St. Anne’s Parish began on April 25, 1868 when a group of Catholic and Protestant men pledged funds to Rev. Michael Duggan for the purpose of “building a Catholic church in Goodson” Virginia -Tennessee (now Bristol) for Irish, Romanian and Czechs Catholic migrant railway workers to worship. Sam Goodson donated a parcel of land on Spencer Street, over the years known as Railroad Street. In 1873, the church was completed at a cost of $2,207.19. General John Mosby, known as the “Gray Ghost” during the Civil War was prominent in this endeavor.
Bishop Whelan, of the newly created Diocese of Wheeling assigned Fr. Boyce to take care of pastoral duties for the parish. Fr. Boyce organized “The St. Aloysious Sunday School” on May 29, 1870. On April 26, 1876 the first baptism at St. Anne’s was recorded. In 1883 the Villa Maria Academy opened in Abingdon and the gates to St. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery (which was physically in Washington County) were erected.
By 1900 the Wheeling diocese had outgrown its resources and the bishop offered the mission territory of Southwest Virginia to the Benedictine Order in Cullman, Alabama. The Abbott responded and provided priests and other support until 1928. Rev. F. Leo Theodosius, OSB was assigned as the first resident pastor, arriving by train at 9:00pm, January 10, 1903 from Tuscumbi, Alabama. At his first glance of the congregation and surroundings, it was “anything but cheerful”, he noted. Everything looked dilapidated, and he could scarcely find the necessary articles to say mass. Within months he had requested a transfer noting, “he could no longer tolerate the loneliness and living conditions”. He challenged his successor to establish a “decent pastoral residence.” He left in April 24, 1904 with the permission of the Abbott, asking God to give the new pastor the strength and courage to lead “this little flock” to salvation.
In April 27, 1904, Fr. Fridolin Meyer, OSB arrived at St. Anne’s. His first step was to purchase the triangular lot adjacent to the church from Mr. Joe Elliott of Roanoke for $1,500 (corner of Spencer and Russell Streets.). The residence was ready for occupancy December 7, 1904 at a cost of $2,582.58. Fr. Meyer was joined by his sister Miss Mary Meyer, who served as catechist, confidant, musician, sacristan and housekeeper. Fr. and “Miss Mary” as she was affectionately known, were famous for “matchmaking”. At this time the parish numbered only 15 families. During this period parishioners donated funds for the purchase of the Stations of the Cross and two adoring angels. A life size corpus to adorn the cross was imported from Germany and placed in the center of the main altar. This was an active period for conversion. Baptismal records indicate 147 adults joined the church at this time. At least 50 per cent of the congregation was made up of converts. In 1920 Fr Meyer established a Council of the Knights of Columbus with 65 members from St. Anne’s and surrounding area. During Fr. Meyer’s tenure, the congregation from St. Joseph’s at Wallace decided to join the Bristol flock and St. Joseph’s was closed for all practical purposes.
Ill health took its toll on Fr. Meyer and he was recalled to the Abbey in Cullman, AL in April 1928. Rev. Jerome Lawrence, OSB, pastor at Dante, Virginia took temporary charge at St. Anne’s parish from April until August 1928. At this time, the responsibility for the parish was returned to the Wheeling diocese and Rev. E. P. McDonnell, chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Parkersburg, West Virginia was assigned to St. Anne’s. Rev. James J. Hickie who was transferred from Huntington, West Virginia took over on April 6, 1929. By the early1930’s, the parish had outgrown the church on Spencer Street, and a larger one was needed. A cornerstone was laid on land adjacent to the cemetery on Euclid Avenue on June 28, 1935. It was completed with a dedication on November 22, 1936 for a cost of $75,000. At that time stonemasons were paid $2.50/hr and laborers were paid $.75/hr. During Father Hickie’s tenure, the Sisters of the Pallotine Order established summer Vacation Bible School. The Pallotine sisters not only taught Bible study, but preparation for the sacraments, rubrics, rituals and liturgies. At this time, Fr. Hickie was Dean of the Bristol Deanery, which extended from Bluefield to Radford, to the Kentucky border, and the Tennessee and North Carolina lines. The Bristol Deanery saw a growth and rebirth of Catholicism in areas served by the Glenmary priests and nuns. The support and assistance from the Glenmary community continues to this day.
In 1938, the original church on Spencer Street was renamed St. Augustine’s and became an active parish for African American Catholics. St. Augustine’s was served by the Order of the Precious Blood from the Mother House in Ohio. The first pastor was Rev Jas. Uecker, CPPS, followed by Rev. U. J. Father Landall, CPPS. Next came Rev. Jerome Wolfe CPPS who served from October 1948 until April 1952, when this congregation joined us at St. Anne’s. The Spencer Street church was closed and their records were transferred to St. Anne’s.
During WWII the parish grew due to migration of Catholics from the Northeast to work in munitions and related industries. In 1949, Fr. Hickie realized his dream of a parochial school. The Sisters of St. Joseph came from Wheeling to begin grades K-6. The nuns lived in the former rectory on Spencer Street. In the next four years grades seven and eight were introduced and enrollment doubled. It was also during this period that a lovely grotto was built for Our Lady. In September 1959 the upper floor of the original school building was completed with the benefit of four new classrooms, library and office. In this same period the convent was built for the Sisters of St. Joseph. In 1962, due to the growth of the parish, St. Anne’s was assigned an assistant pastor, Rev. John H. Fahey. Rev. Charles J. Schneider took his place in 1964. In that same year Father Hickie became Monsignor Hickie. Rev. Michael Lee arrived in 1965. His assignment was brief and his replacement was Rev. Eugene Glowny. He left in 1968, followed by Rev. R. Getsinger. As an outgrowth of the Lay Congress the parish pastoral council was established with a chair, vice chair and secretary. Six standing committees continue as an adjunct portion of the council, which serves in an advisory capacity to the pastor. A series of assistant pastors served the parish; Rev. Pat McDonough, a priest from the Scranton Diocese, Rev. John-Francis Claro OFM, Rev. E.D. Macken, Rev. R. Cupp, and Rev. Ed Widmer.
