Bicentennial Time Capsule

Throughout the Diocese of Richmond’s bicentennial year, a time capsule recalling a particular time in diocesan history is scheduled to be published in each issue of The Catholic Virginian. The bicentennial time capsules have been researched and compiled by Father Anthony E. Marques, chair of the Diocese of Richmond’s Bicentennial Task Force. 



Bicentennial Article • June 29, 2020


Time Capsule • June 15, 2020


On the feast of Corpus Christi in 1960, Bishop John J. Russell, 10th bishop of Richmond (1958–1973), carries the Blessed Sacrament in procession at St. Joseph’s Villa in Richmond, where the Daughters of Charity ran a girls’ orphanage and school (1931–1977). The villa and eucharistic procession gave conspicuous public witness to the Catholic faith and expressed the vitality of the Church in a non-Catholic area. St. Joseph’s Villa continues to help children in need. (Photo/Diocese of Richmond Archives)



A fresco in the cathedral of Orvieto (central Italy) depicts a magnificent scene. In 1263, Pope Urban IV (reigned 1261–1264), who was residing in the city, went to meet a procession that was coming from nearby Bolsena. The pope was awaiting the arrival of a consecrated host that had oozed blood, together with a corporal (linen cloth) in which it had been wrapped. 

The priest who celebrated the Mass in which the marvel occurred, Peter of Prague, had been harboring doubts about the eucharistic presence of Christ and, when the incident took place, reported it to the pope. After investigating the matter, Urban became convinced that the phenomenon was miraculous. He was now enshrining the relics in the Orvieto cathedral, where they are kept to this day.

That procession in 1263 may have been the first one associated with Corpus Christi, the feast day commemorating the Eucharist that typically falls in June. (Corpus Christi is the Latin expression for “Body of Christ.”) 

The commemoration originated in Liège (present-day Belgium). There, the local bishop, Robert Thourette, acceded to the request of St. Juliana of Cornillon (ca. 1192–1258), an Augustinian nun, to institute a feast dedicated to the Eucharist (1246). 

Some 40 years earlier, Juliana, who had always been fervently devoted to the Blessed Sacrament, had a vision of a full moon with a dark stripe running through it (ca. 1208). She interpreted the vision to mean that the Church lacked a feast centered on the Eucharist, and that she must advocate for it. 

Pope Urban was familiar with Juliana’s call for a feast in honor of the Eucharist, and had himself taken part in such a feast when, as Jacques Pantaléon, he was archdeacon of Liège (1243–1249). Later, just before the end of his pontificate and death, he extended the feast of Corpus Christi to the whole Church (Transiturus de hoc mundo, 1264).  

Urban explained that a special feast day was necessary for appreciating the greatness of the Eucharist: 

“Although this holy sacrament is celebrated every day in the solemn rite of Mass, nevertheless, we believe it is useful and fitting that a more solemn feast be celebrated at least once a year… Since on Holy Thursday, the day when Christ instituted it [the Eucharist], the universal Church, occupied with hearing the confessions of the faithful, blessing chrism [holy oil], fulfilling the command of the washing of feet, and with many other sacred ceremonies, cannot fully attend to the celebration of this great sacrament.”

According to tradition, Urban personally celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi in the cathedral in Orvieto. He had commissioned his friend, St. Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1224–1274), to compose the prayers and hymns for the feast (1261–1263). For the occasion, Thomas wrote, among other pieces, “Pange, lingua.” This hymn includes the verses “Tantum ergo Sacramentum,” which are typically sung when the Eucharist is exposed for adoration. 

Urban’s death resulted in an extended loss of momentum for the spread of Corpus Christi. His successors Clement V (1312) and John XXII (1317) propelled the wider adoption of the feast. Around 1300 the custom arose of carrying the Eucharist in procession on the feast day. The Council of Trent defended and encouraged this practice in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation (Decree on the Sacrament of the Eucharist, 1555, ch. 5, can. 6).  

As part of the liturgical reform inaugurated by Vatican Council II, Corpus Christi, which was officially called “The Most Holy Body of Christ,” absorbed the feast of the Precious Blood (July 1). The name of the combined feast became “The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ,” although it is still generally referred to as Corpus Christi (“Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Calendar,” 1969, no. 7). The Roman Missal recommends that a eucharistic procession be carried out on this day.

Urban IV had decreed that Corpus Christi be observed on the second Thursday after Pentecost (as was the practice in Liège). Thursday was undoubtedly chosen because Christ instituted the Eucharist on that day (Holy Thursday). In the United States, Corpus Christi was eventually transferred from the second Thursday after Pentecost to the following Sunday (1984).

Time Capsule • June 1, 2020



Immaculate Conception Church

“To the second I gave the name Island of Santa Maria de Concepcion.” 

