Recently I shared with Extension magazine, the magazine of Catholic Extension, a reflection on my time in East Tennessee and the importance of Catholic Extension’s support for missionary efforts in the Diocese of Knoxville. I would like to share this reflection and review how Catholic Extension has helped our state.
The Sunday mornings were usually crisp as the sun rose steadily over the Smoky Mountains. Alone in my car, I recalled the mist gently folding into the hollows and being burned away. It was great to be peacefully driving to one of the churches or migrant chapels for Mass, usually along with Confirmations and, increasingly, with some Spanish being spoken during these celebrations. East Tennessee was filled with small communities of Catholics as the church grew, and I would be joining the hard-working priests and faithful who gathered.
Seminary had prepared me well. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The command and the assurance came from Jesus himself. I was part of the missionary Church in good company with missionaries before me.
During the eight years I served as Bishop of Knoxville in East Tennessee, there was that thrill and excitement of a Church alive and growing. I can still vividly remember those solitary drives as I answered the call to be a part of the process of “making disciples” of Jesus Christ and trusting in his assurance to be with me.
But my memories are not completely accurate. The excitement and the call of Jesus, the growth of the Church in counties that had little history of her presence, the assurance of Jesus being with me … all this was true. But now I know that in the car I was not alone.
A few years ago I was notified that a reader of Extension magazine was so impressed by a story of Father Tom Vos, a Franciscan priest who served and built a number of small Catholic parishes, that the reader sent $10,000 to be used for one of these new churches. At the time, Father Michael Sweeney was working with parishioners to build a first church building for St. Christopher Church in Jamestown, Tenn. I could not wait to call him with the good news that he had an anonymous friend who would be giving some unexpected help. This Catholic community had celebrated Saturday evening Mass for almost 30 years in a friendly Presbyterian Church. Now as they grew, they would finally have their own church.
As I write this article and put the Sunday morning car rides and the unexpected donation together for the first time, I realize that I was not alone in that car of mine. In fact, donors whose names I don’t know, but Christ knows, were with me. At the very core of what it means to be Church and to be Catholic is that participation in a mysterious way at many levels in the words of Jesus Christ as he calls us to make disciples and as he assures us that he is always with us. Catholic Extension makes this mysterious participation possible. It is reassuring to know that on my peaceful Sunday morning drives, I was not alone.
Catholic Extension’s Presence in Kentucky and How You Can Help
Some may know Catholic Extension, especially from the calendars hanging in your homes; others may not know this wonderful organization. Catholic Extension supports and strengthens the Catholic Church in America by providing funding to “mission dioceses” — places where the faith is vibrant and growing but resources are scarce, and the Church cannot yet sustain itself. Since 1905, Catholic Extension has distributed nearly $500 million to these communities. (See www.catholicextension.org for more information.)
Just last year, Catholic Extension provided grants of $1.2 million to dioceses in the Province of Louisville based upon their designation as mission dioceses. This designation includes all of the dioceses in Tennessee and the Dioceses of Lexington and Owensboro in Kentucky. These grants support seminarian education; subsidize salaries for priests, religious and lay ministers; provide resources for faith formation and religious education; and help build churches and parish facilities. Some time ago, when the Archdiocese of Louisville was a mission diocese, our own St. John the Apostle Church in Brandenburg was built with the help of a Catholic Extension grant made possible by a generous donor: the father of Grace Kelly.
Catholic Extension meets the funding requests of communities in need through its generous donors and the calendar program, which is offered to parishes and other organizations. You can become a member of the organization for only $25 per year and receive Extension magazine, which is full of stories and updates about the important work your gifts fund.
As another way of answering Christ’s call to make disciples, I encourage everyone to consider joining your prayers and financial contributions with Catholic Extension so that together we can build faith, inspire hope, and ignite change in our Church and across our country.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz