THE CHURCHES OF VIRGINIA
Photography by John G. DeMajo
ST. JOHN NEUMANN CATHOLIC CHURCH
2480 Batterson Road, Powhatan, VA. 23139-7513
St. John Neumann Catholic Church
You may have already discovered that this area is rich in history. We count as ancestors and neighbors the Monacan Tribe and Powhatan Nation native to the area, the French Huguenots (1700) and English colonists who settled here, the African-American slaves who worked the plantations, and even a saint. Saint Katharine Drexel, who founded the Sisters of Blessed Sacrament and schools for black and Indian children throughout the country, was canonized by Pope Iohn - Paul II in 2000. She was responsible for founding St. Francis de Sales school for girls, adjoining St. Emma's Agricultural and Military School (for boys) on the banks of the Iames, just about 100 years ago.
Our parish's patron saint, John Neumann, was born and educated in Prague and its vicinity. He sailed to the U.S. in the 1830's and served areas from upstate New York to Baltimore. He spent the last decade of his 48-year life (he died in 1860) as Bishop of Philadelphia, where he took charge of a rapidly growing immigrant Catholic population. St. Iohn Neumann is particularly honored for his great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament (he was the first bishop in the U.S. To initiate the Forty Hour devotion throughout his diocese) and to the 5 catechesis of the young, particularly through his fostering of Catholic education. He was canonized in 1977.
Though most parishes first establish themselves and later their parochial school, the history of St. Iohn Neumann in Powhatan County, Virginia is actually the reverse! Our roots began with the two schools established by the Drexel daughters, Louise Drexel who married Colonel Edward Morrell and Louise's sister, Saint Katharine Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1894 the Morrells purchased Belmead, a 1600 acre estate formerly belonging to Confederate General Philip St. George Cocke. Upon this site they built St. Emma's Industrial and Agricultural Institute for young Black men. In 1899 a school for Black ladies, St. Francis de Sales, was opened by Saint Katharine. These schools were served by various orders of brothers and priests and Powhatan's first Catholic communities began there. In 1928 a beautiful memorial chapel, St. Edward's, was built by Mrs. Morrell in memory of her husband.
This chapel served students, faculty, and Powhatan Catholics until its destruction in 1970. At that time, with desegregation, St. Emma's could not financially continue and its beautiful and sound classrooms, labs, shops and mills were destroyed. The parish then moved to St. Emma's chapel. Records of baptisms, First Communions, etc. were kept at St. Francis de Sales, which became the parish church for St. Edward’s in 1970 following the destruction of the church at Belmead, and is now being staffed by priests of the Diocese of Richmond. In 1976 the name of the parish was changed to St. Iohn Neumann in honor of the fourth bishop of Philadelphia. From 1976 to the present the parish has worshiped in the following sites: St. Francis de Sales (1976-1982), Powhatan Rescue Squad (1982-83), the original Powhatan United Methodist Church (1983-86) and the present facility at Flat Rock since its dedication on November 2, 1986.
The Flat Rock site began modestly with a multi-purpose center hall serving as both the worship area on Sundays and Holy Days and a social hall for parish functions. A full service kitchen adjoins that room and the parish chose to utilize the rest of the space as a small chapel, classrooms, an office for the pastor, (Father Val), and a large narthex, again for multi-purposes.
Since that time the parish has had three more building campaigns: the first focused on more classrooms, the second on a worship center, pastor's office, business office, formal multi-purpose room appropriate as a parlor for brides or for families during funerals, and the third for the county's H.E.N. Pantry. The parish's generosity and commitment to building campaigns has allowed them to provide fully operative buildings that serves religious education, clubs, and various parish committees that provide community outreach. As the parish continues to grow it has developed a Columbarium, a children's recreation area, and expansion of its parking facilities. In 2010 and 2011 the two adjoining properties were purchased to allow for future growth. More importantly, as St. John Neumann parish grows it chooses to focus on its building serving the goals of the parish and of Christ: to show Christian love.
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