History of Churches
History of the Churches Established
The First Diocesan Church is Established
St. Anthony's Catholic Church Established in Norton, Virginia
In the early 1900’s James Quinn, a Wheeling Diocesan Priest came to Norton to serve the needs of St. Anthony’s Church parishioners. In the late 1800's, missionaries from the Diocese of Wheeling organized Catholics in Wise County. In the early 1800's and early 1900's parishioners celebrated mass in the Dorchester Community of Norton. The building that served St. Anthony's Parish in Dorchester was torn down and the materials were used to build the Church on the 800 block of Park Ave. in Norton, Virginia.
Prior to the mid nineteen thirties, while the Virginia Avenue Church was being planned and built, the building that was built on the 800 block of Park Avenue in Norton, VA, served the first St. Anthony parishioners. Although baptisms were performed in the area as early as the 1840's, in 1918, when the official Diocesan Baptismal records were established for Wise County, the records show baptisms recorded in Norton, Virginia, in 1918. By the mid-nineteen thirties a church built on Virginia Ave., in Norton, became the site of the first Diocesan built church and was officially dedicated and named St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.
Building the First Church
Fr. Peter Aarts, a Dutchman and an architect, was pastor of the St. Anthony’s Parish in the latter half of the nineteen thirties. Fr. Aarts owned his own concrete block construction company. With his many talents, in 1936 Fr. Aarts designed both St. Anthony’s Church in Norton, VA and later he built the Sacred Heart Church in Appalachia, VA. Fr. Aarts built the St. Anthony’s Church on Virginia Ave. in 1937. Sacred Heart was built by Bishop Swint’s Brothers and on August 28, 1938. Both churches were dedicated by the Most Reverend John J. Swint, D. D.
Mission Churches Established from St. Anthony's Catholic Church
The Mission Churches
The first mission church started from St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, of Norton, Virginia was the original Sacred Heart Church, and it was located in Appalachia, VA. The current Sacred Heart church is located in Big Stone Gap, VA. Other missions started by St. Anthony’s Catholic Church of Norton include St. Joseph’s of Clintwood, St. Mary’s of Coeburn, St. Patrick’s of Dungannon, St. Teresa’s of St. Paul, The Good Shepherd’s Church of Lebanon, the Gate City Catholic Church, and the Holy Spirit Church in Jonesville, VA.
Wheeling Dioceses and the Glenmary Missioners
The last Wheeling Diocesan Priest, to serve the people in the Norton and Appalachia area, was Fr. Mark R. Kraus. In 1945 the Glenmarians, came to Southwest Virginia and were entrusted with St. Anthony’s Church. In 1946, Fr. Joseph Dean and Rev. Edward W. Smith, pioneer Glenmarians were the first priests to serve the original St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. In the late 1950’s, the Glenmary Brothers built a recreational hall onto the back of the original St. Anthony’s Church. The "Rec-Hall" became a hub for dances, meetings, and dinners.
During 1972, Fr. Joseph O’Brien was instrumental in building a much needed parish hall. A small, white house beside St. Anthony’s Church was serving as the classrooms for the school of religion. Tearing down the “Rec Hall” and the small, white house made room for a new parish hall. Used for classrooms, meetings, celebrations, and potluck suppers, St. Anthony’s parishioners found many uses for the hall.
The Glenmarians served St. Anthony’s Catholic Church until 1979. Fr. Robert Bond was the last Glenmary Mission Priest to serve St. Anthony’s Parish. In 1979, the parishioners saw the construction of a new St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. Constructed by the Glenmary Brothers, Larry Joachim, Joe Steen and Virgil Siefker and Glenmary Associate Member John Leugers, the building now serves as St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.
The special skills of Brothers Terence O’Rourke, Paul Wilhelm, Tom Berens, and Francis Sauer contributed to the details of the new church. The service of parishioner David Emershaw made heating and cooling the church a reality. Stucco experts Ted Clear and Paul Dinkle made the outside facade possible. The only subcontract to Stonemason Bruce Franklin made the front face outside and the sanctuary wall inside the church a powerful element. Katherine Jones donated the carpeting. Victor Jones donated the paint and Deidre Jones Wells and her husband Eddie Wells donated all the lilies and flowers for the St. Anthony Flower Garden. The new St. Anthony’s Catholic Church attaches to the parish hall. Tearing down the original St. Anthony’s Catholic Church made room for the current courtyard and the flower garden.
Diocese of Richmond
In 1979, the growth of St. Anthony’s Parish and the new church made it possible for the Glenmary to hand St. Anthony’s Catholic Church and it's mission churches over to the new Diocese of Richmond. Under the leadership of Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Richmond Diocese, Father Richard Dollard, a Diocesan priest became the new pastor of St. Anthony's. Today under the leadership and guidance of Bishop DiLorenzo, St. Anthony’s, Norton, VA; Sacred Heart, Big Stone Gap, VA; St. Joseph's, Clintwood, VA; Holy Spirit, Jonesville, VA; St. Mary's, Coeburn, VA; St. Teresa's, St. Paul VA; the Good Shepherd Church, Lebanon, VA; and St. Patrick's in Dunganon, VA; are all parish members of the Richmond Diocese.
Source of the Information
Through research and preparation, this article is courtesy of Denise Ellen Gabriele. Information provided by Cecilia Kelly, S. M. G., and Julia Dennehy, S. M. G., and from newspaper articles and church records available at the time of the 50th Anniversary of the Virginia Avenue, St. Anthony's Catholic Church, in 1988.