By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published November 17, 2016
TRENTON—In the valley west of Lookout Mountain, the members of St. Katharine Drexel Mission in Trenton celebrated a decade as a faith community Oct. 30.
The mission’s administrator is Father Tom Shuler, pastor of Our Lady of the Mount Church in Lookout Mountain. Father Shuler makes the drive, 26 mountain miles round trip, twice a week to serve the outlying flock.
He welcomed Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and founding pastor Msgr. Leo Herbert for the 10th anniversary Mass and potluck luncheon.
Dade County, the state’s most northwestern county, is home to the mission. Many parishioners come from neighboring Alabama and Tennessee to worship there.
Melanie Parrish, one of more than 50 attending Mass, moved to Trenton in 1977.
Parrish said most members have daily contact with one another, not just on Sundays.
“You have a true church family,” she said.
A picture of their patron saint and the image of the Divine Mercy hang in the back of the former Methodist church, built in 1903. Parishioners themselves painted the bead board interior a light peach color.
Archbishop Gregory began his homily by posing a question.
“Do you remember what you were like when you were 10 years old?” he asked.
At 10, one has weathered diseases of infancy and has energy to face the challenges of adolescence with hope, said the archbishop.
“Being 10 is a wonderful age,” he said.
As the priests prepared for Mass, Archbishop Gregory listened to Father Shuler question Msgr. Herbert about how many families were members at the beginning. The mission has grown from 25 to more than 40 families.
But there is something as important as growth, said the archbishop.
“It’s the development of a spirit of family,” he emphasized.
“Everybody has to pitch in”
The pioneer families who helped start Atlanta’s larger parishes often share with Archbishop Gregory stories of the days when they had to set up and break down folding chairs for Mass in school gyms.
“The closeness of the parish was a real sense of encouragement,” he said.
Although larger parishes have access to additional resources or programs, their members often regret not having the closeness of early days.
“It’s a treasure many of our larger parishes forfeit,” said Archbishop Gregory. “But this community after 10 years still rejoices in its closeness.”
There are also dangers to knowing each other well, he acknowledged to laughter.
“It’s a family that belongs to God in a special way,” he said.
Archbishop Gregory expressed a hope the mission “will continue in the friendship and unity and oneness” that makes it strong.
Born an heiress in Philadelphia, St. Katharine Drexel and her family left many faith and philanthropic legacies, noted Archbishop Gregory.
“She was born into a very wealthy family,” he said. “The Drexel heritage I am most proud of is this community in Trenton.”
The archbishop expressed gratitude for Father Shuler’s willingness to travel up and down the mountain to serve both churches and to Msgr. Herbert for speaking up about the need for a mission.
He commended parishioners for doing what’s necessary to keep the mission going.
“You can’t have any bystanders. Everybody has to pitch in,” he said.
Archbishop Gregory updated the congregation on archdiocesan support of a window preservation project at the historic church.
“Happy Birthday, Katharine Drexel. From my viewpoint, you look marvelous,” he said.
Mission made Mass accessible
Father Shuler called it one of the “highlights of my life” to be able to serve in the northwestern tip of Georgia and to work with the archbishop.
“Through his leadership, the parish has received many resources,” said Father Shuler.
The priest first became familiar with Lookout Mountain and Trenton while serving as a deacon there prior to his 2013 ordination. Father Richard Wise was pastor/administrator at that time.
Father Shuler said it is parishioner support that makes it possible to split his duties.
“They get everything ready. They really are so involved,” he said.
Our Lady of the Mount and St. Katharine Drexel hold joint celebrations occasionally including confirmation Masses, but Father Shuler hopes for more collaboration.
At the mission, Mass is celebrated Wednesdays at 5 p.m., preceded by the sacrament of reconciliation, and Sundays at 11:30 a.m.
“We do a Bible study once a month in different homes,” added Father Shuler.
Until establishment of the mission, Catholics had to drive to either Our Lady of the Mount, to Fort Payne, Alabama, or to parishes in Tennessee.
This anniversary is a significant milestone.
“It’s about the Catholic presence in Dade County, and it’s about an enormous amount of work that the parishioners have poured into making the mission so beautiful and successful,” said Father Shuler.
Msgr. Herbert was assigned as pastor of Our Lady of the Mount in 2002. He said there were a few families who would come to the Saturday vigil Mass at the church.
