Bishop dedicates new St. John Church in Clonmel

The new St. John the Evangelist Church in Clonmel. (Advance photo)

Bishop Carl A. Kemme anoints the altar at St. John the Evangelist Church in Clonmel with Holy Chrism. The four corners of the church were then anointed. More photos on page 11. (Advance photo)

Bishop Carl A. Kemme told those who took part in the dedication and consecration of St. John the Evangelist Church in Clonmel Friday, June 28, that it was one of the church’s most beautiful rites, but one few get to experience.

“The reason for this is because we do not build new churches or renovate them very often, but when we do, we can certainly see the unmistakable signs of parish vitality, of a vision for the future, and a congregation willing to undertake heroic sacrifices to bring about the realization of such great human and spiritual potential,” he said.

Thanksgiving to the pastor, parish

Because he saw those signs in the faithful of the parish, Bishop Kemme said he wanted to “first and foremost express a word of sincere appreciation” to Fr. Joseph Tatro, the pastor, and the parish, for discerning about and bringing forth the new church for the present and future generations.

Bishop Kemme pours Holy Chrism on the altar.

“To you I say, ‘Well done!’ and may God reward you for your vision and your bold discipleship,” the bishop said. “As time moves forward, future members will of course naturally lose touch with the sacrifices you were all willing to make but they will hopefully look back upon what you did in this time with gratitude and deep respect.”

Bishop Kemme commended the parish and said he joined them in thanksgiving “on this historic day to witness the dedication of your new church and the consecration of this altar, where the supreme sacrifice of Christ will be offered day after day for many years to come.”

The liturgy reminds us of truths of the faith

He added that the liturgy speaks more eloquently that he can because it reminds the faithful of the many truths of the faith.

“We began in the former church, a church structure that served this congregation for many years, and from there we processed to the new church, recognizing that our life is a pilgrimage, a procession that leads us not just somewhere, but to someone, Jesus Christ,” the bishop said.

“Keys and architectural plans were handed over to me to acknowledge that you belong to a larger community under the guidance of a successor of the apostles and then, together with the bishop leading, you all entered the doors, reminding us that the church is a doorway to eternal life.”

Bishop Kemme said the sprinkling with holy water reminded them of their baptism, the first ritual countless souls will do by signing themselves with blessed water in the sign of the Trinity as they enter the church doors from now on.

A relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis is in the altar.

Blessed Acutis relic in the altar

“We listened to scriptures, God’s living word, as we do at every Mass, connecting the Old and the New Testaments proclaiming to us our salvation in Christ. Soon we will call upon the saints who join us at each liturgy from their heavenly abode, and especially St. John your patron, and Blessed Carlo whose relic will be placed in your altar.

“We will anoint the altar and the walls of the church with Sacred Chrism, just as the heads of the baptized are anointed and the heads of bishops and the hands of priests and the foreheads of the confirmed, consecrating them for sacred purposes, setting them apart for only that for which they have been built.”

The incense offered will remind those attending of the innumerable sacrifices of the temple in the Old Testament that culminate in the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the church’s new altar, the bishop said. “We ourselves will be incensed as will the entire church acknowledging that we are a priestly people and this is God’s house, a house of prayer offered to the Father.”

A church for future generations

As part of the rite, Bishop Kemme added, linens will be placed on the altar, candles will be lit, and gifts presented for the first Mass to be celebrated here. “Holy Communion will be given, and the Blessed Sacrament will be reserved in the tabernacle for the first time, where Jesus will remain as he promised to sanctify and guide us, his people onward and upward until we share his life for all eternity in the eternal banquet of heaven.”

It will be followed with festivities, food, and fraternity, he said, all to impress upon us that we are one family, fully alive in Christ.

“What a glorious thing it is to be Catholic, and it is days like today and events like this one that make it is so,” Bishop Kemme said. “But all of this cannot be solely for us. We must be ever desirous and diligent to share our faith so that others will come to know the eternal truths we celebrate here. Let it therefore be our mission, really Christ’s mission now entrusted to us, his friends in the world to go forth and to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to every person so that they too can have an abundant life.”

Parish began planning five years ago

St. John the Evangelist parishioners began dreaming about a new church about five years ago.
Cassi FitzGerald, the coordinator of Parish Life there, said the parish hosted its first town hall meeting about the matter in May of 2019.

“At that point, we were just trying to decide if we were going to remodel the old church, remodel and expand the old church, or build new. Then about a year later, in 2020, the building committee decided that it was best to build new.”

After many more meetings with the parish and building professionals, their pastor, Fr. Joe Tatro, Bishop Carl A. Kemme, and other officials broke ground in November of 2022. Dondlinger Construction and Sheldon Architecture worked with contractors and craftsmen to build the church.

Parishioners eager to see new church

After watching the construction over the past seven months, the parish is ready for its new hallowed building.

“Some don’t want to see anything until the day of,” FitzGerald said. “They’ve been trying to stay off of Facebook and haven’t been peeking in the windows because they want the whole experience. And then others are asking me to put new pictures up so they can see what’s going on today.”

She added that the first baptism will be soon after the blessing and the first wedding there is already being planned.

Wayne Youngers said he is extremely gratified to see the completed building and happy for the parish community. “It’s a humbling and rewarding time for our parish.”

Youngers, a longtime parishioner and member of the building planning committee, said a week before the church’s blessing that everyone he’s talked to is excited about the new church. “They really enjoyed watching it go up and and are looking forward to the dedication and the ability to have it for the community and the parish.”

He said the project has brought the parish together. “I think we appreciate each other much more.”

History of the parish

The faithful in the Clonmel area were first served by St. John’s Mission beginning around 1878. The mission was located about three miles north of the present parish compound. A fire destroyed the mission building about 10 years later. It took seven years for it to be replaced.

The parish moved to its current site after a railroad line was built in Clonmel, according to the Sept. 19, 1947, edition of the Catholic Advance. A frame church built at the new parish location was lifted off of its foundation by a tornado in 1926 resulting in the building’s condemnation and a declaration that it was unsafe for public use. In 1926 Fr. E. Coolen, the pastor of nearby St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Schulte, oversaw the construction of a convent at Clonmel and a two-story building; the upper level was used for a school and the lower level as a church. The current parish hall now occupies that part of the parish grounds. Priests from St. Peter were assigned to administer the parish until 1946.

Former church was an Army chapel

A U.S. Army chapel was moved in 1947 from Strother Field, located between Winfield and Arkansas City, to the parish grounds to serve as St. John parish’s church. The chapel was remodeled and veneered with brick. Most of the work was done by members of the 40 families that made up the parish.

Fr. R. J. Simms was assigned as St. John’s first pastor in 1944. He had to live at Sacred Heart College because there was no rectory. He was succeeded by Fr. John Cody who oversaw the construction of a rectory. The former Army chapel that was, moved and converted to a church, served the parish for about 77 years.