From St. Philip Church with love

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St. Philip parishioners pray the Our Father during the Mass for their 150th anniversary. Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli

Parishioners of St. Philip the Apostle Church in Franklin will end the year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the original church by sending letters to the future.

The parish will close the anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Bishop J. Mark Spalding at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, to be followed by the burial of a time capsule in front of the original church. Among the items to be included in the time capsule will be letters from parishioners for their children, grandchildren and future parishioners to read 50 years from now when the parish marks the 200th anniversary of the church’s dedication.

“Knowing that the vault will be opened in 50 years, what would you like to tell future members about our parish, about our faith, about what your personal faith means to you?” Father Ed Steiner, St. Philip pastor, wrote in a letter to parishioners. “You can write a letter to your children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren about what you hope for them. We invite everyone – regardless of age – to write a letter. We actually encourage letters from your children!”

The parish is providing parishioners special acid-free paper to write their letters, and they are being asked to use a number 2 pencil rather than a pen.

“Acid-free paper … doesn’t break down the way normal paper does,” Father Steiner explained. “Ink is not dependable over time. It can change color, it can bleed, it can actually degrade the paper that you’ve written on.”

“This will help insure the survival of your letters for the 50 years they will be underground,” Father Steiner wrote in his letter to parishioners.

“The enemy is moisture,” he said. “You’re trying to prevent moisture from getting in … and trying to prevent the moisture within the paper itself from affecting anything else.”

Additionally, the bottom of the time capsule will be lined with charcoal briquets, which absorb moisture, Father Steiner said.

Other items to be included in the time capsule will be: a list of all currently registered parishioners; a necrology of all those who have been buried from St. Philip; a list of all the parishioners in leadership positions, such as the Pastoral Council, Finance Council and Ministries Council members; and a couple Joe Copolo of Williamson Memorial Funeral Home and Cremation Services helped secure the time capsule and a bronze plaque for it, said Carole Guthrie, who has co-chaired the 150th anniversary celebration with Father Steiner. “Williamson Memorial Funeral Home is providing everything we need to get this done,” she said.

“A huge thank you to parishioner Don Weller,” Guthrie added. “This was his brainchild a year ago when we were working on what we were going to do throughout the year. … Don Weller truly was the engine behind the time capsule.”

Besides the Mass and the burying of the time capsule, the parish will have one more event to close the anniversary year, “The 150th Anniversary Curtain Call,” a variety show featuring musicians of varying ages who are members of the parish. John Angotti, the director of music and liturgy at St. Philip, is producing and directing the show, which will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Franklin Theatre.

Between the musical acts will be some light-hearted roasting of parishioners as well as the presentation of awards to several parishioners in recognition of their long devotion and service to the parish, Father Steiner said.

When the original church, still standing at the intersection of Second Avenue South and Main Street in downtown Franklin, was dedicated on Nov. 6, 1871, St. Philip was a small Catholic outpost along the Nashville & Decatur Railroad (now the L&N). Masses were being said in Franklin as early as the late 1830s. The original church was built by 12 Catholic families. Previously Masses were celebrated in their homes. St. Philip is the first Catholic church in Williamson County. Today there are more than 1,800 registered households and approximately 60 ministries, making St. Philip one of the diocese’s largest and The anniversary celebration began on Nov. 6, 2021, with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Spalding and a banquet. Throughout the last year, the parish organized a variety of events to mark the anniversary.

In February, the parish had a dinner to honor all the priests who have served at St. Philip. Each priest had a chance to share his fondest memories of the parish, Father Steiner said.

Father Steiner gave a presentation about how Catholics would have celebrated Holy Week in 1871, “which is quite different from what it would look like now,” he said.

There were also talks by two historians: Rick Warwick, the Williamson County Historian, who talked about the history of the downtown Franklin churches, and parishioner and author Margie Thessin, whose talk was titled “11 Things You Didn’t Know about St. Philip.”

Some of the events have been social gatherings, “events designed to bring people together,” Father Steiner said.

The year has been “so fun,” Guthrie said, “absolutely everything we hoped. I have to thank Father Ed for his leadership.”

Learning more about the history of the church has deepened her bond with St. Philip, said Guthrie, who entered the Church there 34 years ago. “I loved it before. St. Philip is the only Catholic church where I have been a member. … There’s a love for it I can’t really describe.”

“It’s gone very, very well,” Father Steiner said of the celebration. “For the long-time parishioner, it’s allowed them to relive some great memories. … For newcomers … it’s truly introduced them to the culture and history of the parish. Many have commented they feel more a part of the parish now that they know the history.”

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