Looking at our past to build for the future
Looking at our past to build for the future
“Our little church at Luray is named after Our Lady Mary. May our valley remind her of her native hill country of Judea; may she intercede for us that God’s love and blessing reach into our hearts and lives.”
–Quote from our Church Founders
Our Lady of the Valley…the name hints at a love for Mary. Indeed, our church has a strong foundational link to Marian devotion, which began under the title of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. We still pray for Mary’s intercession under this title each Saturday after morning Mass.
The Redemptorists were entrusted in 1866 by Pope Pius IX with the Icon of Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and the commission to “make her known.” The Redemptorist Madonna was indeed made known here. In the words of our founders:
“When men and women and children pray to the little Jewish maiden, the mother of Jesus–the mother of God, wonderful things happen. Cold hearts grow warm in love with God. They find His Commands easier to keep.
The history of the Catholic presence in Page County before the mid 1800’s is scarce. Earliest records show Catholic Services were held in private homes, nurtured by the priests of Winchester. When the Norfolk and Western Railroad was being built, Irish laborers tried unsuccessfully to build a Catholic Church. In 1876, Mr. and Mrs. John Cole, Sr. from Rileyville had Mass held regularly in their home. When mission priests visited Mountain View School, people of all faiths crowded its hall to listen.
By 1912, Valley Catholics made the weekly 50 miles round trip to St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, Virginia, for Mass and the Sacraments. Rising as early as 3:00 to 4:00 A.M., they traveled by train, bus, or horse drawn hacks or buggies, prior to automobile use.
The Redemptorist Fathers, at the invitation of Bishop Ireton of Richmond, came to the Valley in 1951 to serve the 36 surveyed Catholics living in the 1,000 square foot miles area covering Luray, Grottoes, and Charlottesville. They founded the Elkton mission, but lacked a church and rectory in Luray. With to minimal finances, the first Masses were held in the Rotary Room, and later Room 1, of the Mimslyn Hotel. By special permission from Bishop Ireton, the Blessed Sacrament was reposed in Room 1, and a Chapel set up. CCD classes were held at the Page Valley Bank Building, and study clubs at parishioner’s homes, including those of John and Louise Vlkojan and Theresa Kopec, future co-founders of today’s Church.
Starting in the 1950’s, Sisters of various Orders, assisted our parish, taught CCD, and conducted Religious Summer School. Two Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity first came in 1952, starting bonds of friendship and service which endured through the 1990’s. The Trinitarian Sisters of Philadelphia, and the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Immaculata, Pennsylvania, also shared their efforts to further God’s work. Outreach missions were held from a trailer in Stanley by the Richmond Trailer Chapel Priests. Our numbers expanded to 186 Baptized Catholics, and determined, devoted parishioners were intent on having our own Church in Luray.
Church members began to seek property, and in 1953, with the help of Miss Theresa Kopec, ten acres of land was purchased from Maurice Waters of Luray. On June 3, 1954, Father Eugene Walsh, pastor of St. John’s in Waynesboro, blessed the site and turned the first dirt, and construction commenced immediately. Our Lady of The Valley was dedicated on October 31, 1954, presided over by His Excellency, the Most Reverend Peter L. Ireton, Bishop of Richmond, who also placed the cornerstone. Some 300 persons attended the Church Blessing, followed by the Missa Cantata, and a luncheon for 150 persons at the Mimslyn Hotel, coordinated by the Ladies Altar Society. The statue of our Patroness Mary, located in the churchyard, would be later blessed on December 8, 1954, by Father Eugene Walsh.
Our church, a mission church of the Elkton parish and the Richmond Diocese, was served by Redemptorist Father Robert Smith, who resided 27 miles south in Elkton and shared duties in both the Luray and Elkton parishes. As our church grew and also hosted many visitors, so did our need for a parish hall. On October 16, 1960, our new hall was dedicated by His Excellency Most Reverend John J. Russell, Bishop of Richmond. Our Church now seated 175 persons; and importantly, it provided a place for CCD, inquiry classes, socials, suppers, a church library and meetings of church organizations as The Holy Name Society, The Catholic Youth Council and The Ladies Altar Society. A kitchen, furnace room, rest rooms, and storage room were also added.
In 1968, with declined vocations, the Redemptorists were granted the requested relief of their duties in our area. Father Robert O. Hickman was appointed Pastor. Our Church’s open portico was enclosed in 1972, becoming today’s vestibule. On November 25, 1973, our parish mortgage was retired. In 1974, our parish became part of the newly formed Arlington Diocese. Father Charles A. Ryan, who was serving the Elkton and Luray parishes, was appointed first resident pastor in 1976, as Luray became an independent parish. Father Ryan took residency in a newly built rectory on October 4, 1977. During the 1970’s, Father Ryan founded Page-One, an ecumenical outreach to the area’s needy.
We celebrated our Silver Jubilee in 1979, and since 1992, Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular have pastored our parish. Many structural upgrades were done from 1996 to 1998. Our roof’s cross was moved to behind the statue of Mary, where a parishioner-made bench was added, inviting rest and prayer. Mounted atop our roof now was a white steeple with a cross. With great joy, we hailed our Fiftieth Anniversary year in 2004. Where now? In the same spirit and faith of our founders, we honor their legacy as we place our trust in Holy Church and Mary’s intercession.
1876 – Mass is held regularly in the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Cole, Sr. in Rileyville.
1912 – Valley Catholics travel by train, bus or buggies to Mass at St. John’s in Front Royal, VA.
1951- Redemptorist Fathers, at Bishop Ireton’s invitation, come to Valley and found the Elkton mission.
1951 – Mass held at Mimslyn Hotel, first in Rotary Room, then in Room1, and a Chapel started. Ladies’ Altar Society formed June 1951.
1952 – Sisters of various Orders assist the parish, some until the 1990’s.
1953 – The “Trailer Chapel” priests hold outreach missions through 1955.
1953 – Ten acres of land is purchased to build new Church.
1954 – On June 3, 1954, Fr. Eugene Walsh turned the first dirt and construction begins.
1954 – Bishop Peter L. Ireton, Bishop of Richmond, dedicates Our Lady of The Valley on October 31, 1954, and places the cornerstone.
1954 – The statue of Mary, our Patroness, located in the churchyard and anonymously given to us by a New York donor, is blessed December 8, 1954, by Fr. Eugene Walsh.
1960 – New Parish Hall dedicated October 16, 1960. Other facilities also added. Parish hosts many visitors.
1968 – Redemptorists withdraw from the Valley. Parish is now run by Richmond Diocese.
1973 – Mortgage is retired November 25, 1973.
1974 – New Diocese of Arlington formed August 13, 1974. Bishop Thomas Jerome Welsh is installed as its first Bishop.
1976 – Fr. Charles A. Ryan becomes resident pastor of a now independent Luray parish.
1976 – Parish now has daily Mass, a Saturday Vigil and two Sunday Masses. Stained glass windows with Old and New Testament symbols installed.
If any parishioner has pertinent information that may not have been considered for this parish history, please contact us. Thanks!