New Mission Areas Opening in East Tennessee

Posted: 7/19/2011

Father Steve Pawelk in Grainger County TennesseIn the summer of 2011, Glenmary will open three new mission areas in the Diocese of Knoxville. New missions will be located in Grainger, Unicoi and Union counties.

In 1992, Glenmary established a Catholic community in the diocese's Monroe County. The St. Joseph the Worker mission was returned to the Diocese of Knoxville in 2003.

"We are very happy to be returning to work in the Diocese of Knoxville," said Father Dan Dorsey, Glenmary's then president, in announcing the new mission counties in June.

Like Monroe County in 1992, there is no Catholic Church presence in the East Tennessee counties of Grainger, Unicoi and Union. 

"These counties lie in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains," Father Dan said. "There are many needs to be met in each county, and we hope that by using a team ministry approach, we'll be able to make progress in helping meet those needs as we bring the gifts of the Church to these areas."

Those team serving Union and Grainger counties will include Father Steve Pawelk, Brother Craig Digmann and Brother Joe Steen. The team East Tennessee counties of Unicoi, Union and Grainger to be home to Glenmary missionersministering in Unicoi County will be made up of Father Tom Charters and Brother Tom Sheehy. All ministry teams will be in place by Sept. 7, 2011.

The needs in all three counties are great. All have high unemployment rates, averaging 11 percent; approximately 18 percent of the population in each county live below the poverty level; and over 35 percent of the counties' populations don't graduate from high school.

There are many non-denominational and evangelical churches in the counties, with few mainline religious congregations. According to local residents, there are some areas in each county where misconceptions about Catholicism are expressed as truth.

"As with all Glenmary mission areas, there are many challenges our missioners and coworkers will face," Father Dan said in June. "But they will face them, in the words of our founder, Father Bishop, ‘as true ambassadors of Jesus Christ, true messengers and servants of God among God's people.'"

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 Glenmary Challenge.