5, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 23
Spirit, Jonesville: Parish tithes to help the poor
Any visitors to Holy Spirit Church in Jonesville in far southwestern
Virginia immediately stand out because normally there are no more than
25 people at the Sunday 8 a.m. Mass.
The church sits on top of a hillside in rural Lee County and is off
the main highway. Although the church is designated by the Diocese of
Richmond as being in Jonesville, it is actually in the unincorporated
area known as Ben-Hur, 25 miles southwest of Big Stone Gap in Wise
Parishioners recognize the high incidence of poverty affecting Lee
County residents. The parish tithes and gives 10 percent of its Sunday
collection to what is known as the Local Charity Fund.
the few visitors who come for Mass on Sunday remark that the church
“does not look like a Catholic church” and one woman asked why there are
“We have living ones,” Sister Beth Davies replied.
“We’d rather buy food for people who are hungry than buy statues,”
said Doreen Daniels, adding “that’s with our 10 percent tithe for our
Local Charity Fund.”
As examples of how people are helped through the Fund, Sister Beth, a
member of the Congregation of Notre Dame who for more than 30 years has
lived in Lee County, mentioned that many during the winter need help
paying utility bills.
“We have many people with children who are unable to keep their home
warm because they cannot pay their bill,” she said.
Sister Beth cited the example of one family whose members were
confined to one small room little bigger than a closet because they were
able to keep that small space warm.
“There are situations like that all the time and they’re all around
us,” she said.
“We have a lot of rich land, but poor people,” Sister Beth continued.
“It’s a paradox. I think that’s a contradiction most people see.
“The land is rich in natural resources like coal, but the land has
outside ownership so the profits leave the area. They don’t stay in the
The Diocese’s Home Mission Grant program has been helpful to the
Jonesville parish in paying for water and termite damage to the building.
Monthly town meeting
Parishioners gather for a town meeting the third Sunday of the month
immediately following Mass. Father Timothy Drake, pastor, is unable to
stay because of the need to travel to St. Anthony’s in Norton for Mass
at 10 a.m. At the meeting of July 17 Melanie Jorgensen mentioned her
concern about a bill from a local contractor who had done some work in
the basement where occasional parish pot luck suppers are held.
“We’re desperately waiting for the Home Mission check,” Ms. Jorgensen
said. “I’m feeling more and more uncomfortable because the contractor
said he needed some money because he had bought materials.
“We don’t have a big pot of money with which we can pay contractors,”
Ms. Jorgensen explained. “We make ends meet on our monthly bills, but if
an emergency comes up, we don’t have sufficient funds.”
With only about 25 parishioners, it’s not unexpected that there is
only one teenager in the parish. Jesse Daniels, who is just entering his
senior year at Lee High School and has an impressive 4.0 academic
average, is the only candidate for Confirmation next spring. He does not
know any Catholics his age.
Holy Spirit parishioners are hoping that the Confirmation retreat for
candidates will be held at the Jonesville church so that teenagers from
the larger parishes in Bristol and Abingdon might find out what life is
like for other Catholic teens in rural areas. The Confirmation retreat
is normally held at either St. Anne’s in Bristol or Christ the King in
“The Confirmation candidates are not there long enough (at the
retreat) to bond and the one teenager doesn’t know anyone else and feels
left out,” Ms. Jorgensen said. Having the Confirmation retreat for
Region 10 youths in Jonesville would be an eye-opening experience, she
Parish provides moral support
mother, Doreen, a speech therapist in the Lee County schools, is helping
him with instruction and formation for Confirmation but she’s not doing
this alone. The whole parish is providing moral support and
encouragement to the high school senior who is now looking at colleges
“Parishioners in Jonesville are going to embrace the Confirmation
process as adult faith formation and support Jesse while they renew
their commitment to their own Baptism and Confirmation,” said Melanie
Coddington, of the diocese’s Office of Christian Formation who works
with parishes in Region 10.
Holy Spirit parishioners, with its Local Charity Fund already
mentioned, embarked on a new outreach project late this summer called
“Pencils for Pupils.” The program did just what it said it would,
providing pencils for students whose families could not afford to buy
them when the school year began.
“Every teacher in the county was there (at an orientation program),”
Ms. Jorgensen said, adding that they gratefully received the pencils
which they later distributed to their students.
“Our teachers buy many school supplies out of their own pocket,” she
Irene Mooney told The Catholic Virginian about the visits
parishioners made to residents at a nursing home in nearby Pennington
“At Easter a group from the church went to the home and brought 20
decorated bags, filled with gifts,” Ms. Mooney said. The nursing home
gave us the names of residents who normally don’t get visitors.”
Like most parishioners, Ed Hammer is a transplant. He came to
Jonesville eight years ago from East Hampton, N.Y. where he had been a
truck driver of commercial jet fuel.
“I had a buddy here in Pennington Gap and we served in Vietnam
together,” Mr. Hammer said, adding that he had made a few visits to Wise
County while still living and working in New York.
When the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred in New York in 2011, he was
driving a truck loaded with jet fuel when he saw the smoke coming from
the Twin Towers. The terrorist attacks so close to home triggered
memories of his war experiences in Vietnam where he had seen a fuel
truck blow up in front of him.
“It helped me decide it was time to retire,” he said, adding that the
cost of living in Appalachia is far less than it is in New York.
He and his wife, Sallie, are just starting up a new hot dog wagon
business “Hot Diggety Dog” operating from a small bus which has been
converted to a hot dog stand. They are moving around to various
locations in Wise County.
we can make a couple of bucks, we’ll be happy,” Mr. Hammer told The
Admitting they felt a sense of culture shock when they came to the
Jonesville area for the summer are Gregory and Sarah Strong, both of
whom live in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and have been married for
“We’re teachers in New York City and come down in the summer to stay
at the family’s farm,” said Sarah, a special education teacher at Booker
T. Washington Middle School in Manhattan.
Greg teaches English at Martin Luther King High School where most of
his inner city students are black and Hispanic.
“We come here to Jonesville and we don’t see 10 people from sun up to
sundown,” he said, adding that neither is able to use a cell phone since
there is poor reception in the mountainous area.
“It’s two different worlds,” Greg added. “In New York we’re always
doing something, talking to friends or texting on our cell phones and
going to cultural events.”
“We love it here because we have a big garden and we’re dealing with
the natural world,” Sarah added.
“This has been an extraordinarily welcoming parish,” Greg said.
there are usually no more than 25 at Sunday Mass unless there are
visitors, Jonesville parishioners enjoy one another’s company often
lingering after Mass. They also pay their own bills, seldom having to
rely on others for help.
“We’re so proud we’re able to pay our own expenses,” Ms. Jorgensen
She credited Sister Beth for giving a positive image of Catholics
living in Lee County because she has lived among the poor since 1972 in
the town of St. Charles and has done what she can to empower them and in
doing so, got to know them and their struggles.
“Sister Beth is a living example of Jesus,” Ms. Jorgensen said. “When
people meet her, they know she’s a Catholic sister. They love her. She
makes it much easier to be Catholic in Lee County.”