Throughout its history, from its beginnings to the present, people of vision have inspired the St. Philip Catholic Community in Franklin.
The first owners of the land on which St. Philip Catholic Church now stands were North Carolinians, one of whom, John Henry Eaton, built a home on the site of the original church. The Eaton’s left Franklin in 1830 and the property was sold to James Woods, a local farmer. In 1847, the land was purchased by Bishop Miles of Nashville with $400 in gold given to him by the Franklin Female Academy for the purpose of building a church.
The Mission Church
One of the greatest missionaries to Tennessee was the Dominican Father James L. Orengo, who was born in Italy in 1820. Father Orengo arrived in Franklin in 1871. By that time, more Catholics had built their homes in the town, and a church was badly needed. Most of the Catholics were Irishmen who had come to work on the railroad and decided to settle in the area.
With Father Orengo’s arrival, work on the church was begun. Bricks were made and burnt on what was to be the churchyard, and all the work was done by the Catholic townspeople themselves. Father Orengo purchased property adjacent to that owned by the church, possibly, it was said, because he liked Franklin and intended to settle in the community. But his health failed before the completion of the church, and he was called back to Italy. The adjacent land was sold to the Sheas, a Catholic family in town.
In spite of Father Orengo’s departure, the church was completed. Father Maroon, who oversaw the final stages of work, was assigned by Bishop Feehan of Nashville to be the first pastor of Saint Philip Church. The dedication took place on November 6, 1871. The Cathedral choir sang High Mass, and Bishop Feehan preached the sermon.
In 1872, Father Eugene Gazzo, who, like Father Orengo, was Italian, replaced Father Marron. Father Gaza recorded the first baptism at Saint Philip, that of Daniel Sheer, on August 11, 1892.
Building the church had been an expensive project, especially in the difficult financial times following the Civil War. At one point, there was talk of selling the church to pay off mounting debts. In the midst of this crisis, Father Timothy Abbott, the first Tennessean to be ordained as a priest, was named pastor of Saint Philip. Through thrifty management, he was able to pay off the church’s debts and save Saint Philip from the auctioneer.
The first 26 years of Saint Philip’s history were filled with challenges, but the determination shown by both parishioners and priests to keep a Catholic church alive in Franklin set the tradition for those who would carry the vision forward.
When Father John A. Nolan, a priest of great talent in many fields, arrived in 1897, Saint Philip was still a mission, with no rectory. When he left, about 1904, it was a thriving parish with a priest in residence. Father Nolan led Saint Philip through years of true change.
Bishop Byrne declared Saint Philip a parish in 1898. Soon after, on March 3, 1898, ground was broken for the rectory, with Father Nolan as the architect. He worked with the parishioners to complete the building; Father Nolan decorated both the house and the church with his carvings. Father Nolan carved the old altar. He ordered prints of the Stations of the Cross from Rome around 1900 and personally carved the frames for each. These frames remain in the church today.
In 1921, the parish prepared to celebrate its Golden Jubilee with its new pastor, John V. Cunningham, who remodeled the interior of the church for the occasion. The celebration was held November 6-8, 1921. To mark the occasion, Father Hardeman donated a beautiful tabernacle, paid for with his personal funds. Stained glass windows for the church were donated by parishioners. Many who attended the Golden Jubilee had been present for the dedication of the church in 1871.
In 1931, Father Emmanuel Callahan arrived in Franklin. With the economy reeling from the Depression, Saint Philip once again experienced a financial crisis. But with the aid of dedicated parishioners, Father Callahan was able to leave the church debtless upon his departure in 1934, when he was replaced by Father Aaron Gildea, who served until 1939. By the time Father Gildea’s successor arrived, Father John Luke, the parish population had decreased so much that St. Philip once again became a mission church.
On February 15, 1946, Saint Philip returned to its status as a parish in time for the 75h anniversary, which was celebrated November 3. Bishop Adrian was present for evening services, when the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was dedicated and all parishioners were enrolled in the Universal Association of the Miraculous Medal.
From 1948 until 1956, Father Joseph W. Cunningham served as St. Philip’s pastor. His nephew, Father Allan J. Cunningham, under whose direction the parish grew from 11 to 200 families, succeeded him.
On November 30,1971, Saint Philip celebrated its Centennial with a new pastor, Father James N. Miller. The Votive Mass of Saint Philip the Apostle was celebrated by Bishop Joseph Durick and Father Miller, along with several visiting dignitaries. The overflowing crowd attending the Mass was accommodated in the Masonic Hall next door, participating through remote television.
In 1972, Father Miller purchased property from the estate of the Mulloy famllv, one of the original families of the church. The house, which was next door to Saint Philip where our church offices are today, was renovated with the help of parishioners, and called the Parish Center. It housed classrooms and meeting rooms and was used for various social functions.
In 1973, Father Miller was replaced by Father John C. Henrick. His tenure at Saint Philip was marked by rapid growth in the parish population, and by many physical changes to the church. The parishioners were called upon to lend their time and talents to remodel the parish rectory.
With the church filled to capacity, it was Father Henrick who directed the construction of an all-purpose building adjacent to the old church. He commissioned Edward Meters, a Nashville architect, to design a building that would be functional for Sunday worship as well as religious education. Bishop James Neidergesses dedicated the new Parish Center in July, 1975.
