Published On: Wed, Aug 14th, 2013

Mass scheduled August 15 at St. John’s, West Virginia’s oldest Catholic Church

The annual Mass of the Feast of the Assumption at the historic St. John, the Evangelist, Catholic Church in Sweet Springs, Monroe County, will be held Thursday, Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. and the public is invited.
Hosted by members of the Alleghany Highlands Council Knights of Columbus, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, White Sulphur Springs, and St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, Ronceverte, Father Chapin Engler Jr., pastor of St. Charles Borromeo and St. Catherine of Siena, will officiate at this special Mass.
An ice cream social will follow the Mass on the grounds of the Church.
Built before 1859 and maybe as early as 1839, by slave labor on the Lynnside Plantation in this small community less than one mile from the Virginia border, St. John, the Evangelist, Church is the oldest Catholic Church building in the State of WV in continuous use.
A mission of St. Charles Borromeo in White Sulphur Springs, St. John’s was constructed as a family chapel for the Floyd and Lewis families, including the family of Virginia Governor John Floyd who is buried in the family cemetery which adjoins the Catholic cemetery on a hill top overlooking the Sweet Springs Valley.
“We are not certain when it was built as most records were destroyed when the Lynnside Plantation house burnt in the 1930’s, but we do know it was established and thriving by 1859,” noted Percy W. “Perk” Berry Jr. of White Sulphur Springs, grand knight of the Alleghany Highlands Council.
The church was built with bricks made on the grounds by slave labor and is very unique in its architectural style, Berry added, noting that architect students from Virginia Tech have made field trips to see the Chapel and study its unique features. The Church is located at the intersection of WV/VA 311 and WV 3, less than one mile from the Virginia border with Alleghany and Craig counties.
Music for the special Mass will be provided by members of the Hymns and Hers, the choir of St. Catherine of Siena, Ronceverte.
St. John’s Church and the Lewis and Floyd families had connections with the Catholic Church in Wytheville, VA, and the Sweet Springs church hosted Archbishops and even a Cardinal at one time in its history. A limited number of historical booklets, written by Father Harry Winters, the last resident priest in Monroe County, on the history of St. John’s and its nearby cemeteries will be available at the Aug. 15 Mass.
“We shall open the church around 4 p.m. for those who wish to tour the church before Mass,” Berry concluded, adding that the Church is also used on Memorial Day and Wednesdays during June and July for recitation of the Rosary, hosted by the Knights.
To reach Sweet Springs and the Church from the east, take Interstate 64 Exit 9 Callaghan and follow VA 159 to VA 311 to the Church. From the south, take US 219 North to the center of Union and follow WV 3 east to the Church. From the west, take Interstate 64 east to Exit 183 Crows, VA, and follow Va. 311 to the Church.
For further information, telephone the office of the Catholic Churches of the Greenbrier Valley, 304-536-1813 or the Knights at 304-645-1373.
This will be the only scheduled Mass in St. John’s during 2013. Information on the Sweet Springs Valley and the Lewis and Floyd families is available at lynnside.com.