Friday, May 2, 2008

Tim Chavez: with Papal call for hospitality, Our Lady of Guadalupe raises almost $1 million for new space

Church officials push to retire building debt

"God has provided us with a new, young and church-going workforce"

By Tim Chavez

In his recent visit to our country, Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly asked that this nation and especially its Catholics reach out to the growing number of Hispanic immigrants.

In middle Tennessee, Catholics have an immediate and blessed opportunity to honor the pontiff's wishes. And the checks they'll be receiving in the mail from the federal government can be the stuff of making an ongoing miracle here a permanent inspiration and institution.

The Rev. Joseph Patrick Breen, pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church in Nashville, is starting a campaign to retire the debt of the Nashville diocese's only Hispanic Catholic Church, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Father Breen and his congregation have put the financial viability of their own parish and K-8 school on the line to make Our Lady of Guadalupe in Nashville a reality. It opened amid much celebration last December. But the church's future can only be secured if the debt incurred to open its doors can be retired by June.

Father Breen and the good people of St. Edward have so far raised $900,000 for the $1.5 million in debt. The diocese is not going to ride to the rescue. So this one congregation and this one priest have made it their responsibility to meet the needs of all of the Nashville area's Catholic Hispanics.

That's an incredible weight to carry. But Pope Benedict's plea to America's Catholics to help our growing immigrant population shows clearly that this responsibility should be shared by more than one parish and priest. And middle Tennessee Catholics and their parishes are fortunate to have Our Lady of Guadalupe available to make the kind of difference the Holy Father wants. While he surely appreciated all the waves and ovations during his visit, acting on his words would be the most fitting tribute.

Here is what has already happened at Our Lady's since it opened in December. About 5,000 Catholics crowd into the church for weekend masses. It is so crowded that St. Edward parish council member Sunny Brown stood out front on busy Nolensville Road to direct traffic.

"It is on its way to becoming the biggest Catholic church in the diocese," Brown told the St. Edward congregation at last Saturday's 5 p.m. mass. "Most of the families are less than 35 years of age. Many of the families are less than 25 years of age."

How blessed by God we Americans are. At a time when this nation is fastly aging as more and more baby boomers retire, God has provided us with a new, young and church-going workforce. The Social Security fund is supposed to go bankrupt by the year 2019 without congressional action. The fund would go bankrupt two years earlier if not for the payroll contributions of these new Hispanic workers, according to the Associated Press.

Some people, however, have decided to choose political sides concerning the growing Hispanic presence here. The people of St. Edward instead have simply chosen God's side as expressed by the pope in his visit.

Father Breen and his parish council and finance team are now asking parishoners to give all or part of their tax rebate checks they'll be receiving to retire Our Lady's debt. That's a lot to ask amid rising gas prices and a recession.

But there truly is good work ongoing at Our Lady's. Surrounding Hispanic businesses donate vats of food every week so that every churchgoer will be assured one complete meal a week on Sundays. English language classes and programs to familiarize newcomers to local laws and requirements are conducted. For instance, Father Breen and Father Fernando Garcia, Our Lady's pastor, have started a child car seat collection drive to make sure Hispanic families keep their young ones buckled up the right way.

What's transpiring at Our Lady's truly is a miracle. Where there was previously a Baptist church that was losing its congregation to the suburbs is now a thriving Catholic church in a revitalized urban setting of small and prosperous Hispanic businesses. But to ensure its future and to serve so many, its debt must be retired by a June deadline.

Please, consider being a part of this miracle. Your donation of a check can be made out to "Our Lady of Guadalupe Church". Send it to the attention of Father Breen at St. Edward Catholic Church, 188 Thompson Lane, Nashville, TN 37211.

Or you can sign on to the St. Edward Web site at On the left side of the opening page under "Main Menu" is a place to click on information about Our Lady of Guadalupe and a place to make a credit card donation.

More than 55 years ago, my mother married my father at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Topeka, Kan. It was a place of refuge and respect for Hispanic Catholics there and then, including my father and his four brothers who had just returned from World War II.

The need for refuge continues for a new set of immigrants and hopefully new Americans. Pope Benedict XVI has made the plea for them. And Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Nashville is the place where middle Tennessee Catholics can honor the Holy Father's wishes.

Tim Chavez is a former political columnist for The Tennessean in Nashville. His mother, Vita H. Chavez of Oklahoma City, OK, made a $3,000 donation on Saturday to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Nashville.

Tim can be reached at

Photo Copyright 2008 by Susan Adcock. Used with permission.

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