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Via Media

Mass in the gym, revisited

So, yeah, we made it to the first ever Irish festival in Knoxville – it was okay, but let’s hope future years expands the Irish-related vendors and booths. There just wasn’t a lot to it. Which is too bad, considering the history of the Irish in the area, briefly outlined here – something that speaks to me as I remember all the Clancy’s and O’Connor’s with whom I went to school and who were all related to each other, it seemed.
There were, be assured, wooden swords, crossbows and shields, which intrigued several of our party. I’ll let you guess who.
After that, it was back to the zoo for a bit for a dip in the cleverly named “Kid’s Cove”  (a la Cades Cove – get it?), which is the very neat little children’s play area that features a bit of a faux mountain stream, a cabin-like play structure and a sand area plopped down amid the farm animals – and a pretty interesting beaver exhibit.
On the way out of town on Sunday, I did what several hereabouts (“here” being “Blog Land”) have been nagging me to do for several years now – Go to St. John Neumann. It’s amazing what they’re doing.
Please understand that St. John Neumann would not be on my regular route while visiting Knoxville, it being on the far west side of town and my family manse being on the far east. But since we were leaving, it made sense to arrange our Mass-going at St. John’s en route.
I’ve linked to news about their new church construction before, but seeing it all in person leaves quite an impression.
Here you go:
Yes, that is a newly-constructed church and yes, it was taken in 2008. Promise.
They’re moving in later this fall, and from what I see from the bulletin, they wouldn’t mind donations from anyone with the means who’d like to support this bit of Romanesque in East Tennessee.
Since the church isn’t open yet, Mass is being celebrated in the school gym. So once again, as I have so many times in Knoxville, I went to Mass in the gym. But this one was different. There was no James Taylor or Simon and Garfunkel. And not even any Weston Priory monk-sounds, God bless them.
First, they’ve constructed a sanctuary that sort of juts back from the gymn wall – the walls of the area are brick, and it is clearly set apart (perhaps there is a portable divider that closes it off when Mass isn’t going on. I don’t know.) That helps.
Secondly, and most importantly, was the music. Undaunted by the environment, there was a choir of about 25 persons, an organist (portable electronic with a good sound) and 2 violinists.
I’m not going to give you a list of what they sang, because I don’t remember titles, but here was what was so impressive to me:
1) The music was complex, multi-faceted, but did not overwhelm or call attention to itself. It was rich but subdued and served God through the liturgy.
2) Latin and chant were in evidence. Sanctus and Agnus Dei. A beautiful piece  sung by two women, at Communion. (I know I have blog readers who were there, and if you can provide a list, feel free! Please also tell me what the second Communion piece was – centered on Jesus’ words about going to Galilee – I’d like to post it.)  
(Update: Thanks to  Mary Weaver who posts in the comments: 
The chant at Communion was the Communio, the proper antiphon from the Graduale Romanum. It changes each Sunday and feast day, and the Latin text of the antiphon is typically a quotation from the Gospel reading. Gail-Marie Walter and I chant the Communio each Sunday.
The second song, chanted by Karen Balo, was plainsong from By Flowing Waters, an excellent English version of the Graduale Simplex by Paul Ford. )
3) The propers flowed seemlessly in and out of the spoken words. No gaudy, prolonged introductions.
4) The Responsorial was done in a way that I’d not heard, but that Michael tells me is an option that more are becoming aware of, particularly since it evokes some elements of the Liturgy of the Hours: the response was chanted twice at the beginning, the soloist chanted the entire Psalm through, and then the response was chanted again. I thought it was very conducive to prayer.
Mad, mad props to Mr. Noel Jones, who is the music director at St. John’s – they have a good website for their music ministry here, and if you are in East Tennesse wanting to sing some good music – I’m sure they’d love to have you.
After Mass, I spoke a bit to Mr. Jones, as well as long-time blog reader and correspondent Toni Pacitti, who is now blogging at Living Al Dente: Food for Thought on Faith, Family, Friends, Food and Fitness. It was great to meet her, even though when she approached me, I really did think she was someone I went to high school with…and said as much, idiotically. But no! It was great to finally meet Toni. I was also glad to finally meet the pastor, Fr. John Dowling.
Unfortunately, just a few minutes later, as we were eating lunch, darkness descended as news broke of the shooting at the Unitarian church back in town. Horrific and heartbreaking and, like all such evil, impossible to understand.

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posted July 29, 2008 at 6:01 am

Just out of curiosity, do you have a regular church haunt on the east side of Knoxville? My wife and I were a little sad when we moved here (Fountain City) a year ago and realized that SJN was just too far to drive regularly. But the couple times I’ve been there, it’s been quite prayerful.

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posted July 29, 2008 at 7:33 am

Your report is engrossing. A church building should speak to the Catholic faith and tradition. I wonder, Who is the architect for the new church of St. John Neumann? I went to the web site, and perhaps I did not look hard enough, but I did not find the name.

