‘Glorious day’ in Crozet

Following Mass with Bishop Barry C. Knestout at the Crozet Baptist Church on Sunday, Oct. 4, Msgr. Timothy Keeney, pastor of the Church of the Incarnation, Charlottesville, and Father Christopher Masla, parochial vicar, process with nearly 40 members of the newly- named Our Lady of the Rosary Mission in Crozet, to a site where they hope to build a church. (Photo/ Mark Gormus)

Mission named Our Lady of the Rosary


When Bishop Barry C. Knestout visited Crozet on Sunday, Oct. 4, to celebrate Mass and officially name the Catholic community Our Lady of the Rosary mission, the event marked the fruition of years of planning and hope. That Sunday was the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, three days before the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Oct. 7.

After Mass, the bishop walked with about 40 parishioners to the site they hope to purchase and on which they will build a church. He did not bless the land, but he blessed those who walked to it. The parish currently celebrates its Masses at Crozet Baptist Church.

It was a gratifying moment for the Crozet Catholic community, a mission affiliated with the Church of the Incarnation, Charlottesville. After years of first attending Mass out of town and now at the Baptist church, the parishioners look forward to having a church building of their own in the future.

“It was such a glorious day, and we were all thrilled to have the bishop here to give us our new name,” said parishioner Betty Groth. The name Our Lady of the Rosary was chosen partly because the flag of Crozet features a band of medieval- style roses, reminiscent of the rosary.

‘Call from God’

In 2014, parishioner Mike Marshall heard the “call from God” that started the process.

“I stood up out of bed one day and heard, ‘God wants to know why you’re not asking for a church,’” he said. “I felt like we were basically given an instruction.”

He shared his experience with local Catholics he knew, and soon they formed the Crozet Mass Committee, for which he was named chair. Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo gave permission for Father Joseph Mary Lukyamuzi, pastor of Holy Comforter, Charlottesville, to celebrate Mass in Crozet once a month. After several years of growth, in 2017 Bishop DiLorenzo officially recognized the community as a mission congregation that would eventually become a parish.

Prior to 2014, many Crozet Catholics attended church in Charlottesville, either at St. Thomas Aquinas, Church of the Incarnation or Holy Comforter. Some drove to St. John the Evangelist, Waynesboro. A few did not attend church at all.

Members of the newly-named Our Lady of the Rosary Mission, Crozet, await the start of Mass, Sunday, Oct. 4, at the Crozet Baptist Church. During the Mass, Bishop Barry C. Knestout announced the name for the mission. Catholics have been celebrating Mass in the Baptist church during the pandemic. (Photo/Mark Gormus)

While those parishes were warm and welcoming, Marshall said, there is something special and important about attending a local church with one’s neighbors and friends.

“And for kids, it helps keep them in the church if they see people they know and some of their classmates from school at church on Sunday,” he added.

Cathy Ziemba – an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, religious education instructor, greeter and lector – noted that the distance to the other churches made it hard to participate in anything beyond Sunday Mass.

“Many people can’t drive out of town for religious education or outreach ministries, especially at night,” she said. The drive from Crozet to Charlottesville and Waynesboro, respectively, is about 15 miles.

“It’s a little inconvenient, because you can’t just drop in for church activities, and it’s difficult to have a sense of community,” added Groth, who serves as communications coordinator for the parish. “But now in Crozet, the church is already established here, in the people; we just need the building. The Eucharist is calling us together.”

Msgr. Timothy Keeney is pastor, and Father Christopher Masla is parochial vicar at Church of the Incarnation, Charlottesville. The mission is also grateful for the early and continued assistance of Father Joseph Mary Lukyamuzi.

“He has always included us in his daily rosary,” Groth said. “He says a decade a day for Crozet.”

Besides celebrating Sunday afternoon Masses at Crozet Baptist, Masses are livestreamed from Church of the Incarnation on Saturday evenings, Sunday mornings (in Spanish and English) and weekdays. There are outreach ministries as well within the mission and as part of area-wide efforts.

Like other churches dealing with COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, many activities have changed. Religious education, for example, is now a home-study program. While that limits social contact, Ziemba noted the upside: “Children here are learning about the Church from their parents, and they are sharing their faith together.”

Growing in faith, numbers

In March 2014, the community celebrated its first Mass at The Field School, a private boys’ school in Crozet.

“We had 225 people come to that first Mass,” said Marshall. That number has grown to about 550 to 600 people, although the pandemic threat has kept many people home in recent months.

Upon the closing of the school because of the virus, the parish was invited to celebrate Mass on Sunday afternoons at Crozet Baptist Church.

“They’ve been incredibly generous,” said Msgr. Keeney.

The Catholic group already had a strong relationship with the Baptist community because over the years they have worked with that church’s food pantry and its Thanksgiving meals program for families in need.

Pastor David Collyer of Crozet Baptist Church attended the Oct. 4 Mass and also walked to the site for the blessing.

“It was wonderful to have him there, praying with us,” Ziemba said.

The mission parish members are hopeful about the future of the church, partly because so many people continue to move to Crozet.

“People want to be near the mountains and near the University of Virginia,” said Groth.

Albemarle County has designated Crozet as a growth area. The 2010 Census measured Crozet’s population at about 5,500; Marshall estimates it has increased to about 10,000 since then.

“A Catholic church in town will be a selling point for Crozet,” he noted.

‘Be people of sacrificial love’

As Bishop Knestout said in his homily, “In establishing this mission formally today, I hope you might see yourselves as especially tied to both Our Lady and St. Francis of Assisi — to be a people and a parish of prayer, humility and sacrificial love.”

Prayer, humility and sacrificial love have drawn the Catholics of Crozet together in their commitment. Members – some entire families – are happy to help in many ways, Marshall said, because they are personally engaged in making the mission work.

The mission has signed a contract to purchase more than 19 acres of undeveloped land on Buck Road in Crozet. A $2.5 million fundraising campaign is underway, $400,000 of which has been raised.

He remains hopeful and confident due to what started it all six years ago.

“Because of that clear call from God, we’ve never been concerned about the prospect of failure,” he said. “I think God means for some good fruit to come out of Crozet.”

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