“They would gently suggest it would be great to have Mass in the valley,” he recalled. “We agreed to come down on the first Sunday of each month.”
The congregation gathered monthly in the Trenton Methodist church’s chapel.
“They were very gracious to us for the whole time,” said Msgr. Herbert.
Before that, many Catholics weren’t attending Mass at all.
“The majority were just staying home,” he said.
With an average of 50 attending, Msgr. Herbert realized a need for a mission church and approached Archbishop Gregory.
Anthony Emanuel and his wife, Patti Nethery, and her parents Martin and Val Nethery, were among those suggesting a mission.
The Dade County Historical Society owned another Methodist church on New England Road and leased it to the parish.
For five years, they had an agreement to handle upkeep and maintenance to occupy the church. The congregation later purchased the church for $75,000.
Msgr. Herbert enjoys reunions with his former congregation, filling in for Father Shuler when needed.
He doesn’t care for green beans, but became a fan of “green beans and sauce” as prepared by the ladies for the fourth Sunday potlucks at St. Katharine Drexel.
“There’s a lot to be said for smaller parishes,” he said. “The bigger ones will say, ‘We don’t know people.’ You have to make the effort.”
The mission members do make the effort, each fulfilling a role.
Melanie Parrish said the first time the mission joined Trenton’s Christmas parade, workers between the ages of 2 and 93 volunteered to create the float.
Parrish shared memories of the youth of the parish including Laurie and Abraham Collier.
Laurie Collier, who turned 10 in October, is just a few weeks older than the mission. She wore a tiara for the celebration. She and brother Abraham, 8, joined friends at the kids table in the social hall.
Parrish remembers Laurie as a toddler trying to feed Msgr. Herbert a drumstick and the siblings hugging him around the legs as they received blessings at Mass.
Peter Cervelli, member of the mission since the beginning, is overseeing the window preservation project. The stained glass windows likely date to the 1930s.
The wooden window frames are in danger of rotting, and the leadwork between panels needs updating.
Cervelli priced the cost of total replacement at $90,000. They opted instead to restore at a cost of $21,000.
“It’s a big hunk of money for us. The work will probably begin next summer,” he said.
Overall, the church structure is in good shape for its age, said Cervelli.
Tennessee, Alabama people come
Thomas Schneider of Chattanooga, Tennessee, is one of the singers in the mission’s tiny choir. He has always enjoyed being part of the music ministry.
“They say you pray twice when you are singing. I feel it,” said Schneider.
A member of four years, he enjoys the close-knit atmosphere.
“I feel like I know everybody,” he said.
Amy Hale drives eight miles from her home in Bryant, Alabama, to attend Mass at St. Katharine Drexel.
She is the catechism teacher. One of the two confirmation students is her granddaughter, Willow.
“We have classes from 10:30 to 11:15 every Sunday during the school year,” she said.
Hale also coordinates Eucharistic ministers for Mass and brings in different teachers for varying perspectives. For two years, she has coordinated a children’s liturgy at Mass.
When living in Pennsylvania, Hale attended a small mission church and feels connected in that environment.
“I think it’s just the friendliness. Everyone kind of lends a hand. It’s a nice community parish,” said Hale.
Another talent of the mission family is pulling together wonderful meals. For the anniversary, they feasted on fried chicken, potato salad, casseroles, sauerkraut and sausages, deviled eggs, and desserts from scratch.
“We do really good on the bake sales,” admitted Hale.
Virgie Lovelady Castleberry, although not a Catholic, feels at home with her friends at St. Katharine Drexel.
“I did go to church here when it was Methodist,” said Castleberry, 86.
Born in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, she moved to Trenton with her late husband.
“It’s a good community. I’ve been here over 60 years,” she said.
A member of the historical society, she was key in promoting the lease/purchase agreement to her Catholic friends.
“I talked to the Netherys and said, ‘Why don’t you try to buy this church?’ We worked out a deal,” she explained. “I live across the street. I didn’t want to see it run down.”
Castleberry is a regular visitor at Mass.
“I don’t feel a bit different. I can worship in most churches. I’ve enjoyed it,” she said.
Castleberry likes that the mission has younger members involved, which gives her hope for all Christians.
“That’s where our future is,” she said.
Donations for St. Katharine Drexel’s window preservation project may be sent to: Our Lady of the Mount Church, 1227 Scenic Highway, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750. Designate contributions for the mission window project.