NASHVILLE, Tennessee – As a crowd of about 150 people stood outside the historic Assumption Church in Nashville waiting for the steeple and cross to be attached to the top of the church, Bishop J. Mark Spalding recalled the words of the hymn “Lift up the cross. “

“Raise the cross high. The love of Christ proclaim. ‘ These two lines are part of a hymn that we sang at the Assumption and in all the parishes of our diocese ”, he declared.

The steeple and the cross are “great symbols of our faith” that give hope, added Spalding. “There is good news to be announced.

On December 15, a crane put the bell tower back in place on top of the Church of the Assumption, built in 1859. The bell tower was removed after the tornado of March 3, 2020, which caused extensive damage to the church, which has since been closed while construction crews repair the building.

“It was a journey,” said Jack Goodrum, owner of Goodrum Construction, the general contractor for the project.

Much of the work at this point has been structural repairs, Goodrum said. “A lot of things that you don’t see have been replaced. “

At this point, exterior repairs are almost complete, he said, including work on the roof, exterior brickwork, and the installation of a tie rod truss system to strengthen timber over 160 years old. that support the roof.

Strong winds from the tornado bent the base of the steeple, leaning it about 15 degrees, Goodrum said. The bell tower had to be removed to replace the structural elements that held it in place. It was stored at Campbellsville Industries Inc., of Campbellsville, Ky., Which identifies itself as “The Steeple People”.

The original bell tower was added to the Church of the Assumption in the 1880s. But this bell tower collapsed in a storm in the 1940s, explained Father Bede Price, parish priest of the Assumption .

“The 1940s were not a good time for the Assumption Church,” Father Price said. “It had started a long decline.”

But in the early 1980s, Mgr. Bernard Niedergeses, then pastor of the Assumption, initiated a multi-year restoration project that brought the church back to life and ultimately kicked off a revival of the surrounding Germantown neighborhood, now one of Nashville’s attractions.

“Mgr. Bernard Niedergeses decided that a suitable symbol for the restoration of the Church of the Assumption would be to reconstruct a replica of the original bell tower, ”said Father Price. “So it is also for us, as for Father Bernard, a symbol that the Church of the Assumption is experiencing a resurrection.”

Spalding also blessed the cross that sits atop the steeple, which was the original cross put in place in the 1880s, and sealed inside a relic of Saint Roch, a 14th century saint who is invoked against the plagues and is the patron saint of dogs. The relic is a gift to the parish of Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, who was Archbishop of St. Louis when Father Price served there.

“We are very fortunate to now begin the last stage of the restoration of the Church of the Assumption,” Price said. “We have had a very, very long Lent, but Easter is certainly on the horizon.”

The tornado that damaged the church struck a week after Ash Wednesday and killed more than 20 people statewide.

Repair work inside the church will begin in January and is expected to take about a year, Goodrum said.

The steeple was put back in place just days after tornadoes left a trail of destruction across several states, killing at least 88 people, including four in Tennessee.

Spalding noted that residents of communities in those states were asking the same kinds of questions “a year and three-quarters ago Father Price and the rulers of Assumption were asking.”

“We have never doubted our faith in Christ and how that faith will help us through,” said Spalding. “This day we remember once again.”

The total cost of the repairs will be more than $ 6 million, Price said. Most of this will be covered by insurance, but the parish will need to borrow approximately $ 1.2 million from the Diocese of Nashville to cover the rest.

The parish is preparing to launch a fundraiser to pay its share of the repair costs, Price told the Tennessee Register, the diocesan newspaper of Nashville.

As part of the restoration, the ceiling of the church will be decorated with stars. To help raise funds for the restoration, the parish sells the stars to commemorate special events, such as baptisms, weddings, and birthdays.

The largest stars, “Creator Stars,” sell for $ 1,500 and symbolize the six days on which God created the world. Next are the “stars of redemption,” for $ 1,000, which represent baptism and also honor Mary. And the smaller one, “The Stars of Bethlehem,” sells for $ 500 and signifies the birth and incarnation of Jesus.

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Telli is editor-in-chief of the Tennessee Register, a newspaper for the Diocese of Nashville.