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From 1885 to today: St. Lawrence's History

Paradise Ridge was a beautiful and picturesque settlement where fourteen families of predominantly Italian descent would come to settle and raise their families. They traveled by ship from Genoa, Italy, several years earlier to the New York harbor and made their way south.  

By 1885, this small group of families received permission from Bishop Joseph Rademacher, the third bishop of Nashville, to find land to build a Church and cemetery.

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Mr. John Castello generously donated one acre, and the small group quickly set about clearing the land and erecting a rough hewn log church that measured 18’ x 30’ by the time it was completed. A unanimous decision was reached that the name should be St. Lawrence Martyr. The little log Church was blessed and dedicated on December 2, 1885, by Bishop Rademacher. Fr. Edward Gazzo was named the first pastor. Since Fr. Gazzo was also of Italian descent, it was a perfect fit for the predominantly Italian parish.

More families moved to the area as Paradise Ridge became Joelton. Space was becoming so cramped that the little Church could no longer accommodate everyone. Fr. Gazzo appointed a new building committee of 3 to begin work on plans to build a new worship space.

Work began on the new Church on December 10, 1895. The new building would be erected on the same site the log structure occupied. The little log church would be moved to one side of the lot to make room for the longer Church. It had faithfully served its small congregation for 12 years, and was left standing as a monument to the early faith and struggles of St. Lawrence’s first congregation.

The new church would be made of brick, using the modified Romanesque style of architecture. The bricks were handmade by the skilled parishioners months before. The dimensions of the building were to be 48’ in length, 28’ wide and have a 14’ high ceiling. It would also have a choir loft and belfry. The new St. Lawrence Martyr was dedicated by Bishop Thomas Byrne on September 27, 1897.

It was a 63’ long building surrounded by an 18’ belfry that stood atop a 16’ high roof comb. The stone, brick and plastering was contracted for the sum of $300.00. As was typical of the spirit in those days, non-Catholics worked alongside Catholics to raise the house of God and took great pride in their work.

The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia arrived in 1924 and began to conduct Sunday School. Fr. Ernest Wiley arrived in 1935, and began to make significant improvements in the Church including a warm-air furnace and art glass windows. Unfortunately the improvements were short-lived. On Sunday morning, March 29, 1936, a fire started by a spark completely destroyed the 39 year old Church.

Rebuilding was delayed for several months due to a vacancy caused by the death of Bishop Alphonse Smith in December 1935 and the indecision as to whether to use part of the old remaining structure in the new building. It was later decided to completely level the old burned out structure. The cornerstone was laid for the third Church by Bishop William Adrian on March 7, 1937.

While construction was going on, Church was conducted in the little country schoolhouse of Morny. A few hundred yards north on Clarksville Highway. The new church was dedicated on October 17, 1937 by Bishop Adrian.

1944 saw the arrival of Fr. Charles O’Donnell, a former professor at Fr. Ryan Highschool.

He became the first resident pastor in 1947; his living quarter was in the basement of the Church with an office and sitting room in what is now the sacristy. In 1944 there were 33 families in the parish. In 1946 during Fr. O’Donnell’s pastorate, a bus was purchased to take 16 children into Nashville Catholics Schools.

In 1947 school property was obtained and in 1948 a converted farmhouse became a combination school and rectory. By December 1950 the current rectory next to the Church was completed and occupied. The two story, full basement house was erected for about $15,000 with much of the labor and material donated.

Fr. Eiselein was pastor in 1954. The Diamond Jubilee Picnic, 75 years, was celebrated in 1957. By this time the average net proceeds of the annual picnic exceeded $6,000. By October 1958 there were 93 families in the parish.

St. Lawrence school, grades 1-8, under the direction of the sister from St. Cecilia motherhouse in Nashville, met in the one hundred year old, converted farmhouse from 1948-1959. Forty-Five children graduated during those years. In the later 1950s it cost about $95.00 a year to educate a child at St. Lawrence compared to about $300.00 for the public schools.

New School: in 1956 the parish debt was retired. This paved the way for establishing a building fund for a new school. A well organized fund drive began at the end of 1957 and led to 83 parishioners pledging an average of $291. Over $24,000 was raised in about one week! Ground was broken on the school in October 1958 and the first day of class in the new school was on April 6, 1959. Various groups in the parish, donated equipment, supplies and services for the school.

Fr. Eiselein served a pastor until 1963 when Fr. O’Donnell returned as pastor from 1964-1966. It was during this time, about 1965 that St. Lawrence school closed. A number of pastors served at St. Lawrence for 2-3 year periods: Fr. Albert Siener (1966-1968), Fr. Reginald (1969-1970), Fr. George Hutton (1971-1973), Fr. Charles Giacosa (1974-1975), Fr. Riley (1976-1981), Msgr. James Hitchcock (1981-2002), Fr. James Panackal C.M.I. (2015-2017)

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About the time Msgr. Hitchcock came, extensive renovation was done inside the Church (1984-1985). Many people feel is is a beautiful church, which has retained an uplifting atmosphere and a “sense of the sacred”

Fr. Thomas Bielawa, SDS, a Salvatorian, came in July 2002 and served until 2009 when he retired. Fr. Thomas renovated the Church basement and made a library, meeting area and bride’s room out of the existing space. He had the Church landscaped. A Mary Garden, Memory Garen and Stations of the Cross Path were born. When he retired St. Lawrence had 165 families registered.

In 2009 Fr. Abraham Pathalanickal was assigned as pastor. In 2012 Fr. Abraham began several renovation projects to prepare for the 75th anniversary of the church building. Parishioner Ron Scott donated the crew to paint the Church, the ceiling was replaced and with the help of all out amazing volunteers the church was prepared for the new carpet installed by Kenny Colorigh. Stations of the cross were donated, refinished and hung.

The Parish Center was painted Parishioners. Valences were made and then hung by Doug Spencer and volunteers. Toney Catigani and volunteers refinished the floors. Mr. Catignani oversaw the project to repave the Church parking lot. The St. Lawrence Men’s Group along with several boy scouts began developing the Serenity Trail on the back property behind the cemetery. On February 10, 2013 The Church was rededicated by Bishop David Choby. In June 2013 the Serenity Trail was completed and ready for use.

Currently Fr. Carre serves St. Lawrence and its growing community of families both young and old.

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