Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia, Publication 18
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
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
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