On August 14, 1859, the Vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bishop Richard Pius Miles dedicated a simple brick church to the honor of the Blessed Mother in North Nashville, an area populated by German immigrants called "Germantown". Those immigrants who had gathered in North Nashville during the 1830's and 40's, had dreamt of a church all their own; a church durrounded by German homes and businesses. Not so unlike the Israelites who had settled in the Promised Land of Milk and Honey, these German immigrants wanted to build their own temple where they could offer worship to God in their own language and in their own customs.
Before Bishop Miles could dedicate that first brick, the land had to be acquired to secure the promise of the church to be built. And so, for the cost of just $5.00, a parcel of land was deeded to the diocese by Dr. McGavock. Soon after the acquisition of land, the church began to be constructed. Initially, Fr. Ivo Schacht was appointed to oversee construction, but soon Fr. John Vogel took his place. In the short span of 18 months, the church was completed. Bricks for the north wall of Assumption were taken from teh proto-cathedral of the diocese, Holy Rosary, which occupied a location on Nashville's Capitol Hill. ( In this first cathedral of the Diocese of Nashville, Bishop Miles was installed as the first Bishop of the diocese on October 15, 1838.) From Holy Rosary to Assumption, the very walls contain a sort of devotion to Mary.
Soon, problems began to plague the newly constructed church. Assumption was found to have been built 10 feet over its boundary lines and so to accommodate, an adjoining lot was required to be purchased. With little income, the builders of the church were unable to be paid and so Assumption was nearly sold at auction to pay salaries. Coming to the rescue were two local families, the Buddeke and Wessel families. They provided for the community so creditors could be satisfied and the church could begin to serve the community for which it was designed.
The Civil War soon came to Nashville, and the church was commandeered by Union tropps in 1864. Upon their departure, little remained of the church's acquired elements of worship and decoration. A singular silver patten was all that remained of the furnishings. Rebuilding and restoration soon began.
Built for Germans, there was found to be a dearth of German speaking priests and so sacraments were administered from the new cathedral, St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows. Still, the community maintained its German heritage and identity through parish picnics, Labor Day fundraisers, and German social activities.
In 1873, now Bishop Feehansought out the Precious Blood Fathers to serve the parish. Their tenure lasted foe the next 26 years. Under their guidance, a rectory was built for Assumption in 1874. The Precious Blood Sisters came to staff the school, which was built in 1879. The school served 110 students.
During the 1880's, new windows were installed and a high altar was donated by the Ratterman family. At this time, both John Floersh, future Archbishop of Louisville and Samuel Stritch, future Cardinal and the first American appointed to teh Roman Curia, were baptized by Fr. Clemens Roessner. Assumption had now grown to over 50 families. The community, at different times, served missions as far away as Gallatin, Pulaski and Bellevue among others. In 1898, the Precious Blood Fathers left and the sisters left the following year handing over the school to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia.
With the turn of the centurey, Fr. Henry Japes undertook several projects to enhance the church building. Transepts and a chancel were added increasing the length of the church by nearly half. Windows depicting the life of Christ were added along with 400 lights outlining the Gothic arches of the ceiling. Two side altars, two confessionals, the Baptismal font, the communion rail, and the Stations of the Cross were also added. With all of this work completed, the Church of the Assumption was ready for the 50th anniversary celebrated by Bishop Byrne in 1909.
Fr. Japes retired in 1914 and Bishop Byrne turned to German speaking priests from the Franciscan Order to minister to the church. They added elaborate paintings and stenciling throughout the church including the beautiful images of the Ascension of Jesus and the Assumption of Our Lady over the side altars. About this time, the Buddeke home was acquired by the church for meeting space. The school was renovated and held over 200 students. In 1916, Fr. Pfeiffer, curate of Assumption, said teh first Mass at St. Peter's Mission in West Nashville, later renamed St. Ann Church. The Franciscans eventually left Assumption in 1919.
During and after World War I, those of German ancestry were viewed with suspicion and outward signs of German culture were downplayed. The neighborhood slowly lost its German identity. Also, more efficient transportation led many to move father away from their jobs causing a gradual change in the makeup of the neighborhood dynamics.
In the 1920's, Diocesan priest, Fr. Edward Desmond made many improvements but it is thought that during this time, much of the decoraton added by the Franciscans was painted over. Fr. Aaron T. Gildea served the parish in the late 1930's on into World War II and its aftermath. There was an increase in converts and several organizations were established. But on the negative side, Fr. Gildea had to contend with severe storms in the 1940's that caused costly damage to the steeple, the church and rectory roofs.
