The Glenmary Home Missioners Priests and Brothers
Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee
In 1988, the Diocese of Knoxville was formed in East Tennessee. With 68,000 registered parishioners representing just under 3 percent of the population, the diocese had 50 parishes and one mission in all but three of its 36 counties. Those three counties, where roughly a third of the children live in poverty, had no organized Catholic community, much less a church.
In 2011, at the request of Bishop Stika, the Glenmary Home Missioners (Fr. Steve Pawelk, Fr. Tom Charters and Brothers Craig Digmann, Joe Steen and Tom Sheey) undertook a mission to engage the greater communities in Unicol, Grainger and Union counties through outreach to the poor and migrants while building ecumenical relationships with local churches.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the GHM, the light of Christ now shines brightly, and two churches exist in the three Appalachian counties where makeshift gathering spaces existed before.
Each of the GHM priests and brothers brings his own talent to the mission. They help people on their journeys to find a home on earth and in heaven.
The Glenmary ministry’s mission is evangelization – to bring home the Catholic faith to the inactive and the fallen away and to build up the faithful. Since their arrival in the low-income Appalachian area, the GHM has grown the community to include hundreds of Catholics.
The priests and brothers have visited most of the other churches in an overwhelmingly Protestant community. Their work so impressed a community member she donated $500 to Fr. Tom’s parish, saying, “I’m a Baptist but I see so much good that you’re doing in and for our community and I want to see it continue.”
The Glenmarys also have a ministry of direct service to the poor. They have reached out to seasonal migrant farm workers, serving meals when they arrive in the community and traveling to their work sites after dark to minister to their sacramental needs. They help with corporal needs by building and repairing homes and trailers, using donations to pay utility bills and rent and to purchase materials for repairs. They collect and distribute food, clothing, blankets, and backpacks filled with school supplies.
To demonstrate they are loved and cared for, they greet students at the local schools and spend time with senior citizens talking, listening, and assisting with their activities. They reach out to inmates and addicts and coach students in tennis.
When an area meat-processing company was raided and a number of workers were arrested (many of them from Fr. Steve’s parish community), GHM provided consolation and care for spouses and children who were separated from their loved ones. Fr. Steve’s leadership was featured in a documentary highlighting the magnitude of compassion and good that a small parish can do.
GHM has helped the Catholic communities to come together as living stones to help to build their churches of brick and mortar with their time, sweat and zeal for the Church. They have been called the hidden heroes of the mission diocese.