Knoxville church celebrates its Irish heritage

Knoxville's Immaculate Conception Catholic church hosts Irish Fest on the Hill on August 9 from 4 to 10pm

For well over a century, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church has sat on top of a hill overlooking Knoxville. Each year brings change to the city but the church remains a reminder of a rich past.

"The first church was built in 1855 when this land was bought at the top of a hill," said church historian and parishioner Carole Wunderlich. "With so many buildings, you almost don't notice that this is the top of a hill but we were known as the church on the hill."

Wunderlich says church was founded by Irish settlers, most of whom came here to work on the railroad.

"Most of the Irish people actually came from probably Ulster and a few other of the provinces," said Carole. "In the mid 1840's to 1850 the railroad was being extended from the east here and Knoxville was a terminal area for that. Many of those people are the people who actually built the first church. We have a parishioner right now whose great -great grandmother actually carried rocks up in her apron from the river to build the first church. Her grandparents were the last to marry in the small church."

In 1883, work began on a larger building that still stands today, the work lasted until 1886. In 1891, additions were made to that second building.

"Towards the end of the 19th century there were German and Italian immigrants who came and many of them were also working on the railroad and, especially the Italians, had experience working in stone," said Carole Wunderlich. "The altar is really phenomenal, that is Carrara marble that came from Italy, the best white marble that there is. The front of the altar has a reproduction of The Last Supper. We believe that all of those things were actually chiseled, made here in this area."

Wunderlich said the amazing and vibrant stained glass windows are original to the building. "They all have names except for one and we think that the plate had gotten broken, But the colors are really fantastic. The bottom half has symbols of the Catholic church and just Christianity in general. They have never been replaced. We have a couple of panels that have been broken and those have been fixed."

On August 9, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church will celebrate their Irish heritage with the 7th annual Irish Fest on the Hill. Carole Wunderlich will lead tours through the church. She sees it as a way to remind folks of the hard working individuals who built and started this church on a hill.

Explained Carole, "Many of us have forgotten where we come from. I think that's very important and to know that this church was put together brick-by-brick, and the original stone-by-stone by the people who were believers. They just didn't call in a contractor to do it. I think it's important to have a history. We are solid here on the hill because we all know our history."

The 7th Annual Irish Fest on the Hill runs from 4 to 10 p.m. on August 9 at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Vine Avenue.


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