Christopher Columbus was recounting in a letter the second landfall of his voyage in 1492, which likely occurred in the present-day Bahamas. This record is the first association between the Americas and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Columbus’ piety reflected a long-standing Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception. Three-and-a-half centuries after the discovery of the New World, the bishops of the United States, gathered at the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore, chose Mary, honored under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as the patroness of the country (1846). 

Pope Pius IX confirmed this decision (1847), and seven years later he defined the dogma (formal belief) of the Immaculate Conception: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception … preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (1854). 

The definition of the dogma took place during a period of renewed Marian devotion. Several apparitions of Mary in the 19th century contributed to this piety, including two that featured references to the Immaculate Conception: in Paris, to St. Catherine Labouré (1830), and in Lourdes, to St. Bernadette Soubirous (1858).

In the Diocese of Richmond, two churches were dedicated to the Immaculate Conception during this period. St. Patrick Church in Norfolk (1831), home to one of the oldest organized Catholic communities in Virginia (ca. 1794), burned to the ground on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1856). It was then rebuilt and renamed St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception (1858).

The second church to have the title Immaculate Conception was in Buckner’s Station (today Buckner), in Louisa County (1877). The construction of the Louisa (later Virginia Central) and Blue Ridge Railroads connected Richmond to the Shenandoah Valley (1850–1858) and brought immigrants to Louisa County.

The Catholic population in Buckner’s Station included Germans, and so the community there became a mission of St. Mary, the German national parish in Richmond (1848–1937). The mission was originally called St. Boniface after the apostle to Germany (672–754), and in recognition of the community’s heritage. 

The change to Immaculate Conception highlighted the spiritual connection to the mother parish in Richmond. The earliest baptism in Buckner took place in 1869, and monthly Mass was offered from around 1876.

The next year, James Gibbons (1834–1921), the fourth bishop of Richmond, dedicated Immaculate Conception Church in Buckner’s Station. Gibbons had been made the vicar apostolic (missionary bishop) of North Carolina at age 33 (1868–1872), earning him the nickname “the Boy Bishop.” 

Gibbons achieved prominence during his time in Richmond (1872–1877) by writing “Faith of Our Fathers” (1876), an influential book that, unusual for its time, presented Catholicism in a diplomatic way. This technique reflected Gibbons’ experience as a bishop in North Carolina and Virginia, where Catholics were a minority that endeavored to gain social acceptance.

From Richmond, Gibbons went on to become the archbishop of Baltimore (1877–1921), the second American cardinal (1886) and a national figure. He aspired to demonstrate the compatibility of the Catholic faith and American society. 

To Gibbons, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “Taking your life as a whole, I think you now occupy the position of being the most respected, and venerated, and useful citizen of our country” (1917).

James Gibbons recorded in his diary the dedication of Immaculate Conception Church, which continues to be used for worship today: 

Dedication of the Church at Buckner’s Station

June 25th [1877]. This morning after arriving about 11 A.M. by the train at Buckner’s Station Louisa Co. (48 miles from Richmond) I dedicated the new church just erected there. It is a frame building about 30 x 50 [feet]. There was a large concourse of people present from the neighborhood of Richmond. I preached on the occasion & at the end of Mass I administered Confirmation to nine candidates, including three converts. Frs. Benno [Hegele] and Bernardine [Dolweck] assisted me. The Church is dedicated to the B. V. Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception.

Bicentennial Article • May 18, 2020

Time Capsule • May 18, 2020



Celebration of First Holy Communion at St. Bede Church, Williamsburg, in 1956. The banner on the right features an image of Pope Pius X, who had been canonized in 1954. The words beneath the image enshrine his legacy: “Pope of the Eucharist.” (Photo/Diocese of Richmond Archives)

Veil and white dress for girls, shirt and tie for boys: most Catholics never forget the day — usually in May in the United States and other Western countries —when they received the Eucharist for the first time.

But the age for First Holy Communion has varied over the course of history. Baptized infants evidently received the Eucharist during antiquity, with local custom determining the frequency of this practice. 

Around 1200, this rite fell out of use in the Western, Latin-speaking Catholic Church, but has continued uninterrupted in the Orthodox Churches and in the Coptic (Egyptian) Catholic Church. (Other Eastern Catholic Churches began restoring the practice of infant Communion in the mid-1990s.) 

The minimum age for First Holy Communion in the West became the “age of reason.” This development likely occurred out of concern for safeguarding the eucharistic species. 

Previously, infants and young children had mostly received the consecrated wine alone, so when the chalice was gradually withdrawn from the laity for fear of spillage, infant Communion disappeared. Reception of the Eucharist took place at an age when it seemed that a child could reverently consume the consecrated host — the “age of discretion.”

