November 6, 2015
On Halloween night, St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows Church in downtown Nashville celebrated the 168th anniversary of its dedication.
The church, the Diocese of Nashville’s second cathedral when it was dedicated in 1847, has witnessed the Civil War, Yellow Fever epidemics, the growth of the city, the decline of downtown, and, in recent years, the revival of downtown.
The parish is growing with its surroundings. “It’s been slowly growing for a while,” said Father John Sims Baker, St. Mary’s pastor. “It seems like it’s picked up more recently.
“It’s a good challenge to have,” he said, “but the challenge is we’re limited on space, not only for Mass but for things like religious education.”
The parish has grown to about 300 households and on Sunday, Nov. 1, added a second Sunday Mass at noon.
“The 9 a.m. Mass is at or above capacity, which is about 300 people,” Father Baker said. For the first noon Mass, “the church was about half full. … If the first Sunday is any indication, it was a good crowd.”
The addition of the second Mass is a test, Father Baker said. The parish will keep the second Mass through the New Year and then evaluate it again, he explained.
“The parish is excited about its growth and the addition of the second Mass on Sundays, “especially about finding a place to sit,” Father Baker joked.
The parishioners are coming from throughout Nashville, Father Baker said. Some are retirees who have moved into the new condominiums downtown, and there is also a growing number of young families.
That growth in young families highlighted the parish’s limited space for things like religious education classes, Father Baker said. While trying to organize classes this fall, “that’s when we really noticed it,” Father Baker said.
In the past, parking has been an issue at St. Mary’s, but the diocese bought the parking lot that surrounds the church, Father Baker said. The lot, which the parish uses on the weekends, would fill for the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass, he said, but there are other parking spaces downtown that are not used on weekends.
The church, which is the oldest church in Nashville, still offers a traditional setting, Father Baker said. The parish has a new organist and choir master who has helped the parish “raise the bar liturgically and musically,” Father Baker said.
“What I really hope St. Mary’s is is a Vatican II parish, that we do the liturgy and everything else the way the Council wanted us to do,” Father Baker said.
He has been pastor at St. Mary’s for just more than three years and also serves as chaplain at University Catholic, which serves students at Vanderbilt and Belmont universities. That ministry is also growing, Father Baker noted.
Father Baker said he has received some needed help with both the parish and University Catholic with the arrival of Father Michael Fye, who is the associate at both.