|Glenmary Father Vic Subb, pastor of Divine Savior Mission in Celina and Holy Family Parish in Lafayette, is surrounded by parishioners after one of the two weekly liturgies he celebrates at Divine Savior. Divine Savior is one of the smallest faith communities in the Diocese of Nashville, but has dedicated parishioners who are committed to growing the mission and volunteering in the community. Photo by Pat Roberts
Divine Savior Mission in Celina, Tennessee, just south of the Kentucky border, is one of the smallest faith communities in the Diocese of Nashville, with just a few dozen members. But those dedicated men and women, led by Glenmary Father Vic Subb, are making a difference in their community and working to build up the local Catholic Church.
“We need to keep inviting people to join our congregation,” said Father Subb. “It helps that our members are very involved and well known in the county. They have good reputations for helping others, and they’re great witnesses to their faith. That helps break down remaining stereotypes about Catholics, too.”
Fewer than 1 percent of Clay County residents are Catholic, and the mission is located in an area where more than half of the population claims no religious affiliation. The Celina mission draws members from two other counties that have no Catholic church. Divine Savior’s sister parish, Holy Family Church in Lafayette, has about 300 members.
Father Subb, who has served Divine Savior and Holy Family since September 2012, along with Glenmary Brother Larry Johnson, was very happy to become a mission pastor again after several years away from that role. “Getting to know the people in the mission areas has been a real joy,” he said. “There’s great mission need in both Macon and Clay counties.”
The Glenmary Home Missioners are a Catholic society of priests and brothers who are dedicated to serving the spiritual and material needs of people living in mission counties throughout Appalachia and the South. They are dedicated to bringing the Catholic Church to people who live in counties where the Church is not effectively present. They currently serve five faith communities in Middle and East Tennessee; they also have missions in North Carolina and Georgia.
‘They can call on us’
Divine Savior’s church was built in 1985, and for years the congregation was served by a succession of missionary-order priests who visited once a week, until a priest from the Glenmary order was assigned there on a permanent basis. “Since Father Vic came, he has made a big difference,” said longtime Divine Savior parishioner Pat Roberts.
About 25 Anglos and a handful of Latinos now make up the congregation. “They’re few in number, but they are very active in doing outreach work – there’s a high rate of involvement,” Father Subb said.
Father Subb has encouraged parishioners to volunteer in the community, a great need in Clay County, where more than 18 percent of residents live below the poverty line. “The majority of us are older, retired and have a little more free time. We’re very caring and willing to give back,” said Parish Council President Richard Accurso. “Even though we’re few in number, other churches and community members know that if they need help, they can call on us.”
Both Accurso and Roberts said parishioners and community members love and respect Father Subb because of his kindness, dedication and hands-on approach. They believe that has enhanced local ecumenical relationships, despite the lack of a county ministerial association. “He’s a wonderful person,” said Accurso.
Roberts added that “by his example, Father Vic has inspired mission members to be even more active and involved.”
Along with several Protestant congregations, Divine Savior parishioners financially support and volunteer at the Second Harvest ecumenical food distribution program in Clay County. The distribution occurs four or five times yearly and assists 250-300 families in need each time. Ten or more mission members usually come to help on those days, including Father Subb.
Parishioners also support and volunteer weekly at the ecumenical Grace Free Meal Center, hosted each Tuesday by the local Methodist church. Father Subb carries out his own ministry of presence, eating and talking with people who need a meal and a friendly ear. “I develop relationships with people by following up with them from week to week,” he said. In addition, the mission provides financial assistance to the community’s Meals on Wheels program.
Every Thanksgiving, Divine Savior parishioners work with other local denomination members to cook, pack and deliver Thanksgiving dinners for people in need – last year, for 378 families.
At Christmas, Celina mission members support and attend an ecumenical Christmas party for local nursing home residents that includes a free meal and gifts for everyone. They have also participated in an Angel Tree program by buying gifts for children in need.
In addition, Divine Savior members have served local civic causes in the following leadership roles: organizer of a major community heritage event; commissioner of the gas utility board; leaders of the local American Legion post and auxiliary; member of the organizing committee for the weekly free-meal program; and local librarian.
‘Building on our faith’
In an area where the Catholic population is so small, “One major goal has been to give our parishioners more attention and help build up the parish community,” said Father Subb. While he lives in Macon County, Father Subb visits Clay County on Saturdays and Tuesdays to celebrate Mass and minister in varied ways to mission members. He visits and administers sacraments to homebound people and those in nursing facilities and hospitals, as well as visiting other parishioners in their homes.
To help mission members keep growing in their faith and lay leadership, Father Subb has introduced well-received programs on Bible study, Lenten preparation, and “The Joy of the Gospel” as well as training sessions in Eucharistic, lector and greeter ministries. He also oversees regular parish council meetings.
|Divine Savior parishioners, along with pastor Father Vic Subb and members of other faith communities, regularly volunteer at the Second Harvest food distribution program in Clay County, Tennessee. Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli
Two years ago, the mission offered a religious education and sacramental preparation programs for the children, led by a Glenmary student and two parishioners. “It was a really good, positive situation,” Father Subb said. In May 2015, five children received first Communion and two of them were baptized. Since then, two families with children have moved away. And because of scheduling challenges faced by the remaining two families, Father Subb is now working to restart the program as a home-based one.
With Father Subb’s encouragement, the parish has continued its potluck suppers after weekend Masses to offer parish fellowship. For the last two years on Mother’s Day Father Subb and some of the male parishioners fixed a special meal for the mission community. “It was our way of thanking all the mothers,” he said.
While Father Subb’s time is divided between churches in two different counties, about 35 miles apart, he does have assistance from Glenmary Brother Larry Johnson. “We try to support one another as fellow team members,” said Father Subb. Brother Larry, however, is juggling multiple responsibilities and splitting time between the Lafayette-Celina area and Glenmary’s Cincinnati headquarters, where he also serves as the order’s second vice president.
One of Brother Larry’s current roles is to disburse money in Clay and Macon counties that has been donated by an anonymous priest from another diocese who admires Glenmary. “I rely on Father Vic, as well as local agencies and others, to help identify people with pressing needs for financial help,” said Brother Larry. “For instance, I’m helping fund the ecumenical outreach work of the Celina-area churches.”
Looking ahead to the Celina mission’s future, Father Subb says “we need to continue our prayers and faith formation programs, build up our parish community, do everything possible to make our mission a welcoming place, and encourage new membership. And we need to keep reaching out to the community around us as much as possible.
“It’s a great strength that our parishioners are so involved in helping other people in the county – and that they’re known as Catholics and respected for the way they’re living out their faith.
“We’ll just keep building on our strengths and our faith.”
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Glenmary Challenge, a publication of Glenmary Home Missioners. Part one of this story, focused on Holy Family Parish in Lafayette, was first published in the Winter 2015 issue of Glenmary Challenge magazine, and appeared in the Jan. 15, 2016, issue of the Tennessee Register.
Dale Hanson is a staff member of the Communications Department of Glenmary Home Missioners.