St. William of Montevergine History

It is not known when the first Catholics arrived in Bedford County, but what is known is that the first Bishop of Nashville (Bishop R. P. Miles) visited Catholic residents in this area in 1838. From that point until 1856, priests from Nashville and Chattanooga visited monthly, preaching from the courthouse or other churches.

In 1856, Shelbyville Catholics negotiated the purchase of a Presbyterian Church on East Lane Street. Fr. Brown renovated the building and the first mass was celebrated there on September 19, 1858. The church was dedicated to St. Joseph in 1859 by Bishop Miles. Following the Civil War the Catholic population in Bedford County was so diminished that in 1893 priests from Nashville again attended the Catholics of Shelbyville. No longer used, the Church building was sold in 1894. It remains standing today as the Episcopal Church of the Holy Redeemer, the oldest church in Shelbyville.

Once again area Catholics were served by priests from other areas: first a priest stationed in Winchester (35 miles away), then as a mission of Chattanooga. In 1900 the Paulist Fathers arrived and established a mother church in Winchester. Mass was celebrated in the way of early Christians – in private homes. This practice persisted for about thirty years, until about 1937, when a rolling chapel (a converted house trailer) was used to accommodate the widespread congregation. They named the trailer St. Lucy’s Chapel on Wheels.

As the Catholic population continued to grow, the Paulist Fathers, under the dynamic leadership of Father Arthur Spears, recognized the need for a church building. With financial assistance coming from many sources including the Catholic Church Extension Society, Governor Prentice Cooper and the parishioners themselves, the old church was built in 1941 for $6,000.

St. William’s church building was dedicated on November 30, 1941 by Bishop Adrian. It was named in honor of the patron of Bishop William O’Brien of Boston, President of the Extension Society. The feast day for St. William, Abbot of Monte Vergine, is celebrated on June 25th. On the dedication day, Catholics from Alto, South Pittsburg, Tullahoma and Winchester, along with parishioners and interested visitors from Shelbyville looked on as Bishop William L. Adrian dedicated the new church. After the dedication services the Bishop confirmed 41 children and adults.

In 1965 St. William became an independent mission parish, including all of Bedford and Marshall Counties. On November 21, 1967, Fr. Frank Gardner, a Glenmary Missionary, became the first resident pastor of St. William. During Fr. Gardner’s term the church hall was added to the original church structure. In 1975 Fr. Gerald Peterson was appointed pastor. Fr. Frank Ruff served from 1978 until 1983 when he was elected President of the Glenmary Home Missioners. In 1983 St. William and St. John the Evangelist in Lewisburg were declared independent mission parishes with the Pastor at St. William also serving in the same capacity at St John. Fr. Michael Langell served as pastor from 1984 until 1996.

In July of 1996 St. William became a Diocesan Parish of Nashville under Bishop Edward U. Kmiec. Fr. Zacharias Payakat served as temporary administrator for thirteen months.

On March 25, 2006, St. William dedicated a new, bigger building on the same property as the old church. The old building is still used for religious education classes, dinners, meetings and other activities. The community of St. William continues to look forward with plans to build new classrooms, offices and a new parish hall.

If anyone is interested in more history, you can stop by the rectory. There are books of bound bulletins from 1975 to present day. We also have a scrapbook full of past events.

St. William of Montevergine

St. William was the founder of the Hermits of Monte Vergine, or Williamites, born 1085; died 25 June, 1142. He was the son of noble parents, both of whom died when he was still a child, and his education was entrusted to one of his kinsmen.

At the age of fifteen he made up his mind to renounce the world and lead a life of penance. With this end in view, he went on a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella, and, not content with the ordinary hardships of such a pilgrimage, he encircled his body with iron bands to increase his suffering.

After this journey he started on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but it was revealed to him that he would be of greater service to God if he remained in Italy. He built himself a hut on Monte Vergine, wishing to become a hermit and live in solitude, but it was not long before many people flocked to him to put themselves under his guidance, being attracted by the sanctity of his life and the many miracles which he performed.

Soon a monastery was built, and by 1119 the Congregation of Monte Vergine was founded. St. William lived at Monte Vergine until the brethren began to murmur against him, saying that the life was too austere, that he gave too much in alms, and so on. He therefore decided to leave Monte Vergine and thus take away from the monks the cause of their grievances.

Roger I of Naples took him under his patronage, and the saint founded many monasteries, both of men and of women, in that kingdom. So edified was the king with the saint's sanctity of life and the wisdom of his counsels that, in order to have him always near, he built a monastery opposite his palace at Salerno.

Knowing by special revelation that his end was at hand, William retired to his monastery of Gugieto, where he died, and was buried in the church.

We celebrate his memorial on June 25.


Our Pastors

1967 – Rev. Frank Gardner
1975 – Rev. Gerald Peterson 
1978 – Rev. Frank Ruff
1984 – Rev. Michael Langell
1996 – Rev. Zacharias Payakat
1997 – Rev. Michael Bigley
1998 – Rev. John P. Baltz
2000 – Rev. Paul Portland
2004 – Rev. Dick Driscoll
2010 – Rev. Thomas Kalam
2012 – Rev. Richard Gagnon
2015 - Rev. Louis Edward Rojas