Upon completion of the parish center, Father Henrick, guided by the expertise of Mark Garrett of Garrett Galleries in Franklin, renovated the old church. Again, parishioners were enlisted to help, this time to remove all the old stucco and expose the natural brick underneath. The floors were sanded, carpeting was installed and the old Stations were gilded. along with the statues of Mary and Joseph. A beautiful damask tapestry was hung behind the altar. James Fosso, a Franklin carpenter, was commissioned to make three new altars, two lecterns, a credence table and a baptismal font of natural walnut. Mrs. William Keyes designed and made the needlepoint covers for the chairs in the sanctuary. Three wrought-iron candelabra chandeliers lit the interior.
On May 25, 1975, Saint Philip celebrated Father Edward T. Alberts’ first Mass. Father Alberts was the first parishioner of St. Philip Catholic Community to be ordained a priest.
Father Edward C. Arnold came to Saint Philip from Hendersonville in August 1979. It was during Father Arnold’ vision that shaped the St. Philip Parish into what it is today. During his 28 year tenure we saw an explosion of growth in population and building, and he faced the problem of lack of space almost immediately.
In 1980, Father Arnold purchased an existing metal building on the south side of the Masonic Hall. to be used as an interim parish center until interest rates were low enough to afford the debt needed to create a more permanent structure. This building was enlarged slightly and a foyer was added. It was dedicated in September 1982.
In 1984, Father Arnold enlisted the help of architect Charles Johnson of Murfreesboro to draw plans for a new Saint Philip Church that would be large enough to accommodate the growing parish. Construction started in the spring of 1985 with the demolition of the rectory house built by Father Nolan in 1898. During the demolition period, the location of the brick kiln from the original church was found, adjacent to the foundation of the old building. Several of the bricks which are thought to have been made during the construction of the old Saint Philip Church in 1871 have been placed in the sidewalk near the front door in the form of a cross. A stained glass window from the old church highlights the foyer of the Parish Center. A statue of Saint Philip was taken from the church attic, repainted, and placed prominently in the new building. The former parish center was converted into CCD classrooms. The Parish Center increased capacity for each Mass to 700 People. A large kitchen was added, as well as an apartment-style residence for the pastor.
In the summer of 1992, a new structure was built to connect the CCD building and the Parish Center. The addition included nine classrooms and a community room.
In 1989, St. Philip split its parish. Beginning a sister parish, Holy Family in Brentwood. In the years between that split and the time of this writing, St. Philip has continued its growth. Between 1995 and 1997, the parish implemented a major fundraising campaign, which Father Arnold personally named, Banking on Faith. The parish purchased an existing bank building on the Church’s north side and built a new worship center, which it dedicated in August 1997. With the parish continuing to grow, Father John Kirk was appointed associate pastor in August 2003.
When Father Arnold arrived in 1979, there were 450 families in the parish and 378 children enrolled in the CCD program. Today, the St. Philip Catholic Community has almost 2000 registered families, with over 850 children enrolled in our CCD program. Under Father Arnold’s guidance, a vital youth program was developed both for young children and high school students. There are special children’s Masses celebrated through the CCD program, plus a children’s Liturgy of the Word during Sunday Masses.
An Associate Pastor John Kirk arrived at St. Philip in 2003. When Father Arnold died in 2007, Father Kirk became Administrator. It was during his tenure, that pews were added, a crucifix and statue of St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin were added in the Sanctuary.
Father John Sappenfield became permanent Pastor in 2008, and shortly after a new associate, Father Bala joined St Philip. Father Kirk is now Pastor at our new sister Parish Church of the Nativity in Spring Hill, as St. Philip once again had to split its Parish due to growth. Father Sappenfield and Father Bala undertook long term goals for the community with a focus on growth and active spirituality. The Church now has two daily masses most days of the week. There is a strong emphasis on fellowship at Saint Philip; by creating an active and engaged community that are truly stewards of His good works. With a vision hailed as We Are a Stewardship Church, we began focusing on the individual need of both the Parishioner and the Church to give time, talent and treasure instead of the Parish’s need to receive so we can all be Christian stewards give back to praise and say thanks for all that he has given us.
In late October 2009, Father Bala was named Administrator and then named Pastor of St. Philip. Father Tien Tran joined St. Philip as Associate Pastor in January 2009 and, in August 2015, we gained a second Associate Paster, Fr. Zack Kirangu. Later that year, Fr. Tran was appointed pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Hohenwald, Christ the Redeemer Church in Centerville and St. Cecilia Church in Waynesboro and Fr. Ramon Ayala joined St. Philip as an Associate Pastor in October 2015. After the passing of Bishop David Choby on June 3, 2017, Father Michael O. Johnston was named Diocesan Administrator. In July 2017, Fr. Zack was appointed pastor of St. Patrick Parish in McEwen, TN while Fr. Eric Johansen became Associate Pastor at St. Philip. It was announced on November 21, 2017 that Father J. Mark Spalding was appointed by Pope Francis as the 12th Bishop of Nashville. His episcopal ordination and installation as the Bishop of Nashville was on February 2, 2018.
As an addition to our liturgical focus, Saint Philip strives to serve people both within and outside our parish family through strong social action commitments. Parishioners deliver food and gifts to nearly 300 needy families at Christmas. Other programs include the nursing home visitation ministry, Meals on Wheels, the Prison Ministry and Helping Hands, which meets short-term needs of parishioners in crisis situations.
Despite our large size, the parishioners of Saint Philip continue to build a strong and caring sense of community. Guided by the traditions of the past and with a clear focus on our future, St. Philip strives to retain the vision of those early families who struggled to bring the Catholic faith to Franklin by outreaching to the community through a wide variety of charitable and social activities.
Today, St. Philip Catholic Church is one of Franklin’s most dynamic Christian churches.