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Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville (Latin: Dioecesis Nashvillensis) is a Roman Catholic diocese in Tennessee. It was founded on July 28, 1837 by the Dominican Bishop Richard Pius Miles. The Cathedral Church of the Incarnation is the seat of the Bishops of Nashville.

Diocese of Nashville
Dioecesis Nashvillensis
CoA Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville.svg
Country United States
Territory Middle Tennessee
Ecclesiastical province Archdiocese of Louisville
- Catholics

70,633 (3.4%)
Denomination Roman Catholic
Rite Roman Rite
Established July 28, 1837
Cathedral Cathedral of the Incarnation
Patron saint St. Joseph
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Current leadership
Pope Francis
Bishop J. Mark Spalding
Metropolitan Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz
Archbishop of Louisville
Diocese of Nashville map.PNG

The first Roman Catholic cathedral church for Nashville was the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Seven Sorrows, which is now St. Mary's Church, near the Tennessee State Capitol.



Cathedral of the Incarnation, Nashville

Extent of dioceseEdit

Prior to 1970, the diocese encompassed the entire state. At that time, Pope Paul VI removed the westernmost counties in the state to create the new Diocese of Memphis; 18 years later, Pope John Paul II removed the easternmost counties to create the Diocese of Knoxville. The diocese includes 38 counties spread over 16,302 square miles. The Catholic population of the diocese is estimated at approximately 76,000 individuals registered in parishes, which represents about 3.4% of the overall population in Middle Tennessee. In 2016 Mass is offered in Spanish, Vietnamese, Latin, and Korean. The Diocese has 75 priests and 70 permanent deacons serving 53 parishes. There are 34 seminarians currently studying for the priesthood.[1]

The remnant Nashville diocese now encompasses roughly the counties in the Middle Grand Division of the state, with the majority of its membership living in Nashville and surrounding suburbs. However, some parishes outside that area have seen considerable growth in recent times due to the influx of Hispanic immigrants settling in some smaller communities; sometimes, the Spanish-speaking membership outnumbers the English-speaking communicants in such churches. Services are often said in English by one priest and then in Spanish by a second priest. It is common to have three or more services each weekend.

A study released in 2014 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University cited the Diocese of Nashville as having the 8th highest rate of conversions to Catholicism.[2]

The cathedral of the diocese is the Cathedral of the Incarnation, located on West End Avenue in Nashville, close to the Vanderbilt University campus. St. Mary's Church, located in downtown, served as the diocese's cathedral until 1914. St. Mary's Church still stands to this day, and holds the remains of the first bishop.

Sexual abuse casesEdit

The Diocese of Nashville has had a few sexual abuse scandals, several of which came to light in the early 2000s after the investigation of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. In 2003, allegations began to surface that Father Ryan High School principal Ronald Dickman had been forced to resign in 1987 due to reports of molesting two students.[3] Mark Cunningham, a local Catholic businessman, reported that he had alerted Father Giacosa in 1991 that Mark Cunningham's late brother John Cunningham, Jr., had been molested by Ronald Dickman.[4] In 1991, Ronald Dickman left the priesthood, and in 1992 left his job as executive director of Nashville's Crisis Intervention Center after officials at the center received multiple reports that Ronald Dickman had molested children.[3] In taped conversations between Mark Cunningham and Nashville Diocese attorney Gino Marchetti, Gino Marchetti refused to acknowledge that Ronald Dickman was removed from the priesthood due to the allegation of molestation but admitted: "Now you don't have to be a damn rocket scientist to figure out somebody who has been in the priesthood for, you know, whatever, 20 years - that, you know, somebody comes in August or September of '91 and then December 1, '91 he, quote, leaves the priesthood, unquote. ... I mean, like I said, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out."[4] After Mark Cunningham released recordings of his conversations to The Tennessean, Rick Mussachio (a spokesman for the Nashville Diocese) conceded in January 2003 that "Gino only acknowledged to Mark that a conversation between Mark and Father Giacosa took place in 1991 and that someone might draw a conclusion that there was a connection between that meeting with Giacosa and Dickman's departure from the priesthood. However, any inference that this conversation confirms an allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor is simply incorrect."[4] Another Father Ryan alumnus, David Brown, came forward in 2005 (when the Diocese of Nashville released victims from confidentiality agreements) with allegations that former biology teacher Rev. Paul Frederick Haas had molested children at Father Ryan in the 1960s before his transfer to Kentucky. Brown had initially alerted the Nashville Diocese in 1996, but the Nashville Diocese induced him to settle the case after Bishop Kmiec told him: "Yours is an isolated case. . . . We don't know of any others."[5]