Lateran Council IV (1215) solidified the “age of reason” as the time for First Holy Communion when, in response to infrequent lay Communion, it mandated at least yearly reception of the Eucharist, together with sacramental confession, for those who reached the “age of discretion” (canon 21). But the council never specified in what year of their lives people attain this age.

Significantly, too, Lateran IV did not claim that understanding of the Eucharist was a requirement for receiving the sacrament. For its part, the Council of Trent (1545–1563) only taught that Communion before the “age of reason” was unnecessary, since young children could not sin gravely and therefore lose the grace of baptism (Doctrine on Communion under Both Species and the Communion of Young Children, 1562, canon 4). 

A rationale was eventually supplied for having the age of reason as the minimum age for First Holy Communion: a person must have some understanding of the Eucharist and devotion toward it in order to receive the sacrament fruitfully (see Roman Catechism, 1566, II, 4, 26, 32). 

Over time there arose different understandings of the “age of discretion” in regard to sacramental confession and Communion — even though Lateran IV had decreed that both sacraments be received at this age. 

The minimum age for receiving the sacrament of penance was determined to be that time when a person could distinguish between right and wrong, and therefore commit a sin (Roman Catechism, II, 4, 45). This was generally reckoned as age 7. 

A deeper level of knowledge, however, was deemed necessary for grasping the significance of the Eucharist. As a result, the age for receiving Communion was typically set between 10 and 14 years, depending on the place.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a historic change took place as part of a movement promoting enhanced eucharistic devotion. Pope St. Pius X (reigned 1903–1914) lowered the age of First Holy Communion to approximately 7, asserting that children should be nourished by the Eucharist, which could help them to avoid grave sins (Quam singulari, 1910). 

He stipulated that it was only necessary for children to be able to distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary food (no. 3). They were then obliged to gradually learn about the entirety of the Catholic faith (no. 2). 

Pius X had earlier encouraged frequent and even daily reception of the Eucharist, which significantly altered Catholic piety and practice (Sacrosancta Tridentina Synodus, 1905). For having made the Eucharist more widely available as he did, Pius X is honored as the “Pope of the Eucharist.” 

Time Capsule • May 4, 2020



A common May devotion to the Virgin Mary is a procession that includes adorning an image of her with a crown of flowers. This photo is from a May procession held at St. Charles School in Arlington around 1930. Note the trolley tracks. The construction of the Key Bridge in 1923 enabled trolley cars to cross the Potomac River, the first step in the development of northern Virginia as a suburb of Washington, DC. Northern Virginia belonged to the territory of the Diocese of Richmond until August 13, 1974, when it became part of the newly formed Diocese of Arlington.(Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Richmond Archives)

The dedication of May to the Blessed Virgin Mary is a centuries-old tradition. Its cultural roots may reach back to the May festivals of two pagan deities: Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, wild animals and fertility; and Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and fertility. (Acts 19:23–40 mentions an Artemis who was worshipped in Ephesus as a mother and fertility goddess; her shrine was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.)

Veneration of Mary included an old, month-long devotion that was called, in Latin, Tricesimum (30 days), and in English, “Lady Month,” which ran from August 15 to September 14. During the Middle Ages, particular days in May came to be associated with the Blessed Virgin, and eventually the whole month. 

The specific reason for this development is unclear but in any case it combined the existing 30-day devotion, veneration of Mary’s motherhood and a calendar period associated with springtime and birth. Specific devotions to Mary throughout May originated in Italy during the late 1700s and from there spread to the rest of the Church.

Since 1945, a Marian feast has been observed on May 31: formerly this was the Queenship (which was transferred to August 22, seven days after the Assumption), and currently the Visitation. Furthermore, May 13 is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which commemorates the first apparition of Mary to Portuguese shepherd children (1917).

Bicentennial Article • April 20, 2020


Time Capsule • April 20, 2020



Bishop Andrew J. Brennan with confirmands at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia in 1932. The confirmands are likely the adolescents in the back row; the other children are probably first communicants. (Photo/Diocese of Richmond Archives)

Easter could be called a “season of sacraments” because many of them are typically received, or more frequently celebrated, during the 50-day celebration of Christ’s resurrection: the baptism of adults and children, first holy Communion (Eucharist), confirmation, ordination (holy orders), and weddings (matrimony).

Each sacrament renews the Paschal Mystery — Christ’s passion, death, resurrection, ascension and the giving of the Holy Spirit — and applies the power of that saving event, in a specific way, to the recipient. In short, the sacraments “flow” from the pierced side of Christ (see Jn 19:34) into the liturgical rites of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1115).

The understanding of confirmation for much of the history of the Diocese of Richmond was based on the Baltimore Catechism (1885), which, in turn, was based on the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), better known as the Roman Catechism. 

According to the Baltimore Catechism, “Confirmation is a Sacrament through which we receive the Holy Ghost to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ” (Question 670). 

