As the sun set behind a former Bank of America branch in downtown Crozet, about 200 people gathered for the first Mass in the new, permanent home of Our Lady of the Rosary mission, the first mission that Bishop Barry C. Knestout has established and named since becoming bishop.
Almost all would have to sit in the parking lot on a chilly, breezy Saturday night. For now, zoning rules restrict occupancy to no more than 50 people inside at a time. Since closing on the property Sept. 25 for $1.72 million, the diocese and the community had wanted to hold the first liturgy on Oct. 7, the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, and the mission’s namesake.
So many challenges arose in the last nine years: finding a space that could get county and diocesan approval; raising funds for renovation; having two weeks to change a place “dedicated to that accumulation of earthly wealth” that would now be “set aside for the gathering of spiritual treasures,” as Bishop Knestout would say in his homily.
The bishop was hard to hear outside, but a balky sound system would not dismay this group. The crowd sang the hymns, filed in and out for the Eucharist, and learned that a way had been found to make sure almost all could soon worship inside their new home. “Everything is just falling into place,” said longtime community member Julie Bowns, supervising preparations earlier in the week. “This is where God wants us to be.”
Determination and perseverance
For years, most Crozet Catholics had been attending parishes in Charlottesville and the surrounding area. In 2013, Father Joseph Mary Lukyamuzi of Holy Comforter, Charlottesville, agreed to say Sunday Mass for a small group of them. Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo gave permission, and in 2016, he named the community a mission.
“I cannot express the joy I have to see Crozet having a stable home,” Father Lukyamuzi said the day before the Mass. “I never thought I would see this happen in my time. It has been a struggle. But through determination and perseverance in prayer, especially to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it did.”
Our Lady of the Rosary met on Sundays in a local school, growing to about 550 people by 2019. But the pandemic shuttered the school and ended weekly Mass. Membership fell to about 50 families.
“Coming through COVID, we had to rebuild the community without a church, which was very hard,” said Msgr. Timothy Keeney, pastor at Church of the Incarnation, Charlottesville, and of this mission. “This is the fruit of so many people’s prayers and dedication, before my time and since I’ve been here.”
Crozet Baptist Church was the next stop. As before, the faithful each week had to set up and take down all the seats, tables and decorations. “Sure, you can have Mass anywhere,” said Tom Herlihy, project manager of the new building. “But having it in a holy, sanctified place is really important, a place that we can call our own, put our name on the building.”
Msgr. Keeney sees the persistence of the community as an inspiration to fellow Catholics. “This was very much led by laypeople, right from the very beginning,” he said.
“It was not something where the diocese identified this as a place where we need to have a church, but rather the community approached the diocese and said we would like to have a church here,” Msgr. Keeney added. “The diocese had to do a discernment, too, not just because somebody wanted it.”
In his homily, the bishop – who discerned that this church was needed – said it will be “a place where the treasures of God are expressed, and not just safeguarded, but shared with the world around us, shared among us as a community that we might be strengthened by those treasures, the Eucharist and reconciliation and the sacraments that God offers to us where we encounter his grace and his presence and are strengthened by them.”
‘This is home’
Three days before the Mass, Bowns and several volunteers were painting the walls, putting up Stations of the Cross, setting up rows of seats with the hope that the permit for higher occupancy would be approved in time.
“It looks like a church,” Bowns said with pride. “This is home. We’ve been nomads for nine years. It’s just beautiful to have our own space to worship.”
From the start, one of the people who resolved to find a way through rules and requirements has been Michael Marshall, member of the mission and editor of the Crozet Gazette. Many times, he’s told how he was inspired to get involved, as if keeping a local monthly newspaper going wasn’t challenging enough.
“I rolled out of bed one morning, routine day,” he said. “And I just stood up and a voice in the room said: ‘Why aren’t you asking for a church?’ I didn’t make it up, it’s not like inside my mind telling me that. I said, ‘Yes, sir. Does that make you happy?’”
Aside from having a dedicated space for worship, several members said it will enhance their children’s faith. “We realized that to get good formation of our children we needed our own space,” Marshall said, “where your kids see their friends at school, they see them at Mass. You hope that after about 18 years of that, it sticks.”
It’s working for 13-year-old Cael Cromer, one of the younger attendees at this first Mass. He and his family have been part of Our Lady of the Rosary since he was four. “I like how we all built it ourselves,” he said. “It’s a smaller community than most churches; everyone has a bond.”
Their new location will enhance social ministry, too, according to longtime member Lori Mohr Pedersen. The community has partnered with other non-profit groups on the Crozet Cares Closet, providing cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items to those in need. They’re also working with the Baptist church on a food pantry and collecting food for Thanksgiving meals.
“I think that’s part of what’s so important, to serve the people in this small town, and to join forces with the other churches in this area,” said Pederson.
Some earthly needs remain, such as adding another entrance to raise occupancy to 200. But Our Lady of the Rosary mission is ever resilient. Since there is not enough seating for the time being, they have added Masses.
Through the Christmas season, they will have three Masses people can sign up to attend: Saturday at 5:30 p.m., and Sunday at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Father Michael Duffy, who retired in July, will celebrate the Saturday and early Sunday Masses. The new schedule started Oct. 14 … with no seating planned in the parking lot.