Diocese begins celebrating bicentennial
In opening the Catholic Diocese of Richmond’s bicentennial, Bishop Barry C. Knestout likened the faith of the area’s first Catholics to that of those in the early Church, describing the diocese’s early days as, “… beginning small with a few shining stars, and soon gathering into greater constellations of communities, bringing the light of our Catholic faith to the Commonwealth and the people we encountered.”
Among the seven oldest dioceses in the United States, the Diocese of Richmond began its year-long celebration Saturday, Jan. 18, with Mass at Sacred Heart Parish, Norfolk. More than 600 people from the Eastern Vicariate participated in the celebration.
Concelebrated by Bishop Knestout and 42 priests, the Mass commemorated the arrival of Bishop Patrick Kelly, the first bishop of the diocese, in Virginia.
In his homily, Bishop Knestout focused on the jubilee theme “Shine like stars in the world as you hold fast to the word of life” from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (2:15-16).
The bishop said the “manifestation of faith” was accompanied by awe, wonder and acts of charity.
“Given the smallness of the Catholic community in Virginia, how few Catholics there were and still are in comparison to the rest of the population,” he said. “I have seen how ‘holding fast to the word’ results in a devotion and generous engagement of the faithful in parish life, where works of charity and justice grow and thrive.”
Linking the present to the past, Bishop Knestout used the crozier that belonged to Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, 11th bishop of the diocese (1974-2003), and the chalice that belonged to Bishop Augustine van de Vyer, sixth bishop of the diocese (1889-1911).
Also on display was a first-class relic of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, who briefly ministered in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. During the Civil War, he was one of several priests who cared for ailing Union soldiers and who celebrated Mass and heard confessions at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church at Fort Monroe.
The diversity of the Eastern Vicariate was expressed during the Mass in the proclamation of Scripture readings in English, Spanish and Tagalog and in music provided by choirs from the Norfolk parishes of Sacred Heart and the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, and from St. Gregory the Great, Virginia Beach.
The celebration concluded with the singing of the diocese’s bicentennial hymn, “We Shine Like Stars in the World.”
The inauguration of the bicentennial was evident throughout the diocese the weekend of Jan. 18-19 as parishes celebrated the Mass for the Particular Church, proclaiming the same Scripture readings that were used during the Mass in Norfolk.
Bicentennial Masses for the Central Vicariate will be celebrated at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, on Saturday, July 11, and for the Western Vicariate, Saturday, Sept. 26, at St. Andrew, Roanoke.
Editor’s note: Additional information about the bicentennial is available at 2020. richmonddiocese.org.
Worshipers see bicentennial as opportunity for evangelization
Jennifer Neville, Special to The Catholic Virginian
Members of the Catholic faithful participating in the inaugural Mass of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond’s bicentennial on Saturday, Jan. 18, at Sacred Heart, Norfolk, said they see the rich history of a Church that has weathered storms and celebrated the good. For example, during its 200 years, the diocese has faced war and scandal, risen above segregation, tackled climate change and seen times of peace.
Kent Rhodes, who serves on Sacred Heart’s pastoral council, said the bicentennial celebration is “a connection to the past” and “a way to look forward into the future.”
Sue Kassel, a parishioner at St. Mark, Virginia Beach, who attended the Mass, called the bicentennial celebration “an outward sign that the Catholic Church is alive and welcoming.” She hoped the year-long celebration would bring back Catholics who have fallen away from the Church and attract others to the faith as they see the Church’s “unity and perseverance over the years.”
Having raised five children in the diocese, Kassel and her husband, Mike, said they appreciate the many opportunities in the diocese for youth to practice their faith and “see others do so as well.”
Similarly, Maria Lovisi, a choir member at Sacred Heart, said she hopes the upcoming year is “a real spiritual awakening” that brings people back to the Church.
Barbara Wright, choir member and director of Christian formation at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Norfolk, said “the word ‘tradition’ with a capital ‘T’ comes to mind” as she pondered the history of the Richmond Diocese. She, too, is hopeful that the celebration will draw Catholics who have left the Church.
“Over the years, the Church is pretty much constant,” Wright said. “The Catholic faith is here to stay.”
Christopher Cushna, a parishioner at St. Paul, Portsmouth, said, “It’s exciting to be part of that history,” and Brandon Spence, basilica parishioner and music director for St. John the Apostle Parish, Virginia Beach, said it is “a distinct honor” to be part of it.
Noting that a year-long celebration can be rejuvenating, Father Mike Joly, pastor at St. Joan of Arc Parish, Yorktown, said, “It’s important to unfold such a momentous milestone over time with a variety of opportunities for spirituality.”
He said looking at the last 200 years of the diocese “gives us the opportunity to see the big picture.” The priest likened God’s relationship with us as marriage vows in which God pledges to be faithful to us in good times and bad.
Rhodes said the year-long celebration will give the Catholic parishes “more visibility,” and Lovisi said the celebration “will remind people who we are.”
Many individuals who attended the Mass praised the diocese and parishes for evangelizing through serving the poor. For example, parishes across the state run food pantries, serve meals to the hungry, provide financial aid to the needy and participate in regional “homeless shelters” in which area churches take turns providing homeless people with a good meal and places to sleep during the winter months.
Considering the age of the diocese, Sammy Logan, choir director at the basilica, sees the strength of the Church.
“We’re all called to be Church,” he said.
Wright added, “It’s when we live the faith that we understand our God better, and it shapes our minds.”
The diocese is diverse with multiple cultures, ethnic groups and social classes, and individuals at the Mass noticed such as Scripture was proclaimed in English, Spanish and Tagalog, and choirs from Sacred Heart, St. Gregory the Great and the basilica sang.
Sheila Janes, a parishioner at St. Paul, Portsmouth, said, “The diocese opens its doors to everybody and allows everybody to foster their spiritual journey.”
Kacy Connors-Boyters, also a Sacred Heart choir member, said it was “powerful” to see the diversity of the congregation, and Mike Araojo, from St. Joseph Parish, Hampton, praised the Church’s unity.
Logan, whose parish is primarily African American, said he was glad the basilica’s choir could be part of the Mass. Likewise, Bel Jaring, a member of the Fil-Am Ministry Choir at St. Gregory the Great, said she was thankful the parish’s choir was able to participate, noting she has seen the diocese increasingly embrace diversity over the years.
“You could really see the Body of Christ,” Lovisi said of the Mass.