POCAHONTAS, Va. — On September 18, St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church in Pocahontas, Va., held a celebration to commemorate its 125th year of service.
They had a celebratory service followed by a reception at Fincastle in Bluefield, Virginia.
Present were members of the regular congregation as well as six priests, including the former priest of St. Elizabeth, Father Dan Brady, and the current priest, Father Eric Anokye, the bishop, and a few others from sister churches and returning after moving.
“This place served the community consistently and never really closed,” Brady said. “People have kept it going throughout its 125 years, and this is actually our 126th year because we would have celebrated that accomplishment last year, but we couldn’t because of COVID.”
The church was built in 1896 by the French priest Father Emil Oliver, according to a booklet explaining the long history of Saint Elizabeth.
“It is the second oldest Catholic church building in the Diocese of Richmond, which includes all of southern Virginia from the east coast to Cumberland Gap,” Brady said.
He also added: “St. Elizabeth’s was built around the same time as Bluefield Catholic Church.
Over the years, St. Elizabeth has become the mother church for several in the area, including the Catholic churches of Tazewell, Richlands and Grundy. Anokye visits each of these churches every week.
Congregation member Andrew Satmary, who has attended the church all his life and is 94, said St Elizabeth’s history goes back a long way and was about immigrants from countries like Hungary , Germany, Poland and Italy. who started the church.
Although the Catholic population is not large now, when the church was founded there were very large numbers in the area.
The booming coal trade was what really attracted migrants to the area as they had been miners in the other countries they came from, so they were familiar with the work.
“They all came here when they emigrated to America, and they all worked in the mines,” Satmary said. “When the Hungarians arrived, many of them settled here.”
Satmary said all the migrants were very self-sufficient and started the church.
“It wasn’t the best back then, but it was taking care of people,” he said. “We had a very large congregation of Catholics here, and our little church here was named after our patron saint of Hungary, Saint Elizabeth.”
Brady explained a bit more about Saint Elizabeth and how she received her sainthood.
“She was a queen who lost the throne when her husband died because people didn’t think she was good enough to sit on the throne alone, and after that she started a religious life of third order,” Brady said. “She opened a hospital at the foot of the mountain on which the castle sat, and over time there was a party at the castle, and she would try to make sure everyone in the town was fed.”
“She led quite an example of a Christian life.”
The most notable part of St. Elizabeth’s Church is the many murals and artworks that are on display all over the interior of the church, which was another big part of the celebration as they come from be restored.
“The paintings are 100 years old, different things over time have aged them, but they look so beautiful restored again,” Brady said.
Jerry Lambert, who was on the planning committee for the celebration with his wife Donna, also added, “The restorations have absolutely lit up this place.”
The murals were done by Theodore Brash who came to Pocahontas around 1919 or 1920 for a visit, and when he saw the church he felt he needed to do the murals.
“He came from Cincinnati and we were friends with the former pastor, Father Anthony,” Brady said. “He came in, and what’s here now is only part of what he did. There are dates on each of them with his name too. When you walk in here I think it’s quite impactful to see all the art and stories on the walls and ceiling.
Another longtime member of the congregation, Vincent Shumate, added, “I traveled a lot in the army, so I saw a lot. I went to the Sistine Chapel, and Michelangelo did a good job, but I would oppose it anytime.
It depicts many biblical stories and symbols of the Christian faith.
“It’s a great place to teach children about God and the Bible because of the examples we have all around us here,” Brady said, adding that the murals don’t distract from worship and they actually amplify it.
“It’s just powerful and just a beautiful place,” he said. “It only enhances our worship. It’s not what we love, but it makes it better by reminding us of what we learn.
“It’s just spectacular,” Shumate said.
The Pocahontas area has churches in a few other denominations, including Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopal, to name a few, so the area is not defined on a single denomination.
According to Shumate, many inhabitants of this region probably did not see the interior of the church.
Although Brady followed up by saying that during the 100th anniversary celebration, they actually invited the town and all the other churches to come and see St. Elizabeth’s.
“When we did that, I said to them, ‘Isn’t this a great time in the world where we can communicate and see our similarities. We can see that we use the same gospels and stories,” Brady said.
Although the population of the Catholic church is not as large as it was in the beginning, the current congregation ensures that St. Elizabeth’s will not go anywhere anytime soon because those who grow up in the church “plant their roots” in the region. .
“I think we’re still probably one of the fastest growing churches in the city because of this rooting here,” Brady said. “It still has an impact on the community, and it’s a place that will draw people here once they know it’s here.”
Those who attend the church are very close to each other, and Shumate describes it as a family atmosphere.
“I think that’s the only way to put it,” he said. “We are a family.”
Shumate also added, “We get a lot of support here, and the people here support the church very well.”
Brady added that he thinks what has kept the church functioning as long as it has been is the fact that the church is “mature.”
“When I say this I mean it that way and not that it’s old,” he said. “If something needed to be done, I just needed to suggest it, and it would be taken care of because everyone in this parish is on it and doing their part.”
Within the community of Pocahontas, St. Elizabeth’s resembles the entire region. They all get along well because they all understand each other regardless of their faith.
“There’s a recognition that we need to help each other get through life,” Brady said. “It’s the kind of place where people help each other and care about each other, and that means a lot.”
The successful celebration reminded Brady of his time here as he is now at a church in Richmond, but he said St. Elizabeth’s will always be his home.
Brady also spoke fondly of the church and said he would return to Pocahontas after his retirement.
“I was a pastor here, I left 16 years ago, but I served here for 20 years,” he said. “I was here for quite a while and I have my home here in Pocahontas. When I retire, that’s where I’ll come.
He also added, “I’ve known this church for 36 years, and it’s been way longer than that. It’s always a pleasure to be here. »
Brady, Satmary and Shumate all said they were thrilled to have people coming back for the celebration, and they’re ready to see what the future holds for St. Elizabeth’s.
— Contact Kassidy Brownout [email protected]