Here, soldiering meant resisting worldly pressures in order to bear witness to Christ, strengthened by that sacrament (Roman Catechism, II, 3, 2 and 18). The Baltimore Catechism stated, “One may and should add a new name to his own at Confirmation, especially when the name of a saint has not been given in Baptism” (74).

Confirmation, like baptism and holy orders, impresses a “character” or mark on the recipient, meaning that these sacraments can never be erased or repeated (II, 1, 26). The age for confirmation, according to the Roman Catechism, was about 12, with the minimum being 7, the age of reason. 

(The Roman Catechism stated that confirmation “may indeed be administered to all” regardless of age. However, it was “inexpedient” to confirm those below the age of reason, and so the sacrament was “deferred” or “postponed” until the prescribed age — an implicit acknowledgment that confirmation was originally conferred on infants [II, 3, 15].)

The Roman Catechism explained that the term “confirmation,” and the age at which the sacrament was usually received, should not be misinterpreted as somehow “confirming” one’s personal faith that had been involuntarily professed at infant baptism, which would reduce confirmation to the mere act of reaffirming one’s faith at a mature age (II, 3, 18). Still, this misunderstanding of confirmation lingered, even as it does today.

The ordinary minister of confirmation is a bishop (II, 3, 11). Like his predecessors and successors, Andrew J. Brennan (1877–1956), the eighth bishop of Richmond (1926–1945), administered confirmation across a vast territory. 

At that time, the Richmond Diocese included the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. When the western counties of Virginia seceded during the Civil War and formed West Virginia (1863), the Diocese of Wheeling covered most of the new state as well as southwest Virginia, while the Diocese of Richmond covered the remainder of Virginia and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. 

The boundaries of the Richmond and Wheeling dioceses were finally reconfigured to coincide with state lines in 1974. At the same time the territory of northern Virginia became the newly formed Diocese of Arlington.

During his tenure, Bishop Brennan began a diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Virginian (1931), and opened two homes for children in need: St. Joseph’s Villa in Richmond (1931) and the Barry-Robinson School for Boys in Norfolk (1934). Brennan also led the diocese during the Great Depression (1929–1939). 

He experienced a stroke in 1934 that left him unable to function as bishop. Peter L. Ireton of Baltimore was appointed coadjutor (meaning that he would automatically succeed Brennan as bishop) and administrator of the diocese (1935), although Brennan did not formally resign his position until 1945.

Editor’s note: Given the restrictions on public gatherings brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the celebration of confirmation has been suspended. Once public Masses resume, local pastors will confer the sacrament in their parishes.

Time Capsule • April 6, 2020



The Saturday evening Mass, which fulfills the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday, is a staple of contemporary Catholic life in the United States. Yet this practice is only 50 years old. 

Bishop John J. Russell

Technically called an “anticipated Mass” and colloquially a “vigil Mass,” it originated from two sacramental developments in response to modern circumstances: (1) the permission to celebrate Mass in the evening, and (2) the decision to allow a Mass on Saturday to count for Sunday. These principles were also applied to holy days of obligation.

Although Christ instituted the Eucharist — the Mass — within an evening meal on Holy Thursday, close to Passover, the earliest records indicate that Christians regularly celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday morning in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection. (There is a fascinating description of the Sunday Eucharist ca. 155 AD recorded by St. Justin Martyr, which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1345.) Weekday feasts came later, but Masses on those days were still celebrated in the morning.

It was not until the 1940s, when times for Masses had to accommodate the disruption caused by World War II (1939–1945), that the Church granted permission for evening Masses in Europe (on Sundays and weekdays) on a case-by-case basis. These evening Masses became popular, so bishops in Europe and elsewhere requested them after the war. 

Pope Pius XII (reigned 1939–1958) eventually granted general authorization for bishops to permit evening Masses, first on Sundays (Christus Dominus, 1953), and then on weekdays (Sacram communionem, 1957). 

Just as evening Masses became more common during the 1940s and 1950s, so during the 1960s bishops increasingly requested and received permission for the celebration of Saturday evening Masses that fulfilled the Sunday obligation. The rationale for this decision was similar to that used for evening Masses: the practice would facilitate worship for people who could not attend Mass on Sunday because of the relative shortage of priests, changing working conditions or even new patterns of recreation. 

The rationale for anticipated Masses did not include the concept of a vigil. The tradition of keeping vigil (literally, a “night watch”) was     understood to be a time of prayer in preparation for a feast rather than a sharing in the feast itself. 

However, the liturgical reform mandated by Vatican Council II (1962–1965) broadened the notion of vigil: “The liturgical day runs from midnight to midnight, but the observance of Sunday and solemnities [major feasts] begins with the evening of the preceding day” (Congregation for Divine Worship, General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 1969, no. 3). 

