Amidst the craziness of the times, King Henry worked for peace in Europe and built a number of Churches and Monasteries. Working for peace. Building Churches. In 1957, Henry Neuhoff gave the Diocese of Nashville land to build a Church and School in the West Meade area of the city. In the 1960's, my family moved into one of the first houses built in the neighborhood and we attended the new St. Henry School run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia.
Early lessons of faith and values taught by my parents and at our school were duly noted but dodged. Stored but ignored so to speak. Along with Vatican II, the sixties brought us to this new neighborhood which for me meant a whole new world of possibilities. As Latin became English and altar rails were removed to welcome the flock more fully to the table, houses in our neighborhood were being completed and families were moving in weekly. As Pope John XXIII had opened the doors of the Vatican to other religions, I was knocking on doors meeting new families as soon as the moving vans rolled away. In a family of eight, soon to be ten, I took it upon myself to scout out new members of the hood, new possible classmates, and report back to my tribe. Open wide the doors became my motto also. I felt comfortable anywhere I landed.
The hood was my home. “Hello, my name is Julie Dortch and our family lives over on Vaughns Gap and I’d like to welcome you to the neighborhood.“ That was my line. I learned, I practiced, I delivered. Although I couldn’t separate people as religions but as possibilities of friendships or clients or attention, most of the families in our area seemed to be either Catholic or Jewish. Not too many years after we moved in, the Jewish Community Center was built on the back side of the St. Henry Church property with quite a stretch of land and trees in between. A huge swimming pool and tennis courts brought together the Old and New Testament kids without politics. We became a natural community before “communities” were in and the area was soon referred to as Vatican Valley.
Vatican Valley became my comfortable place. The place I sought opportunities and learned from mistakes and received a faith to carry throughout my life. Vatican Valley became that comfortable place I would return to with my children to pass on the many gifts of each day, the faith I learned and the hope promised in the Resurrection.
As my children trudge through the back and up St. Henry drive to school and back every day, I am grateful to those Henry's who fought for peace and helped to build churches and schools. I am grateful to be back in Vatican Valley and to have the same opportunities for my children that I had as a child. I am grateful for the sisters who still teach at our school and for the examples given to our children. Amidst the craziness, this is our comfortable place. Our place of peace. Our Church. Our school. Our neighborhood. We are blessed. St. Henry, pray for us.