Just after the Region IV Bishops Conference in Maryland, in 1974, the parish was transferred to the Richmond Diocese along with all counties in Southwest Virginia. Msgr. Hickie retired in this year, and remained in residence as pastor emeritus. Father John Fahey was assigned to return as pastor although he was scheduled to return to the Wheeling Diocese and this was delayed for a year. Msgr. Hickie died in May of 1975 and is buried in St. Anne’s Cemetery. The requiem high mass was concelebrated by Most Rev. Joseph Hodges, Wheeling, Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, Richmond and Rev. John Fahey.
On June 1, 1975, Rev. James Grealish was appointed pastor. Under his pastorate, the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges accredited the school. Fr Jim initiated the Saturday evening vigil mass as there was a need to accommodate parishioners who worked on Sunday. By this time, the Sisters of St. Joseph teachers had returned to Wheeling. The convent was made available to women religious who conducted the religious education for Region X, and assisted with Religious education at St. Anne’s. It was later converted in classrooms.After eight years Father Grealish was transferred to St. Mary’s in Wytheville where he reestablished St. Patrick’s church in Speedwell. In July 1979 Deacon Harry Hall arrived at the parish. He contributed much to the life of the parish and community until his passing in June of 2008.
In 1983, Rev. Walter G. Lewis was assigned to St. Anne’s and he initiated many programs, including the RENEW program that encouraged growth in participants’ faith. The parish continued to grow with the inception of the RCIA and Children’s RCIA. Fr. Lewis empowered the parishioners to participate in the liturgies, ministries and diocesan programs. He encouraged the musicians to participate in diocesan workshops, and worked with the students in many facets of religion/education. Under his direction the parish Mission Statement was written and is displayed in the Commons. It is the centerpiece for the weekly Bulletin and may be found at the front of this directory.
During Fr. Lewis’s time, the Bene Merenti Award from Pope John Paul II was presented to a lifetime member of the parish, Rosamond Fagan. She was part of the group to whom the Award was made at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond. One of the largest undertakings of Fr. Lewis’s pastorate was the renovation and expansion of the church/school plant. This involved the purchase of property on Oakview behind the church. The project was successfully completed despite a fire in the commons shortly before the dedication. During this time, at Mrs. Barry Brady’s death, she bequeathed funds for improvements to the former convent, now the site of the Barry Brady Learning Center. Her gift also included her residence, which was renovated to serve as the parish rectory.
In 1995, Fr. Lewis was assigned to St. Mary’s in Richmond and was succeeded by Rev. Thomas Ianucci. Looking toward Jubilee 2000, Fr. Tom made plans for a number of ecumenical programs. He encouraged participation in the diocesan pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Feast days were celebrated with flair. One of the first requests from the congregation was to install a crucifix in the sanctuary. The parish was given an opportunity, after he was approached on the subject, to select the corpus.
There was a great deal of rebuilding to be done and Fr. Tom did it well. RCIA increased in interest and numbers. The youth ministry expanded with renewed enthusiasm. A major project was the purchase and renovation of Coastal Mart on Oakview behind the church, to purchase and renovate the Vincent DePaul Center for the Bristol Faith in Action (BFIA). Working with the pastors in the ministerial association, Fr. Tom brought together a number of local churches to participate in the project.
In 1999, St. Anne’s School celebrated the Golden Anniversary with a wide scope of programs, liturgies and creative projects. A general reunion for all graduates of St. Anne’s was held over the Thanksgiving holiday which honored past volunteers and teachers. The Sisters of St. Joseph were well represented. The Jubilee was celebrated in 2000 and Mary Cox Pippin donated the carillon in memory of her husband, Harmon. Fr. Tom brought his period at St. Anne’s to a close in 2001, and was assigned to Virginia Beach.
Rev. Timothy Keeney arrived in May of 2001 and was immediately involved in the on-going projects. The Vincent de Paul Center was completed for the BFIA as was the Msgr. Hickie Center, which is used for bingo and other parish activities. In 2001, the school extended to the seventh grade, in 2002 to the eighth grade and more space was needed to realize our commitment to the parish and school. Restoration of the cemetery included identifying graves, rebuilding the wall and fence at the front of the cemetery, landscaping and improvements.
In 2008, Deacon Juan Ibarra arrived at St. Anne’s and worked tirelessly with the parish, and in particular the Hispanic community, as a retired deacon.
Fr. Kevin Segerblom arrived at St. Anne’s as Pastor in January 2013. Under his leadership the parish began a capital campaign to renoovate the 1949 school building, establish a maintenance fund and reduce the parish debt.
Fr. Nicholas Mammi was Pastor Sept. 2017-March 2018. Father Eric Baffour Assamoah served as Administrator for Saint Anne’s Spring 2018 to mid-July.
Fr. Chris Hess arrived in July 2018. As Pastor he helped guide Saint Anne’s through the COVID pandemic.
Fr. Tom Lawrence arrived in July 2023 as Parochial Administrator.
In covering over a hundred and fifty years so briefly, it is impossible to fully celebrate the many individuals, groups and organizations that support and assist the parish. Apologies to those not specifically mentioned in this history who have aided in the establishment of St. Anne’s Catholic Community. Specific mention, however, is due to the Knights of Columbus for their continued spiritual, financial and practical support.