The shortening of the eucharistic fast contributed to the spread of anticipated Masses. Pius XII had reduced the fast from midnight to three hours for evening Masses (Christus Dominus, 1953), and then for all Masses (Sacram communionem, 1957). Pope St. Paul VI reduced the fast to one hour (announcement at Vatican Council II, 1964). 

On January 10, 1970, the bishops of the United States collectively received authorization to allow the fulfillment of Sunday and holy day obligations by attendance at Mass on the evenings prior. This authorization lasted five years and was renewed in 1974 and again in 1979. 

In 1983, it became universal law that attending Mass on Saturday evening, or on the evening before a holy day of obligation, fulfilled the precept of worship (Code of Canon Law, canon 1248 §1).

Interestingly, the Church has never specified the start of “evening” with respect to fulfilling a Mass attendance obligation. By custom, 4 p.m. is regarded as the earliest time based on Pius XII’s decree concerning evening Masses. 

A second question about time is whether two obligations can be met simultaneously by attending an evening Mass (for example, when Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday). Although the Church has not provided a definitive ruling on this matter, it is generally held that the two obligations must be fulfilled by attending separate Masses (in the example cited — one for the Sunday and one for Christmas).

Throughout the development of anticipated Masses, the Church has stressed that this practice should not obscure the significance of Sunday nor the obligatory feast. For this reason, the precept of refraining from unnecessary work on Sundays or holy days of obligation still applies to those who have participated in an anticipated Mass (canon 1247).

It is worth noting that while the readings and prayers used at an anticipated Mass are typically those of the Sunday or the next day’s feast, those of any Mass — for example, a wedding, the feast of the day itself or even the Divine Liturgy of an Eastern Catholic rite — also fulfill the obligation (canon 1248 §1).

On April 14, 1970, John J. Russell, the 10th bishop of Richmond (1958–1974), announced the start of anticipated Masses in this diocese. Excerpts from his letter appear below.

“I hereby grant permission for Catholics in the Diocese of Richmond to fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation by attending Mass on Saturday evening beginning the week of May 3rd.” 

“Each parish in the diocese may avail itself of this option. …The permission allows one or two evening Masses in each parish church after 5:00 P.M. on Saturdays and on evenings before Holy Days of Obligation. …”

“Parishes using the privilege should revise their Sunday Mass schedules to permit more time between Masses and thereby foster a more meaningful liturgical celebration.”

“Prior to implementation, our people should be well instructed on the significance of the Sunday observance. Anticipation on Saturday does not lessen the sacredness of Sunday. It is in keeping with the early traditions of the Church when the people celebrated the liturgy on the vigil of the Day of the Lord.

“The adoption of this practice should prove advantageous to those people who find it difficult or inconvenient to attend Mass on Sunday. At the same time, it should lessen the overcrowding at the late Sunday morning Masses. Priests in mission areas or those obliged to trinate [celebrate three Masses] on Sunday should find this permission helpful. …

“Father: Please read this letter at all Masses on Sunday, April 19th.”

Time Capsule • March 23, 2020


At a time when women had few rights in colonial America and it was illegal to be a Catholic in Virginia, Margaret Brent (ca. 1601–1671) was active in civic affairs and a steadfast adherent of her faith. The story of her courage, determination and astuteness, which contributed to the cause of women’s rights, is fittingly told during March — Women’s History Month.

Since 1929, an annual Mass is celebrated at the Brent Family Cemetery, next to St. William of York Catholic Church, Stafford. The Brents are the first Catholic family known to have made Virginia their place of residence. (Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Richmond Archives)

Margaret Brent was born in England during a harrowing time for Catholics. Queen Elizabeth I had reestablished Protestantism and enacted penalties against Catholics (1559). Nevertheless, most of the Brent family became Catholic during the 1620s, a decision that made them recusants, meaning that they “refused” (Latin: recusare) to attend Anglican worship services and were therefore fined. 

This religious persecution probably led four Brent siblings, including Margaret, to immigrate to Maryland (1638). Margaret’s brother Giles had been appointed treasurer of the new English colony founded on the principle of religious toleration (1632–1634). (Three Brent sisters remained in Europe and entered a recusant convent in France.)

In Maryland, Margaret remained single, a decision that enabled her to become a successful businesswoman. Together with her sister Mary, with whom she operated a plantation, Margaret cultivated tobacco, owned a mill, engaged in lending and imported indentured servants. (These laborers typically worked for several years in order to pay the debt of their passage to the colony.) Margaret also functioned as a lawyer. 

She played a significant role in the aftermath of the Plundering Time, a period of unrest during which Protestants toppled the Catholic governor of Maryland, Leonard Calvert, and both sides engaged in violence (1645–1647). Calvert eventually regained power, and before his unexpected death, he appointed Margaret Brent the executor of his estate. 

Margaret was now responsible for paying the mercenaries from Virginia who had restored Calvert to power. As time went on, they seemed to be on the verge of mutiny. She appeared before the Maryland General Assembly, which met to address the crisis. 

