Father Bala Showraiah, OFM, pastor of St. Catherine Church in McMinnville, is always striving to fulfill any need that arises when it comes to those he serves.
As the small church in the southeast corner of the Diocese of Nashville continues to grow, he’s hoping to accommodate that growth while also providing a space for learning, worship, and social activity with a Worship and Learning Center on St. Catherine’s 7 acres of property.
“I did not go to McMinnville to build anything,” explained Father Showraiah, who came to St. Catherine as pastor in 2020, following 12 years as pastor of St. Philip the Apostle Church in Franklin. “I saw what was needed. That’s what I do.
“In Franklin, I was building up the ministries, the spiritual aspect,” he added. “There are so many ministries that grew into strengthening the faith and the community building up together.” This new Worship and Learning Center will allow St. Catherine to do the same. “That is my aim always. Spirituality.”
This new building, for which Morton Buildings is overseeing the architectural design, will bring the capacity up from less than 200 people to 570, and will allow for St. Catherine not only to accommodate the more than 300 registered families attending the Masses, but also to hold retreats, social events, provide educational learning programs for children and adults, and more.
Father Showraiah’s history of meeting the needs of any given parish dates back to his time in India, following his ordination to the Franciscans on May 29, 1990, in his hometown of Dharmaram in South Central India.
For his first 11 years of priesthood, “I worked as an associate pastor, took care of orphanages, and was building schools, colleges, churches, and seminaries,” Father Showraiah explained. “That was my priestly work.”
That continued until 2007 when the late Bishop David Choby, along with Father Ed Steiner, visited India on what Bishop Choby called a “Thank You” tour where he personally thanked the bishops who had priests come and serve in the Diocese of Nashville. During that visit, Bishop Choby asked Father Showraiah if he’d be interested in coming to serve in Nashville.
“I’ve been here ever since,” Father Showraiah said, starting at St. Philip where he served as associate pastor for 10 months, before serving as administrator and eventually pastor from 2009-2020.
He then moved to his current position as pastor of St. Catherine, and in just three years, has been able to grow the parish from 125 registered families to 300, with about 75 percent of the congregation being Hispanic.
His tool for growing the congregation is creating small Christian communities.
“I realized the division between the Anglos and Hispanics, and I wanted to bring all these groups together,” Father Showraiah said. “So, I started small Christian communities with groups of five to seven people that get together weekly to read the following Sunday’s readings and share and discuss.
“We now have 25 active groups that have helped us start to build unity in the church,” he said. From there, many began collaborating to put together activities, as well as start youth programs.
“When the children are united, parents can be united more easily,” noted Father Showraiah.
“Through these learning programs, you slowly start imparting to the parents good parenting skills, their responsibility to bring their children up in the practice of the faith, and how they can be active members of the parish,” he added.
This new space will further help that to grow as well. “We’re building for the present but also the future.”
By having a space large enough for worship, learning, and community building after Masses, “we can bring Sunday back to being the day of the Lord, and the day of community where people can spend the day at the church and children can play.
“That’s what my aim and dream is in the course of time and beyond, to facilitate more and more feeling of home,” Father Showraiah concluded. “The church is meant to become a second family, a second home after all.”
Since March, when the idea really got off the ground, nearly $400,000 of the needed $1.5 million has been raised between St. Catherine parishioners bringing in $120,000 from various fundraisers, a donation from the Diocese of Nashville of $120,000, and a donation from St. Philip of $120,000, as well as other smaller donations.
“At our last clergy assembly, (Bishop J. Mark Spalding) said it’s his dream and hope that parishes with resources would help those parishes without resources, and I took that to heart,” explained Father Steiner, pastor of St. Philip. “I gave St. Philip the challenge of getting them on track to tithe just like we ask parishioners to tithe to the church.
“With that in mind, the finance board started a whole program of outreach to the community,” he explained. “In that spirit, last year, we donated $200,000 to various local charities. As we talked this year, we thought it was time to help our own. We heard about the project at St. Catherine, and it seemed like the right place to focus our efforts.”
“Ed Steiner is an open-minded person. He’s a man who does not keep to himself,” Father Showraiah said. “He’s generous. He’s encouraging. He has seen what’s happening and he began to take the initiative.
“I didn’t approach him personally. He just started doing a lot for McMinnville,” he added. “That’s really amazing to see a priest like Ed Steiner show so much concern for the mission station of a mission parish of the diocese. He even told the bishop, we’re not taking St. Catherine officially as our sister parish, but we’re helping. That’s a king’s heart that he has got.”
Even before Father Steiner came on as pastor, “St. Philip has always been a very generous parish, helping out many other parishes,” Father Showraiah continued, noting how they’ve also helped St. Matthew Church in Franklin, Church of the Nativity in Spring Hill, Holy Family Church in Brentwood, among others, through the years. “St. Philip was instrumental in the course of history to the expansion of our churches.”
Even with the initial funds raised, there is still a long way to go. In August, several fundraisers will be held to help raise the rest of the money for the project. The fundraising effort is being led by Gene Gillespie, head of development, as he coordinates with other pastors and parishes who want to help. More information about the forthcoming fundraisers is coming soon.
For more information, email Gillespie at firstname.lastname@example.org.