|July 25, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 20|
Catholics in southwestern Virginia worship at churches which are part of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. But it must be a stretch for many of them to stay connected with the Diocese of Richmond whose see city is at least 300 miles — or more — to the east.
“We are closer to four state capitals than our own state capital in Richmond,” said Millie Tate, a longtime member of Sacred Heart Parish in Big Stone Gap July 17. The Catholic Virginian was visiting that day in preparation for a parish profile which will be published in September.
She then named them — Nashville in neighboring Tennessee, Charleston in West Virginia, Frankfort in Kentucky, and Columbus in Ohio.
Many Virginians, including those who live in places like Roanoke and Lynchburg, probably do not know that the far southwestern tip of Virginia is as far west as Detroit. For any who might be a doubting Thomas, get out a map and trace your finger to that location and then move straight north. You’ll find you’re in Detroit.
Fewer than one percent of residents in these far southwestern Virginia counties are Catholic. Most of them are transplants who have moved there in retirement or are married to a native of the area. This is the case of Melanie Jorgensen, a lawyer who is a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Jonesville and originally came there from Alexandria.
With its location close to the Tennessee border, Catholics in the bigger Virginia parishes of St. Anne’s in Bristol and Christ the King in Abingdon generally feel closer connected to news events and officials in the Volunteer State than they do with the Old Dominion State.
In fact, Bristol’s main business thoroughfare is appropriately named State Street because sidewalks on the north side of the street are in Virginia and those on the south side are in Tennessee. The state line runs right through the middle of the street. The separate cities of Bristol, VA and Bristol, Tenn. maintain separate police and fire departments and school systems.
“The Catholic Virginian is the best link we have with the Diocese of Richmond,” Ms. Jorgensen said at a Jonesville parish meeting immediately following the Sunday 8 a.m. Mass. These gatherings, which draw most of the normal group of 20 parishioners, are held the third Sunday of the month.
With only a handful of children at either Holy Spirit in Jonesville and Sacred Heart in Big Stone Gap, it is common for a teenager to be the only Catholic youth in his or her high school. This is the experience of Jesse Daniels, a senior at Lee High School who is preparing for Confirmation.
One positive point for being in such a small Catholic parish in a rural area is that each parishioner’s opinion is wanted and needed when critical issues pertaining to parish life are discussed.
“Everyone here is on the parish council,” Ms. Jorgensen told The Catholic Virginian.
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