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Tornado damages historic, pre-Civil War church in Nashville
A historic, pre-Civil War church in Nashville, Tennessee, was heavily damaged early March 3 after a powerful storm that spawned a deadly tornado ripped through the city and its neighboring counties, killing at least 22 people, according to published reports.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, built in 1859 and commandeered by Union troops in 1864, had part of one wall knocked completely down, the roof damaged and two large stained glass windows smashed. Photos of the church’s interior show debris and mud around the altar.
Assumption’s pastor, Father Bede Price, woke up early Tuesday morning after a nearby transformer exploded. Father Price ran from the rectory into the church, saw the damage, removed the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle and moved it to a safe location, said Rick Musacchio, the communications director for the Diocese of Nashville.
Musacchio told Our Sunday Visitor that the diocese has received initial reports of damage to three other churches, but added that Assumption Church — which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the second-oldest church in Nashville — appears to be the most seriously impacted.
“We’re beginning to develop our response,” said Musacchio, who added that Catholic Charities is contacting parishes throughout the diocese to assess their people’s needs, and is already receiving financial donations from around the country.
News reports indicated that the storm touched down in Nashville just before 1 a.m. and destroyed portions of neighborhoods and business districts in the city’s Germantown district before moving into the eastern neighborhoods and beyond.
Local officials reported there were at least 22 deaths in four counties and dozens of other injuries. Musacchio said the heaviest loss of life appeared to be in the rural areas around the city of Cookeville, which is about 90 miles east of Nashville.
Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville offered a prayer, posted on the diocesan website, in support of “all those who are suffering in the aftermath of this violent storm,” including for first responders, aid workers, the vulnerable and people who have lost loved ones.
“Grant peace to those who have died and comfort and strength to those who grieve them,” the bishop said. “May those who have suffered damages or lost homes and possessions find support in our brothers and sisters in Christ and consolation in the knowledge of your presence.”
Built on the Cornerstone
On Tuesday, Mark Cassman, a parishioner of Assumption Church who lives in Nashville, surveyed the storm’s aftermath in and around the parish property.
“It is devastating to see this damage,” Cassman told Our Sunday Visitor through Facebook Messenger. Cellphone coverage in the area was spotty. The parish’s telephone system was not working.
Standing outside the church, Cassman described seeing downed trees, busted windows and walls that crumbled from the devastating winds. He said the scene was just as “devastating” inside the church.
“The light fixtures were swinging slightly because the roof was still moving even after the strongest winds had passed,” said Cassman, who added that he could still see Father Price’s muddy footprints on the wooden floor leading up to the high altar.
Just two days before the storm, Cassman had attended Mass in the extraordinary form at Assumption Church, which he described as a thriving parish with young faithful families and older people who have worshipped there for generations.
“After Mass, half of the parish crams into the parish hall next door and out into the yard,” Cassman said. “My sister-in-law is famous for the potluck. And now, the hall we broke bread in, and the yard the children played in, have been devastated.”
Cassman doesn’t expect the church building will be safe for Mass anytime soon but added: “The Faith has preserved us for over 2,000 years. This building was built of stone, but the Faith is built on the Cornerstone.”
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.