Despite COVID, diocese had much to celebrate

Brian Garrison, one of 41 volunteers with the Discipleship CHRIST Force at St. Nicholas, Virginia Beach, calls a senior from his home on Friday, July 24. Parishes used various means to keep in touch with their members during 2020. (Photo/Mellisa Garrison)

2020 was a year of growth, adaptation


Although the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in programs and events being altered or canceled within the Diocese of Richmond during 2020, parishes, schools and individuals still found much to celebrate.

Before the pandemic reached the diocese, the faithful rallied at the second annual Virginia March for Life on Feb. 13. A Mass for Life at the Richmond Convention Center concelebrated by Bishop Barry C. Knestout and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington drew more than 1,500 worshippers. More than 2,500 people attended the rally at the Capitol which preceded the march.


This was a year for growth and adaptation within the local Church of Richmond.

On Sunday, June 21, Bishop Knestout celebrated the patronal feast of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, dedicating the Mother Church to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On Sept. 20, he dedicated St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish, Charlottesville. On Oct. 4, he named the Catholic community in Crozet Our Lady of the Rosary Mission and blessed the people of the mission at the site where they hope to build a church.

Four hundred catechumens – 150 adults and 250 children – representing 74 parishes became “the elect” during the Rite of Election during the weekend of Feb. 29 – March 1. On Oct. 4, Bishop Knestout commissioned 11 women as lay ecclesial ministers through the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Institute.

On Wednesday, Aug. 12, the Office of Christian Formation launched Pathways: Delivered, the diocese’s catechist certification program in an online format.

A new Catholic Virginian website was launched in October with a focus on providing more Catholic news in an engaging way. In addition to local, national and global news, the revamped website features book, video game and movie reviews; a kids’ section; photos and video galleries; and examples of faith being put into action.

The Diocese of Richmond responded to Pope Francis’ call to care for creation when Immaculate Conception Parish, Hampton, became the first parish in the diocese to convert to solar energy in 2019. Seven additional solar projects are underway or in the planning stages at diocesan entities, which will offset more than 45,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases over the next 25 years.

Catholic Schools

Despite the presence of COVID-19, Catholic schools celebrated many achievements and new opportunities over the last year.

St. Mary Catholic School, Richmond, established its Future Full of Hope scholarship program thanks to an anonymous donor’s pledge of $100,000 each year for 10 years. With the scholarship covering up to 50% of annual tuition, at least two dozen students could be helped through the program each year.

St. Gertrude High School and Benedictine College Preparatory announced on Jan. 17, 2020, that the two schools had established a formal partnership under the umbrella organization of the Benedictine Schools of Richmond. Planned for 2021, St. Gertrude’s move from Richmond to Goochland took place over the summer due to the pandemic. Both schools continue to maintain independent functions, programs and curricula.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Newport News, became the first school in the diocese to be recognized as a Cardinal Newman Society Catholic Education Honor Roll School for shaping students spiritually, academically, socially and emotionally.

Staff and students rose to the challenge when diocesan Catholic schools moved to virtual learning on March 17 in response to the spread of COVID-19. They closed out the 2019- 2020 academic year that way, and thanks to smaller class sizes, all 23 diocesan Catholic schools successfully opened for in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 academic year.

While learning from home, three students at St. Bridget Catholic School, Richmond, volunteered to manufacture “door grabbers” and “ear savers” for healthcare workers using the school’s 3-D printers.


Parishes worked to bring Masses to the masses by implementing livestreaming when the celebration of public Masses was suspended on March 16. The Catholic Community Foundation provided resources to help parishes livestream the liturgies to people in their homes until churches reopened the weekend of May 23- 24. Additionally, CCF helped establish online giving through so parishes could continue to accept donations while many parishioners remain at home.

Racism was a topic of much discussion within the Church. Deacon Charles Williams, director of the diocesan Office for Black Catholics, led a livestreamed Prayer Service for Racial Healing on June 11. Father Jonathan Goertz, pastor of Sacred Heart, Danville, celebrated a Mass of Atonement on Aug. 28, the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, and called for Catholics to be better witnesses of authentic love.

In August and September, Church of the Ascension, Virginia Beach, held a two-part forum on racism to help parishioners reflect on current events and brainstorm ways of combatting racism within the Church.

Volunteers from parishes across the diocese demonstrated Christian love and support by reaching out to preserve the sense of community with the homebound as COVID-19 remains a threat.

For example, the music ministry at Our Lady of Lourdes, Richmond, started Project HOPE to reach out to the homebound through songs, greeting cards and special videos. Parishioners at St. Nicholas, Virginia Beach, established Discipleship CHRIST Force to reach out to older parishioners during the pandemic to stay connected and provide support.

Food banks have become increasingly important as many struggle with unemployment and experience difficulty in providing food for their families. St. Francis House Food Pantry, Roanoke, a part of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, served hundreds of families each month. Four nearby Catholic parishes – Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Gerard, St. Andrew and Our Lady of Nazareth – support the initiative.

Throughout the pandemic, Church of the Redeemer’s Knights of Columbus Council 11042 in Mechanicsville has spent Tuesday evenings feeding 60-70 families in need through a partnership with Hanover Evangelical Friends Church Food Bank.

Some ministries, like the sewing ministry at St. John the Evangelist, Waynesboro, supported the fight against COVID-19 directly when members made more than 2,100 facemasks for a local medical center.


The bicentennial jubilee of the Diocese of Richmond was the theme for many of the year’s events.

Bishop Knestout opened the bicentennial year with a regional Mass in the Eastern Vicariate at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Norfolk, on Jan. 19, which commemorated the arrival in Virginia of Bishop Patrick Kelly, first bishop of Richmond.

The regional Mass in the Central Vicariate commemorating the 200th anniversary of the founding of the diocese was celebrated in conjunction with the ordinations of Father Anthony Ferguson, Father Julio Reyes and Deacon Thomas Lawrence at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, on July 11.

A Western Vicariate Mass marking the feast day of the diocesan patron, St. Vincent de Paul, was celebrated at St. Andrew, Roanoke, on Sept. 26.

An Octave of Service in honor of St. Vincent de Paul was held from Sept. 27 – Oct. 4. Parishes, schools, ministries and individuals from all vicariates were invited to serve their communities during this special week designated to the good work that is customary of our Catholic faith.

The diocese’s first Eucharistic Congress was held Nov. 6-7. Keynote presentations were given virtually by Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Washington (English), and Bishop Luis R. Zarama of Raleigh (Spanish). Saturday began with Mass at the Pro-Cathedral of St. Peter, Richmond, the first cathedral of the diocese. A Holy Hour for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was then held at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. It included a procession on the street circling the cathedral.

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