published Saturday, May 14th, 2011

An honor for Sts. Peter and Paul

The designation of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church here as a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI honors a building and a parish that have long played important and highly visible roles in the spiritual and community life of Chattanooga and the surrounding region. The church is the first in Tennessee and one of less than 70 in the United States to be honored with the title.

Bishop Richard F. Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville announced the designation at a noon mass on Thursday at the historic church on East Eight Street. “Just as the U.S. government has honored Sts. Peter and Paul Church by putting it on the National Register of Historic Places, now Pope Benedict XVI has honored it by making it a minor basilica,” the bishop said. The naming is a singular honor.

“This not only recognizes the building for its historical significance, but also honors the faith of the people of East Tennessee, of Chattanooga, and of the South. Sts. Peter and Paul is the mother church in ... the diocese, and has been a house of prayer for more than 120 years.”

Sts. Peter and Paul has deep roots in the community. The parish was founded in January 1852, when the city was still young. Catholics had no building to call their own for several years, meeting instead at various sites over the years. A stone church was almost ready for occupancy in the 1860s, but the building was dismantled by the Union Army, which used the building material to construct forts and other military structures.

The faithful were undeterred. Construction on the current church started in 1888, and it was dedicated in June, 1890. It has been a beloved house of worship since that date.

Minor basilicas generally are designated as such because of antiquity, dignity, historical value, architectural and artistic worth and/or significance as centers of worship. Sts. Peter and Paul easily meets those criteria. It is an architectural landmark. Its striking stained glass windows were designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. It has been a significant center of worship for more than a century.

The church has long been the center — the heart — of Catholic faith here. It and the school it operated for more than a century have been home to succeeding generations of the faithful. It has served as the mother parish of many parishes in the tri-state region and throughout East Tennessee. The legacy of Sts. Peter and Paul continues to expand, and its tradition of service continues unabated.

The recognition of Sts. Peter and Paul Church as a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI honors the rich history and traditions embodied in the church building. It also honors both those who have called Sts. Peter and Paul their spiritual home over the decades and those who continue to make it a vibrant place of worship. The designation as a minor basilica is well-deserved.

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