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.

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