Margaret sought to cast two votes on the matter: one for herself, as a landowner, and the other as the attorney of Leonard Calvert’s older brother Cecil (Lord Baltimore), who was Maryland’s proprietor and living in England (1648). This event has been viewed as an antecedent of women’s suffrage, although she herself did not advocate for that cause.

The governor denied her request to vote. Needing to act, Margaret sold Lord Baltimore’s livestock — without his permission — and paid the mercenaries. Baltimore was incensed by the move, but the legislature defended her decision as having preserved peace in Maryland. 

In a letter to Baltimore, the lawmakers wrote that Margaret successfully restrained the soldiers because of her status as a woman and because of her diplomatic skills (1649). Her actions may well have saved the fledgling colony of Maryland from extinction.

Margaret moved to Virginia after her brother Giles had disagreements with Lord Baltimore (ca. 1650). The family settled along Aquia Creek in the Northern Neck in what became Stafford County. The Brents are the first Catholic family known to have made Virginia their place of residence.

The Brents were recusants in their new home, but Virginia’s laws against Catholics were applied inconsistently, and the Brents, probably because they lived in a rural area and were circumspect about their religion, were able to progress socially and professionally for over a century. Margaret ran a plantation and continued to be involved in business and legal matters, although not politics.

The location of her grave is unknown. However, she is honored at the Brent Family Cemetery in Stafford, which belonged to the estate of her nephew George. The graveyard is located next to St. William of York Catholic Church (Diocese of Arlington). An annual field Mass has been celebrated at the cemetery since 1929 in memory of the Brent family.

On January 11, 1926, six years after women in the United States were granted the right to vote, the Catholic Woman’s Club of Richmond installed a plaque at its meeting place to commemorate Margaret and her contribution to women’s suffrage. “The Virginia Knight,” predecessor publication to “The Catholic Virginian,” covered the event in its January 1926 issue:

“Miss Adele Clark, second vice-president of the National League of Women Voters, was present at the ceremony and was called upon to speak. She commended the work of the club and their interest in civic and political affairs. She spoke of Bishop [Denis J.] O’Connell [sixth bishop of Richmond] as one who has always interested himself in the progress of his State and country, and voiced her appreciation of the fact that it was he who drew attention to Margaret Brent and caused it to be known that, though Virginia was not the first colony to bid her welcome in the New World, yet it did afford her a last resting place. … Miss Clark expressed her pleasure in being present at this impressive ceremony in honor of one whose name is held in such high esteem among the women voters of America.”

Time Capsule • March 9, 2020


In 1900, while at a train stop in Columbia, Virginia, located halfway between Richmond and Charlottesville, Mother Katharine Drexel glimpsed a cross through the trees. She asked her traveling companion, a religious sister of her order, if it was a Catholic church. Later, that sister, Mother Mercedes, learned that the Wakeham Chapel was indeed a Catholic church, and was under the care of a black Catholic layman.

St. Katharine Drexel attending a graduation at St. Emma’s Industrial and Agricultural School for boys (1923). To her left is her half-sister, Louise Morrell. To her right is Father Vincent Dever, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who worked in the African American community there. (Photo/Archives of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Catholic Historical Research Center of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia)

Father Richard Wakeham, a priest of the Society of St. Sulpice (Sulpicians), had built the chapel so that he could celebrate Mass there when he visited his parents (1884). St. Peter’s Cathedral in Richmond administered the chapel at least until the death of the priest’s mother, Catherine Wakeham (1891). Mass had not been regularly celebrated in the chapel for several years when the religious sisters found it.

With the support of Katharine Drexel, Mother Mercedes promptly began a Sunday school for African American adults and children. The chapel also became a mission for black Catholics: St. Joseph’s. It was placed under the care of the Society of St. Joseph for Foreign Missions, better known as the Josephites, in Richmond, and eventually became a parish (1967). Today the church is called the St. Joseph’s Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel. The name was changed to honor Katharine Drexel, the second native-born American to be canonized (2000).

Katharine Drexel (1858–1955) had come to Virginia in 1900 to visit the two schools that she, together with her half-sister, Louise Morrell (1863–1945), had opened in Rock Castle (Powhatan County) for black youth: St. Emma’s Industrial and Agricultural College for boys (1895), and St. Francis de Sales School for girls (1899). The Drexels used the fortune they inherited to fund charitable causes. In Katharine’s case, this included the work of the religious order she founded to care for African Americans and Indians (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament).

Located on an estate called Belmead, St. Francis and St. Emma’s provided vocational training, secondary education, and religious instruction to generations of African Americans. These institutions were closed, in 1970 and 1972 respectively, due to declining enrollment, increasing costs, and the accessibility of integrated public schools. (The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament sold the Belmead estate in 2019.)

