|Father Vic Subb, left, a Glenmary priest who has overseen considerable growth at Holy Family Church in Lafayette, Tenn., has helped the parish move forward with plans for a new church. With him are Avelardo Mercado Chavez, a student on a four month mission assignment to Lafayette, and Glenmary Brother Larry Johnson, right. Photo by Pete Richardson|
When Glenmary Father Vic Subb contemplated becoming a mission pastor again in 2012 after seven years away from this role, he was excited and happy. Now, three years later, he says that “getting to know the people in the mission areas has been a real joy. And God has been with us.”
In turn, parishioners have a great deal of respect for their new pastor – as well as the other missioners and Glenmary students who have served them.
On Sept. 1, 2012, Father Subb and Brother Larry Johnson became members of the new Glenmary team serving at Holy Family Parish in Lafayette, Tenn. (Macon County); Divine Savior Mission in Celina, Tenn. (Clay County); and in Scottsville, Ky. The Scottsville mission has since been returned to the pastoral care of the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky.
“There’s great mission need in both Macon and Clay counties,” said Father Subb.
Fewer than 1 percent of Macon County residents are Catholic, and the Lafayette mission also draws members from four other counties – including three with no Catholic churches. In addition, more than 24 percent of Macon residents live below the federal poverty level, and more than 74 percent have no religious affiliation.
In Lafayette, a few Catholic families first gathered in the 1980s in a small basement church, and parishioners were served by visiting diocesan priests during the next two decades. Then Glenmary Father Dennis Holly came as resident pastor of Holy Family Parish (2003-2012), using that same small basement space. Since Father Subb arrived, the parish has continued facing the good problem of how to accommodate its steady growth from 230 to 300 members. It’s now Glenmary’s largest mission.
|Holy Family’s thriving religious education program is preparing the next generation of Catholics, above. Photos by Dale Hanson|
“A new church building is probably our most urgent need. We can’t serve many more members without one,” Father Subb said. “I’m amazed at how much our parishioners have sacrificed and worked to raise the needed funds. The property has been acquired, we’re working with the diocese, and plans are in progress.”
But he stressed that the ongoing priority is to “keep building ourselves up as a strong, loving, welcoming faith community that reaches out to others. When we live out our faith, we’re also evangelizing and sharing the Gospel message.”
The diverse community of English-speaking and Spanish-speaking members celebrate an English and a Spanish Mass each Sunday (about half at each Mass); a weekday liturgy; and holy day, First Friday and First Saturday Masses. With their bilingual pastor, they also celebrate religious feasts, traditions and holidays of their native cultures.
“One outstanding parish strength,” said Father Subb, “is our religious education program – with trained Anglo and Latino catechists teaching about 65 children.” Many children and adults have prepared for and received sacraments for the first time. And adult faith formation has included RCIA, Scripture studies, “Joy of the Gospel,” evangelization and “What Catholics Believe” programs.
|Holy Family parishioners stay after Mass to share a potluck meal in honor of Avelardo Marcado Chavez, who made many friends during his stay in Lafayette. Photos by Dale Hanson, Communications Department, Glenmary Home Missioners.
In addition, a three-day Latino leadership program helped people prepare to take on more parish responsibilities and improve their skills as family members. Parishioners are also enthusiastically participating in training as catechists, eucharistic ministers, lectors, ushers and servers.
At the same time, parishioners and missioners are reaching out to others in need in many ways, the pastor said. “Macon is the leading tobacco-producing county in the United States. But there’s a lot of poverty here, and people with tremendous needs.”
Holy Family Ministries is an initiative to raise funds and supplies to assist local people. “We think it’s very important to give back,” said Linda Coletti, a longtime committee member. Their projects include: Coats for Kids (51 coats for students in 2014); Thanksgiving food baskets/Christmas food baskets, each for 30 households, primarily seniors; a Christmas Angel Tree, four presents each for 50 children; and varied emergency assistance.
As an active member of the local ecumenical ministerial association, Father Subb also cited ways the Holy Family and Divine Savior communities reach out through this ministers’ group. For instance, they donate money to the association’s benevolence fund to assist transients; the homeless; and Macon Helps, a service organization. Mission members also take part in local ecumenical prayer services as well as Easter and Thanksgiving services.
In addition, the parish has given clothes remaining from its yard sale – as well as those donated by its sister parish, St. Raphael in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to migrant tobacco workers. And the recently established parish youth group has done service projects such as home and yard clean-up for local residents. Also, parishioners participate in the annual Relay for Life Walk to fight cancer.
In Father Subb’s view, the two-year-old Knights of Columbus council at Holy Family has been a great support to the parish. Grand Knight John Boxold explained that the Knights are “the pastor’s right hand. Whenever volunteers are needed, we are committed to being there to help.” They also hold fundraisers to benefit mission efforts.
Brother Larry Johnson was elected as second vice president of Glenmary in June 2015. He’s now juggling multiple roles and responsibilities while splitting time between Lafayette and the society’s headquarters in Cincinnati. “We try to support one another as fellow team members,” said Father Subb.
In Lafayette, Brother Larry is still assisting with the parish’s music ministry, youth group, and Vacation Bible School as time allows. And he’s responsible for disseminating money donated by an anonymous priest from another diocese, who has an admiration for 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. “I’m also funding outreach work by the Macon County ministerial association and Celina-area churches.”
The Vacation Bible School was coordinated the last three summers by the Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish youth group from Owings, Maryland. “They’ve done a wonderful job of outreach to children from the mission and larger community,” Father Subb said. “They also transport the kids, including those from other counties. In 2015, 111 children came!”
And then there are Father Subb’s many personal ministries. He has gained a widespread reputation for unremitting kindness, and strong communication, contributing to the mission’s welcoming environment and outreach. In addition, he regularly visits homebound parishioners, those in nursing facilities, as well as prisoners and migrant workers. He also makes time to help many area immigrants complete legal paperwork as they work toward permanent residency.
“We feel welcome here, like part of a family,” said parishoner Guadalupe Franco. “Also, Father Vic has that way of talking to, reaching and helping everyone. He’s a really friendly priest and can’t say no to anyone. He visits migrant workers and prisoners. And he takes time to visit homes, including ours. Our whole family feels good about being here.”
Father Subb visits the Macon County Jail weekly, celebrating Mass and administering sacraments to inmates – as well as talking with, praying with and blessing them. “We try to support them after they’re released, too,” he said, “so they can get reconnected to the community.”
He also regularly travels to eight migrant worker camps near area tobacco fields – and searches for more. “I believe we have to be a lifeline for them,” he said. “First and foremost, I go to see if they’re OK, because there’s a lot of sickness in the camps. Mission members have been very willing to transport migrant workers to doctor appointments or other destinations when farm owners don’t.
“Their workday runs from about 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. So when I visit, there is usually time only for brief conversations, prayers and blessings. But I also invite them to go on field trips on off days so they can see things besides tobacco fields and Walmart.”
Looking ahead, Father Subb said, “One of Holy Family mission’s blessings is our diversity of backgrounds and ages. If we keep striving to be a unified, loving community that reaches out to others, we’ll be successful in our future efforts and will keep witnessing to the joy of the Gospel, as Pope Francis says.”
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Glenmary Challenge, a publication of Glenmary Home Missioners. Founded in 1939, Glenmary is a Catholic society of priests and brothers who, along with coworkers, establish the Catholic Church and serve the spiritually and materially poor in rural counties of Appalachia and the South. For more information about Glenmary Home Missioners and their ministries, visit www.glenmary.org.
Dale Hanson is a staff member of the Communications Department of Glenmary Home Missioners.