Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia
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Historical Sketches

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Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia, Publication 18

CATHOLICISM IN SCOTT COUNTY
By Margaret McConnell Cox

Compiled and condensed from the personal notes and interviews of  Mrs. Ann Francisco, Gate City, VA

In the early 1800's, Joseph Hagan arrived in the United States from Ireland. He took a job of surveying a large portion of Richmond, Virginia. He purchased 35,000 acres of land in the mountainous region of Southwest Virginia. It covered many miles in all directions, including High Knob and large areas of Wise, Scott and Lee Counties. Hagan later settled in Hunters Valley in Scott County.

Joseph was the first known Catholic to settle in this rugged wilderness. At that time the nearest Catholic Church was in Wytheville, Virginia. Joseph took his family to Wytheville once a year to make their Easter Duty. In those days it was a law of the church that in order to remain a Catholic, you were expected to attend mass and receive the sacraments of communion and confession at least once a year.

In 1852, Patrick Hagan, a nephew of Joseph, arrived in the United States. He, too, was a Catholic and later became a well known teacher of the faith. He settled in Hunters Valley and built a fourteen room brick house. This house was known as Hagan Hall, and it was here that Catholic services were held for the families of Scott County.

There were no Catholic Churches in Scott County though many Catholic bishops, priests, and nuns passed through Hagan Hall for religious services.

In 1918, Father Clement, a Benedictine priest, became one of the first priests to take care of the Scott County Catholics. He continued these services until about 1922 or 1923.

In 1919 or 1920 a road was surveyed through Big Moccasin area. All the men in the vicinity helped with the road work. When the road was completed, it stretched from Gate City, Virginia, to Russell County. This road opened access for wagons to travel to the County seat. As long as the weather was dry a wagon and team could make it to town. If it rained the road was almost impossible to travel.

At this time, Father Clement had given up his jurisdiction in the area and had retied to Cullman, Alabama. Since the Bishop of Wheeling, West Virginia didn't have enough diocesan priests to staff the small churches in Dante, and Toms Creek in Wise County, Virginia, the task again turned to a Benedictine priest.

Father Jerome Lawrence arrived in Dante, Virginia, around the year 1923. He had a car, and he faithfully traveled the deeply rutted roads to hold mass in the various homes of the Catholic families. Mass was not always held on Sundays for weather conditions often made this impossible. But, Father Jerome would hold mass every morning that he could travel the back roads.

In 1924, Father Jerome decided to build a church. Garfield and Mart Wood donated the land needed for the construction site and, with the help of these fine gentlemen and several others, Father Jerome built St. Theresa's Catholic Church. This was the first Catholic Church in Scott County. It was also the first church built in the Wood settlement. After the church was built, Father Jerome held mass there as often as possible.

In 1929, Father Jerome's health failed and he returned to Cullman, Alabama. He died the following year.

After Father Jerome's death, things drifted back very much as they had been several years earlier. Many of the Catholics moved away and there were no priests to perform the mass.

Finally, in 1931, the Bishop of Wheeling appointed a new priest. Father Hickie was a diocesan priest from the city and he was appointed Pastor of St. Anne's Catholic Church in Bristol, Virginia. He was also responsible for the church in Wood settlement. He remained pastor of both churches until 1946.

In 1946, Father William Howard, founder of the Glenmary Order of Priests, decided it was time to begin a permanent evangelical movement in Scott County. He sent Father Ed Smith and Father Joe Dean as pastor and assistant pastor to Norton, Virginia. In a very short while, additional priests and brothers were assigned to different areas.

Later Father Ed Smith met Barney Hagan, a Catholic living in Dungannon, Virginia. Barney was a great nephew of Patrick Hagan. He donated a piece of property in Dungannon for the construction of a new church. Father Ed drew up plans and built a triple-peaked log cabin chapel in 1946. It was named St. Patrick's Catholic Church and it was the second Catholic Church in Scott County.

In 1944, Father Robert Berson, then Pastor of the Norton Missionaries, began to establish a Catholic community in the rural area known as Hunters Valley. A small wood-frame church was constructed sometime during 1953 on property that was also given to the church by the Hagan family. The church was named the Chapel of Christ the King and became the third Catholic Church in Scott County.

Father Eugene Ryan and Father Pat Breheney came to this area in 1954. Father Ryan became pastor of Gate City and Father Pat became assistant pastor of Dungannon. There was no church in Gate City, so Father Ryan rented a house where he held church services. After a few years, Father Ryan purchased property and built St. Bernard's Catholic Church in 1956. The church was dedicated in 1958. Father Ryan was later sent to Rome and a new priest, Father Frank Gardner was assigned to St. Bernard's ad St. Patrick's.

Father Gardner was transferred and then followed by Father Bob Rodemancer. Since Father Bob's transfer in the 1960's, the following were priests assigned to St. Bernard's in Gate City and St. Patrick's in Dungannon: Father Duffy, Father Cline, Father Tigler, Father Holmes, Father Curran, Father Garvey and presently Father Kelly.

St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Gate City has grown from the three original families descended from Patrick Hagan to approximately fifty families.

The Glenmarians are still in charge of all the Catholic Churches and Missions in this section of the country. These churches are simply not self-sufficient enough to be turned back to the Richmond diocese. So, since 1946, the Catholic Churches in Scott County have been a bee-hive of activity due to the Glenmary priests, sisters and brothers. They were a young order of very ambitious Catholics and because of their dedication, people have learned what Catholicism really means.

Home ] Up ] 5-Confederates ] Kilgore Ft. House ] [ Catholicism ] Rafting ] Long Hunters ] Dr. McConnell ] Spartan Band ] Hanging Sheriffs ] W.D. Smith ] Frontier Forts ] Chief Benge ] James Boone ] Old Mills ] Whites Forge ] Whiteforge Post Office ] Samuel Smith ] James Shoemaker ] Jane and Polly ] Indian Missionary ] Patrick Porter ] Phillips Killing ] Boone Trail ] Stoney Creek Baptist ] Methodism ] Daniel Boone ] Estil Cemetery ] Scott Co. Names ] Confederate Soldiers ] Drayton Hale ] Reids Normal School ] Dr. N. Stallard ] Indian Forays ]