|Holy Name Parish celebrated the 160th anniversary of a Catholic Parish in East Nashville and the 100th anniversary of the current church on Sunday, March 26. After Mass, parishioner Gail Green, with her youngest daughter Manning, greets Father Wil Steinbacher, a Glenmary priest who often celebrates Mass at Holy Name. He was one of several priests to concelebrate the anniversary Mass. Photos by Theresa Laurence|
On Sunday, March 26, Holy Name Church was overflowing with people celebrating the 160th anniversary of the Catholic parish in East Nashville, and 100 years of the current church building.
Long-time parishioners were joined by members of the Sudanese Catholic community, former pastors, and alumni of Holy Name School to mark the occasion.
Gathering so many people together to celebrate the history of St. John the Evangelist Church, which operated from 1857 to 1872; St. Columba Church, which operated from 1873 to 1916; St. Columba and Holy Name schools, which operated from 1873 to 1969; and Holy Name Church, founded in 1917, was an opportunity to “look back from where we started and where we are now, moving forward with greater expectation,” said Holy Name Pastor Father Theo Ebulueme.
Holy Name parishioners worked for many months to compile the parish’s history and reach out to Holy Name School alumni to invite them back for the anniversary weekend. A group of alumni toured the former school space after Mass, located above and behind the church sanctuary, peeking in former classrooms and sharing memories of school days and favorite teachers with one another.
Father Pat Connor, a retired priest of the Diocese of Nashville, who grew up in the parish and attended Holy Name School, still remembers the names of the Dominican sisters who taught him, and noted that their rigorous education “made my subsequent education relatively easy.”
|Rosemary Lokule, above, choir director for the Sudanese Catholic Community, which celebrates a weekly Mass at Holy Name, sings and plays tambourine during the anniversary Mass. Throughout its long history, Holy Name has welcomed immigrant communities at the parish.|
He also recalled how important Holy Name was to his upbringing; he received the sacraments there and offered his first Mass at Holy Name after his ordination to the priesthood in 1961.
“Second only to my parents, Holy Name was the lifeblood of my faith,” he said.
During a reception after Mass, parishioners and visitors chatted and perused old photos and historical information about the parish, which included an annotated guide to the church’s stained glass windows, a point of pride for parishioners who worked on that project in the 1980s.
For long time parishioners like Mary Catherine Dean, the director of religious education, Holy Name has provided an important space to build a strong faith community in the neighborhood. “The parish is the Catholic face of East Nashville,” she said. “Holy Name has more than challenged me to live my faith by way of example and to see the face of Jesus in every other human being.”
|Tom McCabe, right, a member of the Holy Name School Class of 1963, talks with Judy Hopwood Johnson, Holy Name Class of 1961. The school operated from 1873-1969. Holy Name parishioners invited school alumni and former pastors back for the anniversary celebration held March 26.|
Holy Name, located in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of East Nashville, has recently welcomed a new crop of younger families to the parish, but remains a haven for immigrants and refugees. From the Irish railroad worker founders to the current Nigerian pastor, Holy Name has long been identified as an immigrant parish.
“So many people have come and passed through Holy Name – Irish, African, Haitian, South American,” among others, said Father Theo Ebulueme. Additionally, the parish’s first pastor was a native of Belgium, and one of its longest-serving pastors was Italian.
For many years, until 2015, the Catholic Charities offices serving refugees and immigrants were housed in the old Holy Name school space. “So many immigrants identify with Holy Name,” Father Theo said, “even if they don’t go to church here.”
With its long history as an immigrant parish, “Holy Name is a microcosm of the Catholic Church in the United States, and when you think about it that way, 160 years doesn’t seem like a very long time,” said Dean.
|Holy Name pastor Father Theo Ebulueme, center, celebrates the parish anniversary Mass on March 26. He is joined on the altar by Father Pat Connor, left, who grew up in the parish and attended the school; Holy Name Deacon Bob Mahoney; and Father Edwige Carre, who served as pastor of Holy Name from 2005-2015.|
Over 160 years of history
Holy Name’s roots go back to the 1850s, when the Irish Catholic railroad workers living in Edgefield, then a separate city from Nashville, gathered in private homes to celebrate Mass with visiting priests. They officially petitioned the Diocese of Nashville’s first bishop, Richard Pius Miles, for their own parish after the Christmas Midnight Mass in 1854.
