrick School in McEwen, and Tom Costa, another parishioner at St. Christopher and the owner of Katie’s Ice Cream Shop in Dickson, sent him a post about a similar flight in another diocese, Schachle said.
Schachle is the general agent for the Knights of Columbus insurance program for Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and small part of Virginia. He got his pilot’s license and a Piper Archer plane about a year ago to save time traveling around his large territory, he explained.
“It was a blessing it came in use for this,” said Schachle.
He sent out word to several priests he knows about the flight to see if any were interested. “I just tagged a couple of priests on that post and said, ‘The offer’s on the table.’ And Father G said, ‘I’m in,’” Schachle said.
“I got all dressed up as when we do a procession,” Father Menezes said. “We did an air procession.”
Before the flight, Father Menezes posted a video on his Facebook page asking people to send him prayer intentions for the flight.
Father Menezes, Schachle and his 15-year-old son Joe took off from Dickson.
“Sister Mary Grace made me promise we would fly over Bethany Retreat House,” which is owned and operated by her congregation, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Schachle said.
From Dickson, they flew over the retreat house nearby and then headed to Columbia. “Then we flew straight south to Lawrenceburg, then we went across to Tullahoma and in between Tullahoma and Shelbyville,” Schachle said. “And then we cut north to Cookeville and turned west and went straight to Nashville along I-40 over the tornado corridor and flew right in between the Nashville airport and the (Catholic) Pastoral Center.
“And then we went down and circled downtown,” passing over Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Cathedral of the Incarnation and Father Ryan High School, Schachle said.
He headed north over Pope John Paul II High School and between Ashland City and Clarksville before returning to Dickson, Schachle said.
“The main idea was to do a loop around the whole diocese,” Father Menezes said. “We were able pretty much to cover the entire diocese.”
During the 2 hour and 20 minute flight, Schachle would point out landmarks and cities to Father Menezes, who was holding a monstrance with the Eucharist and would say a prayer for the people below.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” said Father Menezes.
“With all the stuff that’s going on, the world is kind of dark and dreary,” said Schachle, whose son Nathan is a seminarian for the diocese at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas. “I felt completely different when I got out of the plane than when I went in,” with a sense of peace, he said. “I got way more out of it than I put into it. I was honored and blessed to be a part of that.” W