In 1923, Mother Drexel attended a graduation at St. Emma’s. The picture taken at that event is the only photograph of St. Katharine Drexel in Virginia. Her feast day is March 3.

Time Capsule • February 24, 2020



Francis Parater

There are no records of a centennial celebration of the Diocese of Richmond (1920). But during that jubilee, the untimely death of a seminarian bequeathed a legacy of holiness to the Church of Richmond at its centenary.

Francis Joseph Parater (b. 1897) grew up in a devout Catholic family in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond. There he served daily Mass at the Monte Maria Monastery of the Visitation Sisters from the time of his first holy Communion through high school.

A friendly, talented and well-rounded young man, Frank became involved in scouting and attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He graduated as valedictorian of Benedictine High School (1917), and after two years at Belmont Abbey Seminary College in North Carolina, he decided to become a seminarian for the Diocese of Richmond. He was sent to the North American College in Rome for his theological studies (1919).

Frank contracted rheumatic fever two months after arriving in Rome. He courageously and peacefully accepted death, which came on Feb. 7, 1920. He was 22 years old. Later, a spiritual testament in which Frank offered his life for the spread of the Catholic faith in Virginia was discovered among his personal effects. He had written similarly in a general letter to the Boys Scouts of Richmond.

As Frank’s testament became known, the reigning pope, Benedict XV, and his successor, Pius XI, requested copies of it. The text of that “Act of Oblation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus” appears below.

The cause for Frank Parater’s canonization was introduced in 2001. The year 2020 — the bicentennial jubilee of the Diocese of Richmond — marks the centenary of the death of this remarkable young man.

Act of Oblation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

To be read only in the event of my death at Rome.

1. I have nothing to leave or to give away save my life, and I have already consecrated it to the Sacred Heart to dispose of it as He wills. I have offered everything I have — everything — for the conversion of the non-Catholics of Virginia. This is what I live for, and, should I die, what I die for.

2. Death does not sadden me; rather it is the most welcome, the most beautiful event of life. Death is God’s messenger who comes to tell us that our noviceship is over and to welcome us to the true life.

3. I do not write this out of melancholy or morbid sentimentality — for I love my life here, I love the College, the men, and Rome itself. But I have longed to die and be buried close to the saints. I dare not ask God to take me to Himself for fear of appearing so ungrateful for the gift of life or as if I wanted to avoid the graver responsibilities of living. At any rate, perhaps never again will I have less to answer for, perhaps never will I be more ready to meet my Creator, my God and my All.

Since I was a child I have wanted to die for the love of God and for my fellowman. I do not know whether I shall ever receive such a grace; but if I do live, it will be for the same end. Every act of my life here is offered for God, that the Church may spread and prosper in Virginia. I have always desired to be only a little child, that I might enter the kingdom of God. When the day of resurrection comes, I want to remain as a child and that it be allowed to me to follow St. John Berchmans, St. Aloysius and St. Stanislaus as their servant and friend. Do we serve God less worthily in Heaven by prayer than we do on earth by our activity? No, surely it is not selfish to want to be with Him who has loved us so much.

And there I will not be leaving those who are dear to me; I will always be close to them, and I will be able to help them much more than I could here on earth. I shall be able to be of more use to my diocese in Heaven than I could ever be on earth.

If it is God’s holy will, I shall go back to Him on Good Friday 1920, and I shall never leave Him again. But not my will, Father, but Thine be done!

Rome, December 5, 1919.

Time Capsule • February 10, 2020



The fifth bishop of Richmond, John J. Keane (1878–1888), blazed the trail for evangelizing freed slaves in the diocese by preaching to them in the basement of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Richmond (1879).

He then recruited members of the Society of St. Joseph for Foreign Missions, better known as the Josephites (1883), and the Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary (1885) to expand his work. Men and women religious of these orders, founded at St. Joseph’s Missionary College in Mill Hill (London, England), established churches and schools for black Catholics in the Diocese of Richmond.

This undated photo shows the interior of St. Joseph Church, Norfolk. The Josephite Fathers ministered to African Americans at St. Joseph Church and School from 1894 until 1961. (Photo/Diocese of Richmond Archives)

The Josephites ministered to several generations of African Americans at St. Joseph Church and School in Norfolk (1894¬–1961). There and in other places throughout the diocese, education was instrumental in bringing African Americans into the Catholic Church and helping them advance socially and professionally.

Ministry to black Catholics in Virginia aroused some opposition. In an incident that drew national attention, on Sept. 1, 1926, the Ku Klux Klan abducted the pastor of St. Joseph, Josephite Father Vincent Warren. The Klansmen warned the priest against “the mixing of the races” and threatened him, but released him unharmed. A black farmer found Father Warren and drove him home.

