Thursday, May 14
Thursday, May 14th
Good afternoon, Good afternoon,
Many years ago Bishop Keating assigned me to serve as administrator for Our Lady of the Valley Church in Luray, Virginia. It was an unexpected assignment, where I replaced Fr. Eugene Neyer, recently deceased. Luray sits in a pocket of the Shenandoah Valley 22 miles from Front Royal (North), Little Washington (East), Elkton (South), and Woodstock (West). And all between those outlying posts were… the Hollers.
The hollers are mountain communities of certain families only and that can be a problem. The genetic lines can overlap a little too closely in the hollers. They have special schools for the kids from the families too close in the family line. They are a selective people that welcome the postman, with the welfare checks, and the nurses, with the medicines. No one else.
The parish of Our Lady of the Valley dates back into the late 19th century. Irish laborers, building the railroad thru the Valley tried to build a church in Luray but failed for lack of funds and people. The first priests to settle the parish were Redemptorist missionaries. They would be replaced by diocesan priests of the Diocese of Richmond. The original church, still in use, dates back to 1954. It was a Sears Catalogue building. You could order it from the catalogue and have all the parts shipped to the site, assuming the concrete slab was readily available for the arriving parts. The rectory came years later and shared the same floor plans with three other rectories, the first two would be opposite in orientation from the latter two. The other parishes, sharing the designs were: The Mission Church in Bryce Mountain, Our Lady of the Blue Ridge in Madison, Virginia; and St. Paul’s, in the Hague, Virginia.
When I arrived the doctors of the parish met me after Mass. A nice bunch, with jovial depositions. They mentioned a young man who had recently died. He was from Rileyville, half way to Front Royal. I asked if he had a family and how he died… “Lots of kids. Blood poisoning.” One specified it was lead poisoning. “How could that happen in 1993?” He responded, with straight face, “five bullets from an angry husband.” They gave me the name but I opt to forget it for the time being. The young man who assumed room temperature at the age of thirty-eight had fathered over one hundred children in that corner of the valley. Mind you, not with a hundred women, as some had two and three children by him.
The docs were plenty serious at that point. They reminded me where I was from, in Arlington, the folks never stayed but moved on to other places. Luray had a people that never left and that was a problem. Some parishioners have family albums that go back eight or nine generations. 1993… was twenty seven years ago. Now is the time when some of the locals may be bonding up for matrimonial interests with genetic lines that overlap. I asked if he was a Catholic… “No.” Too bad, it would have done wonders for the Catholic Population. Just kidding, just kidding.
I would often commute to the vocations office from Luray. I would travel east on 211 to Warrenton. North to 66 on Rt. 17. And east to Glebe Rd. in Arlington.
How I remember the night returning to Luray on 211, crossing over the mountain. I entered a fogbank on the mountain and before reaching the top rose above the cloud and could see all the stars in the sky. It was spectacular. As I looked west I was looking down on a sheet of clouds, like a carpet below my feet. It was illumined by a full moon. Then dropping down the mountain the sheet became a ceiling with dark valley below illumined by the lights of Luray. I will never forget that view. One of the prettiest in the Commonwealth.
Now the rest of the story. The folks in Luray told me I had to go down to Elkton to see the Holy Infant Catholic Church. The priest had a job selling cars during the week in order to cushion his salary. The church was the home to the director of mosaics at the Basilica of the National Shrine to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington. Each summer he would come home for a number of weeks to relax. One summer he set mosaics over the two doorways leaving the body of the church. They seemed quite nice to many but not all. One or two pastors later, after the death of the artist, they decided to cover the mosaics with wood and paint it with the same color as the wall. Two or three pastors later, the hidden mosaics were well forgotten by all. One day someone mentioned to the priest that there was a nasty crack in wall. When someone tapped on the wall the wood covering came down, revealing the magnificent mosaic. I have stopped in Elkton several times on my collegiate travels but never found the doors to be opened. I would have loved to have seen the mosaics. But the folks in Luray say they are the same pattern in ceiling of the adjacent walkway in the main church of the Basilica. I have seen those. www.nationalshrine.org/art-architecture/
I will make a promise to the folks of St. Francis De Sales Church. When we get past the pandemic I will give a tour to all who want to make a pilgrimage to the National Shrine. I have been doing that for the last thirty nine years. Let us pray for one another.
Latest News: I sent to all of you an announcement of some supervisors of Loudoun County will recommend, to the governor, that certain districts in the Loudoun County should be opened. Purcellville is one of the select areas they will petition the Governor to open up the districts we live in. Yahoooooo! But, I digress. Please stay tuned.
The Bishop had a ZOOM meeting with the pastors this afternoon addressing the opening up of parishes and what liturgical options we may have to offer the parishioners. He will put out a video sometime tonight or tomorrow. I will send it to you.
God bless one and all. Let us pray for one another.