The history of the Catholic Church in Tennessee goes back to 1836, with the foundation of the Diocese of Nashville. In those days, both before and after the Civil War, traveling priests on horseback would come ministering to the needs of the small pockets of Catholics scattered about the state.
The organized membership of Holy Cross Catholic Church goes back approximately to the turn of the century. There were occasional visits to this area by priests from Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky prior to this, but the first recorded gathering of the congregation for Mass took place in the home of Mr. & Mrs. James M. Dean on Depot Street in 1901. Father John F. Hayes, stationed in Humboldt, Tennessee, was for a time a visiting pastor of the original congregation. Mass was said only once a month at that time, and for several years thereafter, continued to be offered in various homes. Following Father Hayes was Father Edward Keutter and Father (later Monsignor) Alois F. Maurath, the fiery Frenchman who would become an important personage in the history of Catholic Tennessee.
As the number of Catholics increased, a larger place was needed, so Sunday use of the Odd Fellows Hall was arranged. This continued for some time, but that place, also, became too small for the growing congregation. On July 28, 1917, Father Charles C. Reid became the first designated pastor of the congregation soon to be known as Holy Cross Church.
With the growth of Paris and the continuous increase in the size of the congregation, the need for a larger and more permanent church structure was evident. A lot was purchased on West Wood Street and definite plans drawn up for the original church. In 1921, the cornerstone was laid and with the completion of the construction, the dedication ceremony was held on June 18, 1922, with Msgr. D. J. Murphy, Vicar General of the Diocese of Nashville, officiating.
Priests who served at Holy Cross immediately after the time of Father Reid were Fathers Thomas A. Giblin, Charles V. Schrimpf, F. A. Stock, C.P.P.S., William Neidert, C.P.P.S. (Precious Blood Fathers). It was in 1936 that Father Edward Dolan became Pastor. Before then, Holy Cross had been a mission Church of Sacred Heart in Humboldt. It was during Father (later Monsignor) Dolan's time that Holy Cross became a mission of Immaculate Conception in Union City. Father Dolan was followed by Father James A. Nally in 1943 for a short time and, also in 1943, by Father Charles O'Donnell, who remained until 1944.
The recent history of Holy Cross Church begins with the appointment of the next Pastor, Father Patrick F. Heenan. Holy Cross Parish, until the time of Father Heenan, was always a mission of another Church. It was as Pastor of the Church in Union City that Father Patrick Heenan began his significant association with Holy Cross. This association began in 1964. The Paris congregation was outgrowing the small church on West Wood Street. Father Heenan petitioned Bishop Adrian for the need for a larger worship facility. In early 1966, Father Heenan became the first residential pastor of Holy Cross Church. He took up residence next to the Church building in a house that had been purchased previously as a place for catechetical instruction.
Father Heenan set about to find a new Church home for the Holy Cross congregation. Property on East Wood Street was purchased in 1967, at a cost of $15,000. Groundbreaking took place on November 5, 1967. Construction began soon after on the new facilities and the first Mass was celebrated in the newly completed Church on December 8, 1968. The cost of the facilities, which included a Church, parish hall and rectory, was $180,000.
When Father (later Monsignor) Patrick J. Lynch became Pastor in 1974, Holy Cross was again beginning to feel the pinch of growth. Father Lynch purchased a trailer to help meet the needs of the growing religion classes. It was at this time that the house on Hillcrest adjoining the Church property was purchased for the rectory and the priest's former residence behind the Church became classroom and meeting space. A change in administration with an anti-Catholic bias brought a closing at Bethel College of the Catholic Student Center during Father Lynch's administration.
Father William R. Kantner became the pastor in November of 1978. Father Kantner would have to focus on debt reduction, knowing the need of the Church to expand. It was also during this time that St. Mary's Church in Camden became independent with a residential pastor. Father Kantner was followed by Father John B. McArthur in 1981. Father McArthur initiated the annual parish festival of Oktoberfest. All because of the financial assistance afforded by Oktoberfest's proceeds, the parish debt on the East Wood Street facilities was finally paid off, additional property was purchased on Pennsylvania Avenue, the pavilion was built, and the rectory on Hillcrest was expanded, adding a kitchen and deck.
In 1987, Father Bryan P. Timby became Pastor. The need for additional space was critical and Father Timby organized efforts to build an addition to the parish facilities. A capital funds campaign was held and ground broken for the new Holy Family Parish Center. The new facilities were dedicated and in use in the fall of 1991. Father Timby was transferred in the summer of 1992.
Father Victor Paul Ciaramitaro became Pastor in July of 1992, and continues to shepherd Holy Cross Parish. In 1996, the same year that the Diocese of Memphis celebrated its 25th anniversary, Holy Cross celebrated the 75th anniversary of its establishment in West Tennessee
changes. Beautiful stained-glass windows, each one dedicated by parishioners in memory or honor of loved ones, now brighten the interior of the church. In September 2002, renovations were completed on the Sanctuary, now adorned with Durango marble flooring and stunning gold appointments, a one-of-a-kind design built in Madrid, Spain.
Our parish population continues to increase significantly, thanks to the growing number of young families, as well as the influx of Hispanics into our community (a Mass in Spanish is now celebrated every Sunday at Holy Cross). In 2000, we were fortunate enough to add a full-time Director of Religious Education to our staff. Now religious instruction classes are offered not only to our children, but to adults as well, in the form of Bible Study, R.C.I.A., and informal discussion groups.
Toward the end of the 1990s, it became apparent that our premises were again too small for our numbers. Plans were started for a building expansion, pledges were solicited, and in May 2002, ground was broken for the new addition, which will include an all-purpose facility, as well as additional classroom and kitchen space. Completion of this expansion is expected sometime in the Spring of 2003.
In recent years, Holy Cross's congregation has been affected by the economic instability that has plagued the country, and the demography in Henry County has changed. Some industry has left the area or ceased business. While some families have relocated due to these changes, Henry County's population has remained steady, even growing. Many older couples and individuals retire to this area in search of a better way of life and a lower cost of living. As the Kentucky Lake area continues to expand its recreational appeal, Holy Cross sees its congregation grow even more diverse, comprising the young, the not-so-young, and the strangers-in-our-midst vacation visitors.
What will the future bring to this Catholic community whose history covers almost a century of presence in Henry County? Most certainly it is a bright future for this parish, which continues its growth both physically and spiritually.
Rev. Victor P. Ciaramitaro