In 1949, Fr. Daniel Richardson became pastor. Catholic families continued to move to the suburbs and the largely residential neighborhood was rezoned for industrial use. Many homes became rental properties while others fell into neglect. Later, the interstate cut through the community. Despite this, Fr. Dan tried to build a sense of community with fish fries, school plays and other activities.
Fr. Dan oversaw the construction of St. Pius X Church nearby which served neighboring Bordeaux. St. Pius X was dedicated in 1958 and the adjoining school was added in 1960. At the same time, major repairs were required at Assumption to prepare for the 100th anniversary of its dedication. On August 15, 1959, native son Archbishop John Floersh of Lousiville celebrated a Solemn Pontifical Mass.
Families continued to leave and the school was closed mid year in 1961 with the remaining students transferred to St. Pius X School. For a few years, Fr. William Davis became pastor of Assumption with Fr. Dan remaining at St. Pius X Church. Eventually, Assumption became a mission of St. Pius X and the few remaining parishioners were urged to join activities at the new church.
In 1970, Fr. Bernard Neidergeses became pastor of Assumption and St. Pius X. Some talked of closing Assumption but Fr. Neidergeses, a skilled woodworker, looked beyond the crumbling plaster, empty pews and broken windows. "...this is something great," he said. "if it could be fixed up, it would be such a gem." And so, just as a century before in the aftermath of the Civil War, rebuilding began.
The church was found to be structurally sound. A long range renovation began with parishioners often doing work themselves. Stained glass windows were restored, the exterior brick was waterproofed, plaster repaired, and wiring was replaced. The bells in the bell tower were restored and again, the Angelus could be heard calling the faithful to prayer. An Hungarian artist, Sano Boda, began restoring the murals in 1977 revealing angels that had been painted over. That year, Assumption Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Starting in 1979, a few people showed interest in buying and renovating the old homes in the area. Later that year, Germantown was also listed as an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The old neighborhood, long dormant, slowly came back to life.
In the early 1980's, the congregation dwindled to about 50 members but they accomplished much. Assumption Church and the Monroe Street United Methodist Church across the street, with help from St. Pius X parishioners, hosted the first Oktoberfest on October 11, 1980. Originally a homecoming for those raised in the neighborhood, the event featured authentic German food, music, and dancing. Oktoberfest continues to this day as city wide celebration.
Another annual event, the Keith Searcy Memorial Thanksgiving Dinner, began in 1987 by parishioner Gerry Searcy. The program, named after her late son, now serves nearly 2000 Thanksgiving meals to the poor, elderly and shut-ins in the area.
To mark the church's 125th anniversary in 1984, a new copper steeple was added. The steeple is a replica of the 1880's design. Later, the space between the church and the school was converted into a meditation garden designed by parishioner Michael Emrich. Ironwork was recovered from the Cathedral of the Incarnation's renovation. Joseph Seigenthaler created a statue in honor of the German workmen who founded the parish showing St. Joseph in his workshop and Jesus handing his mother a carved dove. In 1994, organist Albennia Ladieu found a William James pipe organ which was contemporary with the design of the church. The organ was restored and placed in Assumption and still provides beautiful music for teh congregation.
In 2000, the old school was renamed Father Bernard Hall in honor of Fr. Neidergeses' 30th year as pastor and in appreciation for all he had done for the church and her people. More families came from all over the city to join the parish drawn by the traditional liturgy and devotions, reverence for the Eurcharist, access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and many other reasons. Fr. Neidergeses retired in 2008.
Fr. Michael d'Souza, a priest of India was appointed pastor. With and influx of families came many children and an increase in the celebration of First Holy Communions and Confirmations. A children's choir was also begun .
On August 15, 2009, the 150th Jubilee Mass was celebrated by Bishop David Choby for an overflow crowd. The choir and schola joined to sing the Latin ordinaries and the Gregorian chant propers. The celebration concluded with a banquet under a tent in the school yard for over 300 people.
In the Spring of 2014, Fr. d'Souza returned to India and Fr. Jerry Strange took over as pastor of Assumption and St. Pius X. Renovations continue. The Buddeke house was renamed the Germantown Abbey with church offices and meeting rooms on teh lower floor and a banquet hall on teh upper floor. The rectory is not a place for parish groups to meet and the school has an updated kitchen for church functions. The Latin Mass ( Tridentine Mass), once a monthly event, is now celebrated every week. Additionally, the Syro-Malabar community worships at Assumption every Sunday.
For all the beauty and history of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is not a museum. The church has served as the anchor in faith for generations of faithful through wars, economic hardships and socail upheavals. May we have the love, faith and trust in God to be worthy caretakers of this treasure and beacon of God's ligh and love.
written by Carmel Slattery, parishioner