The cornerstone of the first Catholic church in Edgefield, St. John the Evangelist, was laid Nov. 8, 1857, and became the 10th Catholic church in the state. The parish soon began to outgrow St. John’s, and when a new Irish priest, Father Michael Meagher was assigned as pastor, he made plans to build a new church. It was dedicated in 1873 in honor of St. Columba, patron of Ireland and Scotland. Father Meagher also started a school in the former rectory of St. John, which was first staffed by lay teachers, then by Dominican nuns.
|Mary Catherine Dean, right, a long-time Holy Name parishioner and director of religious education, talks with Cornelia Laux, who was married at the parish in 1951. Behind them is a display with some historical information about the parish.|
One of the parish’s longest-serving priests, Father Eugene Gazzo, arrived at St. Columba in 1879, and saw the faith community through a crucial time in its history. In 1881, the old St. John Church building, then being used as the school, burned; shortly after, the new St. Columba School was built, but it too, burned. After that, Father Gazzo saw to it that the campus was continually improved and that the parish was in good financial shape.
Father Gazzo was assigned to a parish in Memphis, but returned to St. Columba in 1915, and served as pastor during Nashville’s most disastrous fire, which broke out on March 22, 1916. Among those in the building during the fire were Father Connor’s father and aunt. As family lore goes, “he would not leave the building until he as a fifth grader found his little sister and led her out hand-in-hand,” Father Connor said.
While Father Gazzo celebrated Mass in a temporary space, work began on a new Catholic church for East Nashville. Just over one year after the fire, on March 25, 1917, the Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus was dedicated, along with a new rectory and new school building.
|St. Columba Church, rectory, and school are pictured at right in an undated photo. The church served Catholics of East Nashville from 1873 until it was destroyed by fire in 1916. Holy Name Church was built after that and dedicated in 1917. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Nashville Archives|
In 1925, Father John Hardeman was named pastor. To ensure that every Catholic child could attend the parish school, he abolished tuition and made Holy Name a free school, boosting its growth. By 1953, school enrollment grew to almost 400.
At that time, Nashville Bishop William Adrian determined that a new parish was needed; St. Joseph Parish and School in Madison were dedicated in June of 1953. With the new parish and with more people moving away from the urban East Nashville neighborhood, Holy Name faced tough times. The decision was made to close Holy Name School in 1969.
In 1977, Charles Strobel became pastor, ushering Holy Name Parish into the modern era by continuing to support the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and establishing a number of programs to serve the needy in the community. The seeds for both Room in the Inn, which provides shelter and services for the homeless, and the Loaves and Fishes community meals for the hungry, which still operates in the Parish Center, were sown at Holy Name. “Holy Name is a small parish, but Holy Name’s example of faith and good works is tremendous,” said Dean.
|Students of St. Columba School, above, pose for a photo in 1914. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Nashville Archives|
Succeeding Strobel was his friend Father Joseph Sanches, who served the parish for 19 years. During that time, he worked with the Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration office to lease the unused school space, and welcomed Ethiopian Orthodox Christians to use the church for worship space.
After a tornado struck East Nashville in 1998, Holy Name opened its doors to neighboring St. Ann’s Episcopal community while they rebuilt their church, which was destroyed by the tornado.
Following Father Sanches as pastor was Father Edwige Carre, a native of Haiti, who oversaw the parish during a time of growth and change. He welcomed the Sudanese and Congolese Catholic communities to worship at Holy Name, and also began celebrating a regular Mass in Creole for the Haitian Catholic Community in Nashville.
Moving into Holy Name’s next century, current pastor Father Theo sees a parish that will continue to grow as the neighborhood around it does, with more young families continuing to move into the area. “They are the future of the church,” Father Theo said.
Gail Green, a member of the Holy Name parish council and mother to four young children, said she is thankful to be part of the community. “It was such a blessing for our growing family to find this perfectly diverse community of Catholics. We love seeing the pews getting fuller of young families each week,” she said. “Holy Name is such a special gem in East Nashville.”
“This is a diverse parish, very hospitable, accommodating to everyone,” Father Theo said. “This is a vibrant place where everybody feels they belong because they participate in one way or the other in the life of the parish.”