Two months later, The Virginia Knight, the predecessor publication to The Catholic Virginian, called for the arrest of the perpetrators who had still not been apprehended. Although a grand jury investigation was launched, state and local authorities eventually dropped the case.

Excerpts from the editorial in The Virginia Knight (November 1926) appear below:

“The entire State of Virginia and the entire country rose up in indignant protest when the news was spread broadcast a few weeks ago that Rev. Father Vincent B. Warren, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Norfolk, had been kidnapped by a mob of hooded men in Princess Anne County.

“The priest, who is loved by persons of all denominations, and [sic] committed no crime. His entire record during the ten years he has been in this city has been the best. He has devoted all the years he has been in Norfolk to educating little negro boys and girls and to teaching them and their parents how to live upright lives. He has built up the congregation of his little church from 125 to 1,000 in ten years. Eighty percent of his congregation is composed of converts to the Catholic faith, proving conclusively that his work here has brought many persons to live better lives than they had been living before he came to this city. …

“Father Warren organized a brass band of 65 pieces. The members were all young boys —students of St. Joseph’s school. It was at a concert given by this band in Princess Anne that Father Warren was kidnapped by the hooded mob and taken away in an automobile. He was put down in the road some miles from where the kidnapping took place and left in the dark to find his way back home as best he could.

“Although the kidnapping occurred on September 1, not a single person has been arrested. There were 30 hooded men in the mob who actually took part in the kidnapping and the roads through which the mob passed were guarded by other hooded men. Father Warren said he was satisfied that approximately 70 men were implicated in one way or another in his kidnapping.

“The most encouraging indication that the courts of Princess Anne intend to do something in the case of the kidnapping of Father Warren is found in a charge to the grand jury named to make an investigation by Judge B.D. White, the presiding jurist of the county.

“Judge White told the jury that the kidnapping of Father Warren was a disgrace to the State and the county and a crime against the Government.

“’There can be but one Government in this country,’ he said. ‘There is no place in Virginia for the law of the mob. If the courts are to function then the mob must be put down.’”

Time Capsule • January 27, 2020


In the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, as elsewhere in the United States, Catholic schools helped generations of Catholics hand on their faith and advance professionally in a society that was sometimes hostile to them. Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1) renews the mission of these institutions to educate and inspire witness to the Catholic faith.

In Portsmouth, Our Lady of Victory School educated African Americans for over 30 years, leading some of them to enter the Catholic Church (1930–1964). This school was staffed by the Daughters of Charity from Emmitsburg, Md.

When Catholic schools in Portsmouth were integrated, Our Lady of Victory School and St. Paul’s Central High School were merged into Portsmouth Catholic High School (1964–1991). Since 1993, Catholic High School in Virginia Beach has served all Catholic students in Tidewater.

In the western region of the diocese, Roanoke Catholic School began as St. Andrew School in 1889. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, joined the staff in 1893. Our Lady of Nazareth and St. Andrew consolidated their schools to form Roanoke Catholic School in 1950, with elementary grades added in 1985. Roanoke Catholic School continues the legacy of Catholic education in the Roanoke Valley.

Time Capsule • January 13, 2020


January 22, 1974, was the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, who at the time was the administrator of the Diocese of Richmond, called for a day of penance to mark that date. 

Each year on January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday), Catholics in the United States observe the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. Voluntary penances done on this day, such as fasting, abstinence from meat, prayer and charitable works, make reparation for the harm caused by abortion and seek to promote the dignity of human life.

Bishop Sullivan’s statement was published in the January 4, 1974 issue of The Catholic Virginian. The text is as follows:

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our time has been ravaged by war, corruption in government, exploitation of the land, the systematic oppression of minorities among us, and the evil almost unique in our age, the horrible crime of abortion.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States stripped the unborn child of the right to life guaranteed by our Constitution. Sadly, that decision accurately reflects the view of many of the people in our country. As a people of faith called by Jesus to give life, we have become accessories to that crime by our silence and our insensitivity.

Because of the guilt we share, I am proclaiming Sunday, January 20, 1974, a day of reparation for our offenses against the unborn. I call upon all of you to join me in reserving that Sunday as a day of prayer and fasting.

I ask you on that day to celebrate a special liturgy for the forgiveness of our sins and those of our nation against the unborn, and all those affected by our sinfulness. I ask you, as I myself will do, to fast in some meaningful way: eat only one meal; refrain from alcohol and tobacco; or do some other penance. I also ask each parish to place a basket in a prominent place in the church where people may contribute to local projects supporting human life. This money may be used according to the wishes of each parish.

God, our Father, has called us to repent of our sins and turn back to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. In this Holy Year of renewal and reconciliation, let us make this day the beginning of our return to Him. Let each one of us seek new ways to defend the sanctity of life and improve the quality of life in our nation.

Sincerely in Christ,

+Walter F. Sullivan

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