In 2011, a controversy arose over the naming of the diocese's football stadium at Father Ryan High School after former teacher Father Charles Giacosa, who bequeathed approximately $1 million for the construction of the stadium.[6] Father Ryan alumnus and local businessman Charles Michael Coode, who also claimed that he was abused by a former Father Ryan priest in 1953 before Father Giacosa's tenure, wrote letters to the Father Ryan Board of Trustees criticizing the decision to honor Father Giacosa.[6] As detailed in an opinion of the Tennessee Supreme Court reversing a grant of summary judgment to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville, Father Giacosa and Bishop Niedergeses were aware in 1986 that Father McKeown "had sexual contact with approximately thirty boys over the past 14 years."[7] The Nashville Diocese sent Father McKeown to in-patient treatment at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut, from October 1986-March 1987. Father Giacosa and Bishop Niedergeses transferred Father McKeown back to Nashville in the spring of 1987. "Although the Diocese putatively forbade McKeown's access to youth, . . . McKeown heard children's confessions, participated openly in various Diocesan youth activities including overnight, 'lock-ins," and spent time individually with minor boys with whom he had made contact through the Diocese. . . . The record also indicates that Bishop Niedergeses and Father Giacosa became aware of some if not all of these activities no later than February 1989."[7] Father Giacosa and Bishop Niedergeses finally took action because, according to their notes from a meeting in 1988 with Father McKeown, they "worried about the Diocese being exposed in sensationalistic news television."[7] Father Giacosa's notes from that meeting were labeled "'Top Secrecy' 'Could hurt your church'" and indicated that "they wanted the Diocese to avoid financial liability for his sexual misconduct."[7] Father Giacosa and Bishop Niedergeses finally induced McKeown to depart from Diocese property in 1989 after McKeown presented a minor boy with a condom at a Christmas party, but the Diocese continued to pay McKeown until early 1994. According to the Tennessee Supreme Court, "[i]n 1995 Bishop Kmiec, Bishop Niedergeses' successor, became aware that a parent in Knoxville alleged that McKeown had molested her son several years earlier."[7] From 1995 to 1999 McKeown sexually abused two minor boys whom he often accompanied "on the sidelines during football games at a Diocesan high school."[7] Finally, after years of the Nashville Diocese's failure to report Father McKeown, he was convicted after the two boys and their parents reported the abuse to the Nashville Metro Police Department.


The following is a list of Ordinaries (Bishops of the Diocese) of Nashville, along with their dates of service:

  1. Richard Pius Miles, OP (1837–1860)
  2. James Whelan, OP (1860–1864) (Coadjutor, 1859-1860)
  3. Patrick Feehan (1865–1880)
  4. Joseph Rademacher (1883–1893)
  5. Thomas Sebastian Byrne (1894–1923)
  6. Alphonse John Smith (1923–1935)
  7. William Lawrence Adrian (1936–1969)
  8. Joseph Aloysius Durick (1969–1975) (Coadjutor, 1963-1969)
  9. James Daniel Niedergeses (1975–1992)
  10. Edward Urban Kmiec (1992–2004)
  11. David Raymond Choby (2005–2017)
  12. J. Mark Spalding (2018-present)

Other priests of this diocese who became bishopsEdit

Current parishes and missionsEdit

Nashville metropolitan areaEdit

  • St. Ignatius of Antioch
Ashland City
  • St. Martha
  • Holy Family
Cedar Hill
  • Christ the Redeemer
  • St. Catherine
  • St. Christopher
  • St. Matthew
  • St. Phillip
  • St. John Vianney
  • Our Lady of the Lake
  • St. Lawrence
  • Holy Family
  • St. Frances Cabrini
  • St. Joseph
Mt. Juliet
  • St. Stephen (within city limits despite postal address in Old Hickory)
  • St. Rose of Lima (When this parish was proposed, the Ku Klux Klan organized a march against it in 1929. The church predominately served Irish, Italian, and German immigrants.[8][dead link])
  • St. Luke
Spring Hill
  • Nativity
  • Our Lady of Lourdes

Outside Nashville metropolitan areaEdit

  • St. Margaret Mary (mission)
  • Divine Savior (mission)
  • Immaculate Conception
  • St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Good Shepherd
  • St. Francis of Assisi
  • St. Anthony
  • Holy Trinity
  • Sacred Heart
  • St. John the Evangelist[9]
  • Sacred Heart
  • St. Joseph
  • St. Mark
  • St. Patrick
  • St. Catherine
  • Immaculate Conception
  • St. William
  • St. Gregory
  • St. Andrew
Tennessee Ridge
  • St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
  • St. Paul the Apostle
  • St. Cecilia

Catholic educationEdit

Primary and middle schoolsEdit

Nashville areaEdit

  • St. Matthew School (K-8)
  • St. John Vianney School (Pre K—8)
  • Christ the King (Pre K—8)
  • Holy Rosary Academy (Pre K-8)
  • Overbrook School (Pre K—8)
  • St. Ann School (Pre K—8)
  • St. Bernard Academy(Pre K—8)
  • St. Edward School (Pre K—8)
  • St. Henry School (Pre K—8)
  • St. Pius X Classical Academy (Pre K—8)
  • St. Joseph School (Pre K—8)

Outside NashvilleEdit

  • Immaculate Conception Elementary School (Pre K—8)
  • Good Shepherd School (Pre K—8) (The school is now closed.)
  • Sacred Heart School (Pre K—8)
  • Sacred Heart School (Pre K—8)
  • St. Patrick School (Pre K—8)
  • St. Rose of Lima School (K-8)
  • St. Paul the Apostle School (K—8) (The school is now closed.)

High schoolsEdit


See alsoEdit


External linksEdit