Glenmary Missioners in Southwest Virginia
The Glenmary Priests and Brothers Contributions
The History of the Glenmary in Southwest Virginia
In 1945 the Glenmarians, six years old as a Home Mission Society, came to Southwest Virginia, and were entrusted with a parish of some 2,200 square miles of rugged mountains terrain. 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. Down through the years Frs. Howard W. Bishop, Joseph Nagle, Raymond F. Dehen, Roland Houtz, James P. Kelly, Robert Berson, Frank R. Gardner, John J. Marquardt, John Otterbacher, Lawrence Goulding, Richard Bowland, Edward Haggerty, Edward Gorny, Joseph O’Brien, Les Schmidt, William F. Browne, John S. Rausch, and Robert Bond, served as pastors or assistants. Glenmary Brothers and Sisters often assisted the Glenmary priests.
The Mission Churches and the Glenmary
The region included mission churches in Dungannon, St. Paul, Coeburn, Gate City, Clintwood, and Lebanon. Keokee used a house for a church. When the Glenmarians arrived in Southwest Virginia in 1945, Catholics numbered about 150. In 1988 there were about 750 active parishioners in the five parishes of Norton and Coeburn; Big Stone Gap and Pennington Gap; Gate City and Dungannon; St. Paul and Lebanon; and Clintwood. In the late 1950’s, the Glenmary Brothers built a recreational hall onto the back of the existing St. Anthony’s Church. The “Rec-Hall” became a hub for dances, parties, meetings, potluck suppers, and dinners. The events at this facility were for not only the St. Anthony’s parishioners; but also young people and other local residents attended them.
In July 1948, at the suggestion of the Glenmary Fathers and on the invitation of Bishop Swint of Wheeling, the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, better known locally as the “hospital sisters,” came to Norton. The pioneer sisters were Mary Patrice and Sr. Anne Christina. Then Sisters Agnes Concepta, Mary Fentan, and Mary St. Finian (later known as Sr. Kathleen Clarke) joined these in a short time. The Bishop loaned the sisters the money for the purchase of the Norton clinic, which was renamed St. Mary’s Hospital. It is the only Catholic hospital in Virginia west of Richmond.
Prior to joining the Diocese of Richmond, the Glenmary priest for St. Anthony’s also served St. Mary’s in Coeburn. St. Anthony’s Church has an active Pastoral Council. During the Glenmary affiliation, St. Anthony’s congregation numbered approximately 150 families.
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 existing “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.
Glenmary Build a New St. Anthony's Church
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. During Fr. Bond’s service, there was a desire for a new church. Fr. Robert Bond was the mastermind for the building of the new St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. The final decision to build a new St. Anthony’s Catholic Church came on "Good Friday,” 1975. A building committee established an acceptable contract with the architectural firm of Dewberry, Nealson, and Davis.
In 1979, the parishioners saw the construction of a new 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 services of parishioner David Emershaw made heating and cooling the church a reality. Stucco experts Ted Clear and Paul Dinkle made the outside façade possible. The only subcontract to Stonemason Bruce Franklin made the front face outside and the sanctuary wall inside the church a powerful element.
The building committee and Fr. Bond wanted St. Anthony’s Church to have a unique relationship with the parishioners, the Norton area people, and the community of Wise, County. Therefore, they decided to use two very important elements of the church to achieve their vision. One element would be the altar, while the other element was the windows.
In 1975, Coal was a very important industry in Wise County. Due to the consistency of the Wise County coal, mining does not render large blocks of coal. A local man went to Pennsylvania to find and deliver a block of coal big enough to serve as an altar. After two failed attempts, delivery of one large block of coal arrived by railroad in Kingsport, Tennessee. Polished on the top and on the side facing the priest, the block became a coal altar. For any church and especially for this community, this altar is still unique.
The Second important element of St. Anthony’s Church is the windows. The Brothers of the Glenmary Mission in Cincinnati constructed the windows. Each of the eight windows in St. Anthony’s Catholic Church represents a different feature of the Wise County Community, the Wise County People, the City of Norton, and the Church. Starting on the front left side of the sanctuary and proceeding toward the back. The first four windows represent Medical; Mining; Education; and Religious. On the right side of the sanctuary and proceeding toward the back, the four windows represent Church; Laborers; Sacred Heart and Trail of the Lonesome Pine; House; and Home.
The architects estimate was $133,000.00; the dedicated artisans of the Glenmary Brothers building crew and the services of many reduced the final cost to around $80,000 for which the congregation at St. Anthony’s is extremely grateful. The new St. Anthony’s Catholic Church attaches to the 1972 parish hall. The results are the church dedicated on November 28, 1977. Tearing down the original St. Anthony’s Catholic Church made room for the current courtyard and flower garden. Through the donation and labor of Deidre and Eddie Wells, lilies now bloom and give beauty to the garden. The brick house to the left of the new church was bequeathed to the church by William Kanto, and remodeled and served as the priest residence.
Bishop Walter F. Sullivan was installed as the 11th Bishop of Richmond on July 19, 1974. The new Dioceses of Richmond came into being August 13, 1974. Southwest Virginia, which had formerly been part of the Wheeling Diocese, is now included in the Richmond Diocese.
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 over to the new Diocese of Richmond. Fr. Robert Bond was the last Glenmary pastor at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. St. Joseph Church Clintwood, Dickenson County, Virginia, which had been a mission of St. Anthony's, became a new parish in 1979. Its' first pastor was Fr. William Archambault. Clintwood temporarily remained a Glenmary mission, until 2001 when they joined the Richmond Diocese. However, the Glenmary priest continued to serve the parish. Upon the death of the Glenmary Priest Fr. Rademacher, the priest that serves St. Anthony's began to serve St. Joseph's parish.
Under the leadership of Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of the Richmond Diocese, Father Richard Dollard, a Diocesan priest became the new pastor. He served at St. Anthony’s Church until 1984. Today St. Anthony’s is still a member parish of the Richmond Diocese. From 1984 until the present, serving St. Anthony’s also have been the following priests: Joseph D’Aurora, Frank Wiggins, Tom Collins, Joseph Facura, and Father Timothy Drake is St. Anthony Church current presiding priest.
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.