Global community of St. Augustine, North Chesterfield, celebrates 50 years
Fifty years is special – whether human or a building – it’s an achievement,” said Bob Wilderman, one of the founding members of St. Augustine, North Chesterfield.
“But this building is different. We have people in this parish from all over the world, not just Central America, but also Asia, Africa, and of course Europe. It’s all blending together to form one parish,” he said.
Everyone is “using their God-given talent to make it one,” Wilderman added.
St. Augustine was founded on June 10, 1973, though Msgr. John J. McMahon celebrated the first Masses at a nearby school, Bensley Elementary. It was two years later when the church building was dedicated on June 7, 1975.
The current pastor, Father Wayne Ball, said the original St. Augustine was actually a small African-American parish in the Fulton area of Richmond. According to the parish website, it was closed in the 1960s as part of an effort to address racism and integrate all Catholic churches. The bishop at the time promised the next church to be built would bear St. Augustine’s name.
“Today, in new ways, the parish continues its original mission of providing a home to those some would describe as ethnic minorities, not only a variety of Latin American nations, but Asian and African as well. We strive to be truly Catholic,” said the pastor.
Five decades later, St. Augustine is a thriving community of families from around the world. It is a bilingual parish with Mass parts and songs in both English and Spanish.
The ushers wear colorful neckerchiefs from Peru that are each labeled with the names of different countries, such as Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and U.S.A. Before Mass, the usher picks a neckerchief to wear and prays for the people of that country the rest of the week.
The top of the church’s website now states its mission is to “provide a community where people of all nations can encounter Christ though the proclamation of the Word of God, the celebration of the sacraments and service of our brothers and sisters.”
“We saw it grow from nothing,” said founding member Tom Hoof. “Mass started at a school down the street.”
50 years later
Bishop Barry C. Knestout celebrated a 50th anniversary Mass at St. Augustine on June 10, the feast of Corpus Christi.
Before Mass began, the parish’s Ministerio de Drama did a special presentation. Father Ball said the group is made up of Hispanic youth who perform short plays in the parish.
For the anniversary play, they talked to older parishioners and put together a living history, he explained. The drama ended with a flag procession representing St. Augustine’s diversity. The youth then presented flowers to the parish’s original members.
Approximately 30 of the parish’s original founding members attended the anniversary celebration. They wore special nametags and had a place in the procession beginning Mass. Five members of the Knights of Columbus also served as honor guards in the procession.
During the bishop’s homily, he talked about the importance of remembering things, both good and bad, on the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The bishop pointed to the Mass readings to explain the importance of remembering all that God has done for us, no matter the hardships in our lives.
“Today, we gather to remember the founding of this parish, both with struggles and with joys,” said Bishop Knestout.
He said the feast day and anniversary celebration are times to remember all of God’s blessings – and how his gifts are seen in the people of ‘We strive to be truly Catholic’ the parish and in the sacraments.
‘We feel welcome’
Many of the parishioners speak little, or no, English – however, they all managed to convey the same message – there is a lively spirit of community at St. Augustine.
Lydia Jordan and Edgar Parada, along with their families, sat next to each other at the reception after Mass. “We’re very happy to be part of this community,” they said, smiling as they helped each other translate their words from Spanish into English.
“We feel welcome here,” said Guadalupe Sanchez, a parishioner for 25 years. She said it is wonderful having a pastor who speaks their language. “Everybody gives us an opportunity to share our cultures.”
Juan Matamors says he has been a parishioner for about ten years. He roamed the reception area, taking photos of smiling people.
“It’s a great opportunity God gives us to be unified in this country, to gather like God wants,” he said.