New family life center underway at
St. Theresa Church in Rhodelia, Ky.

The old St. Theresa School is seen in this photograph. The building is being renovated and converted into the St. Theresa Family Life Center. (Photo Special to The Record)

Fathers J. Ronald Knott and Robert Ray have returned to St. Theresa Church in Rhodelia, Ky.,  — the parish where they grew up — with the hope of helping the next generation find the same “treasure” they found decades ago.

The retired Archdiocese of Louisville priests are leading a project to convert the old St. Theresa School building into the St. Theresa Family Life Center — a space they envision bustling with activities for both parishioners and members of the wider community.

“I care about that community and the people. I feel that this project can revive the tradition of our Catholic faith in that part of the country,” said Father Ray. “Helping the next generation to find the same treasure we found there that’s sustained us all these years” is the goal.

The family life center is the first project of Saint Theresa Heritage Partners — an alumni association founded by the two priests. Its mission is to preserve the faith community’s history and to help move it into the future, the priests said.

Phase one of the renovation project is to remodel the school building — where Fathers Knott and Ray attended classes. That work consists of adding a porch, a new roof, an entryway, new windows and doors, new lighting and landscape work. Phase one — which totaled about $295,000 — will be completed in time for the parish’s picnic on Aug. 14, said Father Knott.

The alumni association is currently working on securing donations for the second phase of the project, which includes furnishings, a new plumbing system, a geothermal heating and cooling system and solar panels. Father Knott said the entire project is expected to be completed by October of 2022.

The completed center will house the parish offices and serve as a meeting space for all age groups. It will host events such as religious education classes, prayer groups, youth ministry gatherings and events for senior citizens. It will also serve as a meeting space for groups in the community.

Since he retired in 2015, Father Knott had been serving the people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but a volcano eruption in the Caribbean nation and travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic forced him to suspend his ministry there.It was time for “my charity to come back home,” he said.

The idea for a family life center at St. Theresa was something he’d been wanting to do since the early 90s, he noted.

“The renewal of the building is a symbol of something more important to happen,” said Father Knott. “So many kids don’t know the history (of the parish). The word tradition means to hand on. All we want to do is keep the tradition passing on.”

One way the center will help pass on tradition, he said, is a historic photo exhibit that will be displayed in the center. The exhibit is funded by a grant from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who served as educators at St. Theresa School for more than 120 years. The Sisters of Loretto also served as the first teachers at the school.

Founded in 1818, St. Theresa is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Meade County, according to historical information from the Archdiocese of Louisville. The old St. Theresa School — being revived as a family life center — grew out of St. Theresa Academy, which opened as a boarding and day school in 1866.

The Saint Theresa Heritage Partners organization is looking for members. It’s open to alumni of the old school and to anyone who has connections to the parish. For information about membership or to make a donation, contact Father Ray at 216-9290 or rray@twc.com.

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