By Dan McWilliams
The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus family saw one of its brightest days April 19 as ground was broken on a new cathedral to replace the 59-year-old structure that has been the home parish for the Diocese of Knoxville since 1988.
The day fell on Cardinal Justin Rigali’s 80th birthday, and the prince of the Church was principal celebrant of a Mass that preceded the groundbreaking. Bishop Richard F. Stika; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York; and Cardinal William Levada, prefect emeritus of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, were joined by Bishop David R. Choby of Nashville and numerous other bishops at the liturgy.
Cathedral rector Father David Boettner, who was the host pastor for the groundbreaking, thanked those attending the historic ceremony, including dignitaries and laity.
The Holy Spirit cooperated as the expected rain in the forecast held off until the very end of the groundbreaking.
Bishop Stika, after he and several dignitaries broke ground with shovels following Mass, completed the occasion by operating a backhoe to remove a shovelful of dirt and grass.
“To all of you who are the people of God, the living stones, thank you,” the bishop said in his homily at the groundbreaking. “Thanks for your commitment, especially those who are members of this cathedral parish.”
The bishop said that “my episcopal motto is easy: Jesus I trust in you. So I invite all of you, as we begin this day and as we look to the future, as we trust in Jesus, to do as St. Paul reminds us: never tire of doing good. To do as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has said: to do something beautiful for God, as well as St. Faustina: every day do an act of mercy. I think the combination of all of that will allow us to go forward.”
Attending the groundbreaking were Gov. Bill Haslam and wife Crissy, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, state legislators, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro, and cathedral parishioner and University of Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones and wife Barb. They were among 19, including diocesan Chancellor Deacon Sean Smith, Bruce Bosse of Merit Construction and architects James McCrery of McCrery Architects and Kelly Headden of BarberMcMurry Architects, who took a shovel for the groundbreaking.
“It’s big for the entire area,” the governor said of the groundbreaking. “I think for Knoxville and all of East Tennessee, this is a significant day.”
Also turning earth were Bruce Hartmann and Dugan McLaughlin, chairs of the Sacred Heart Home Campaign. Dr. DiPietro and Butch and Barb Jones are honorary co-chairs of the cathedral development campaign.
Bishop Stika, Cardinal Rigali, Cardinal Levada and Cardinal Dolan earlier led a blessing of the ground around the perimeter, marked in a red-paint outline, of the new cathedral. The bishop also blessed the cornerstone of the future house of worship. The diocese plans to have Pope Francis bless the cornerstone during the pope’s U.S. visit this September.
The target date for completion of the new cathedral is Sept. 8, 2017, Bishop Stika said.
Joining the trio of cardinals at Mass were Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan.; Bishop Joseph Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa.; Bishop Herbert Bevard of the Diocese of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia; Bishop Roger Foys of the Diocese of Covington, Ky.; Bishop John Gaydos of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo.; Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs; and Bishop Choby.
Cardinal Rigali began his homily by referencing the Eucharistic Congress that kicked off the diocese’s 25th-anniversary celebration in September 2013.
“Today we gather once again for another important celebration in the life of the Diocese of Knoxville,” he said. “It is our eucharistic liturgy, followed by the groundbreaking ceremony for a new cathedral dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Mass and groundbreaking “tell us a great deal about the meaning of the Church,” said Cardinal Rigali, who received a standing ovation at the conclusion of Mass on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
“We are reminded that Christ’s Church, which St. Paul calls the body of Christ, is a community united by faith and baptism with Jesus Christ himself. Every church building, every parish church, is an image of an even greater spiritual structure, which is the living community of God’s people.
“And every cathedral is built to be the mother church of a particular diocese—the principal church where the faithful from all the different parishes come together with their bishop to pray.”
The cardinal said that “we ask God’s blessings on this important endeavor about to take place: the groundbreaking of a new cathedral that evokes the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for his people and will serve as the mother church in East Tennessee.
“As this cathedral rises, it will also tell the story of the faith and generosity and sacrifice of the people of God of this diocese, as well as the charity and solidarity of friends and benefactors who offer vital assistance to Bishop Stika and to the Diocese of Knoxville in this sacred endeavor to build a worthy temple for the glory of God.”