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Mary Jane

posted July 29, 2008 at 7:47 am

Thanks for blogging on this extraordinarily fine music program, Amy. It’s an inspiration to many of us.

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Mary Weaver

posted July 29, 2008 at 7:52 am

Amy, I’m thrilled that you posted about the new SJN church and the music program. I’m a singer in Noel’s choir and a great supporter of what he’s trying to do–which is, not coincidentally, what numerous magisterial documents have indicated we should do.
The chant at Communion was the Communio, the proper antiphon from the Graduale Romanum. It changes each Sunday and feast day, and the Latin text of the antiphon is typically a quotation from the Gospel reading. Gail-Marie Walter and I chant the Communio each Sunday.
The second song, chanted by Karen Balo, was plainsong from By Flowing Waters, an excellent English version of the Graduale Simplex by Paul Ford.
Interested church musicians can find *all* the Communios available for free download at And Paul’s book is widely available.
Thanks again for the kind words about Noel’s excellent program.

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posted July 29, 2008 at 8:12 am

Thank you for the kind words. It was a definite thrill to finally meet The Amy Welborn in person after all these years.
For what it’s worth, that little figure at the top of the new church above the big round window is none other than St. John Neumann, “hanging ten,” as my kids like to say.
Do come back and visit when we’re all moved in and situated. I promise you that the inside is much more beautiful than the exterior.

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posted July 29, 2008 at 8:21 am

I grew up going to IC, then went to J23 in college. When we visit we usually go to IC or Holy Ghost – I actually have not been to IC in about 3 years or so (we didn’t go to Knoxville last year – my dad rented a beach house in Maine instead for the summer visit), and Holy Ghost has been very nice in the times we’ve gone.

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posted July 29, 2008 at 8:26 am

I do hope that the local Latin Mass will be returning to SJN. The SJN music page is certainly very informative, with lots of good suggestions for weddings with links to music. One thing I found of interest was a list of guidelines to put in the bulletin for non-Catholic guests at the wedding. It said that they “may remain in the pew, or come forward and by crossing your arms in front of you indicate that you would like to receive a blessing, which is common for children and adults who have not yet received the First Communion.” When I took a friend with me to a Latin Mass recently, I asked prior to the Mass if that is what she should do as she had always done that at the Novus Ordo Masses she has been to with me. Unless I misunderstood, I was told that it shouldn’t be happening at all — at Novus Ordo or the Latin Mass. Is this like holding hands at the Our Father, something that is not exactly proper, but is ubiquitous? I must say that it I have always been happy to tell friends that they could go forward for a blessing and they have seemed to appreciate it. And again, unless I am mistaken, that is what we were told to do in RCIA.
On an unrelated note, I just finished reading Peace by Richard Bausch which Amy recommended – I’m looking at the cover in the side bar as I type in her list of current and recent reads. Thankfully it was brief as once I began reading it, I had to read straight through to the end. Thanks to Amy for a great recommendation.

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posted July 29, 2008 at 11:30 am

Amy, I think you and your readers might be interested in seeing what’s planned at St. John Vianney in Fishers, Indiana. The parish website is at and has links to the architectural drawings, etc. for the new construction. This is a new (3yo?) parish in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana and the founding pastor is Fr. Brian Dudzinski. (His two brothers, Fr. Andrew Dudzinski and Fr. Ted Dudzinski, shepherd the Kokomo parishes that have put on the terrific Indiana Catholic Family Conferences for the past two years.)

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posted July 29, 2008 at 12:37 pm

There were, be assured, wooden swords, crossbows and shields, which intrigued several of our party. I’ll let you guess who.
I had no idea Michael was into that stuff! :-)

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posted July 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm

What a beautiful new church, and I’m sorry the Irish Festival was such a disappointment, it could be awesome!

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posted July 29, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Speaking of singing, I’m lucky to belong to a parish that has really good music, as this person attests.

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ann ward

posted July 30, 2008 at 8:06 pm

Lived in Fountain City from 65 til 72 ..go to Holy Ghost.. We always did and still do when visiting.
Fr. Mankel current pastor was the principal when we went to the original Knoxville Catholic High in the 60’s. He is an awesome priest.
It also is a very old church in the romanesque style.
Reading this brings back so many wonderful Knoxville memories.

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Ann L

posted August 2, 2008 at 4:55 pm

I would love to visit St. John Neumann on our upcoming trip. I hope they will have moved in by then.
It reminds me a lot of St. Joseph’s in Seattle, a very beautiful Art Deco church (one of the few in the world) that was the center of our lives in my childhood and where I was confirmed and married. Stop and visit it if you are ever in Seattle.
It was supposed to be a Gothic church when it was built in 1929-30, but serendiptously, the crash took a huge bite out of the funds and it was redesigned. Age does not wither….

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Padre Steve

posted August 3, 2008 at 8:41 pm

Note to self: Visit this Church! Thanks for the post!

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