Monday, September 19, 2011


On September 19, 1886, Knoxville, TN’s Immaculate Conception parish dedicated its present church, the beautiful “Church on Summit Hill,” which has been the center of our parish’s life continuously without interruption now for these past 125 eventful years.
Established in 1855, the small but vibrant Knoxville Catholic community had immediately built a small stone church, named for the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (that doctrine having just recently been dogmatically defined by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854). Immaculate Conception parish continued to grow and thrive, and soon enough the little stone church seemed small. In 1883, ground was broken for a new church, next to the already built parish school and facing Vine Avenue. Knoxville’s leading architect, Joseph Baumann, designed a brick structure in the then popular “Victorian Gothic” style. At the time, it was Knoxville’s largest church building project, and Nashville’s bishop Joseph Rademacher called it “the cathedral of Knoxville.”
At the time of its dedication in September 1886, the new church ended with the large arch that separates the nave from the present main altar area. The original church still stood directly behind it; but it was soon demolished, making possible the completion of the apse which includes the present high altar. (The Church’s three marble altars were installed in 1891).
In a famous photograph taken on September 27, 1886, Immaculate Conception’s pastor and parishioners posed in front of the original stone church with the new church in the background. Of the parishioners in the photo, I believe that 24 have been identified by name. I love looking at that picture, which so powerfully portrays the Knoxville Catholic community of the time and shows their strong sense of identification with their parish church - built by their efforts and sustained by their commitment. The familiar photo highlights their justifiable joy in their accomplishment and their sense of responsibility for its future. That is why, 125 years later, we hope to repeat that 1886 experience with a new photograph to be taken in front of the main entrance of the church on West Vine Avenue immediately after the Solemn Anniversary Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, October 23.
Celebrating the 125th anniversary of our parish church this year presents our community with a distinctive opportunity to remember the accomplishments of the past with joy and gratitude and, encouraged by that history, to recommit ourselves as a parish to our life and mission in the present, as we live and work (in the words of Servant of God Isaac Hecker) “in the dawning light of an approaching, brighter, more glorious future for God’s Holy Church.”

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