It is well established that the first Europeans to set foot on Virginia soil were Spanish Catholic missionaries in the Sixteenth Century, according to research for the Virginia Historical Society. A band of Jesuits settled near the York River opposite Jamestown in 1570 and spent two years trying to Christianize the Indians before they were massacred by the Chiskiacs.
There is also little doubt that the first president of the Virginia Colony was a Catholic, Edward Wingfield. Captain John Smith credits the skills of Catholic Polish artisans with saving the colony from starvation. Due to heavy restrictions and deprivation of citizenship rights by the Virginia Colony, only a few hundred Catholics settled in Virginia before the Revolution. There is little wonder then that it took another century for them to appear in countable numbers in the western part of the state.
On the 22nd day of September in the year 1879, the Bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, Rt. Rev. John J. Keane, assigned to the church at Lexington and the adjacent counties of Rockbridge, Alleghany, Bath, Botetourt, Craig and Roanoke, the young newly-ordained priest, Father John W. Lynch. The Catholic population was sparse and scattered and the faithful discharge of his duties was arduous indeed, for horseback was his only means of contact.
The one Catholic in the village of Big Lick was joined by others with the coming of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad and its joining with the new Norfolk & Western. On November 19, 1882, in Passenger Coach No. 6, Father Lynch said the first Mass celebrated in the then thriving town of Roanoke. Later, old Rorer Hall, located at 3rd Street and Campbell, alternated as a place of worship.
Realizing the necessity of a church for the growing Catholic population, the land developer. J. B. Austin, offered as a gift to Father Lynch, any unselected site in his company's holdings. He chose two lots atop what is now St. Andrew's hill, and in just one year, Mass was celebrated in a new small brick church. Adjoining lots were purchased.
With a sizable debt and a congregation that filled only eight pews, Father Lynch was inspired to establish a plan of financing widely in use to this day - the contributions of small amounts on a monthly basis. This worked so well that in three years he had increased the land to 12.85 acres.
Soon the congregation began clamoring for a resident pastor, and legend has it that the bishop said, "Build me a house and I will give you a priest." Little did he realize the swiftness with which this would be accomplished. Father Lynch, who had been sleeping in the sacristy on his visits, salvaged materials from an old mill which had burned down at the foot of Mill Mountain, and the rectory was completed in 1887.
So hard pressed was the bishop to provide for the faithful in the remaining counties, his appointment as pastor did not come for two years, November 19, 1889, seven years to the day after the first Mass in Roanoke.
The Parish flourished in many ways; a Sunday School was established and a class of twenty-five was confirmed. A hall was next provided for Sunday School and meetings. St. Vincent's Home for boys was opened on March 1, 1893 and staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky. The building provided school rooms on the ground floor and quarters for the boys and the sisters on the upper two floors. A few years later, a school building including an auditorium was added, a gift of Mrs. Thomas Fortune Ryan, wife of the well-known financier.
With the advent of Father Lynch as resident pastor, there came an impetus which carried plans forward. One hundred and four acres were purchased for a cemetery. Even though some of the original debt remained, within eight years of Father Lynch's residency, the parish was debt free.
By 1897 the little brick church was totally inadequate, and a contract was let for the present St. Andrew's at a total cost of about $108,000, all but 20% of which was paid by the dedication date in 1902.
William P. Ginter of Akron, Ohio, was the architect of the twin-spired Gothic structure which occupies one of the highest knolls within the City of Roanoke and which has been likened by many to the cathedrals of Rouen and Chartres in France. The exterior is buff brick and Ohio sandstone with slate roof and copper finishing. White marble for the altars and altar railings was imported from Italy. In the beginning, the interior of the church was painted cream and gold. In 1947, artists from Yonkers, NY, came to fresco the church and do the stenciling design of the Vine and Branches theme. The present stations were not placed in the church until February 25, 1906.
There are fifteen stained glass windows in the main sanctuary depicting the beloved saints. Two are massive windows picturing St. Andrew and St. Patrick. These two windows measure 30 feet high and 12 feet wide. The windows were imported from Franz Meyer Company of Munich, Germany and according to legend, were purchased at a cost of $3000 plus $100 shipping charge.
If you take a walking tour around the sanctuary, start at the window of St. Andrew (on the east side over the baptismal font). St. Andrew, patron saint of our church, is given a prominent place in this house of worship. He is standing beside the X-shaped cross, the implement of his martyrdom.
Continuing to the right, the next window depicts the Angel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary the part she was destined to play in the Incarnation and Birth of the Redeemer. The next two windows are of St. Paul and St. Peter. Paul was a citizen of Rome, a soldier and a persecutor of the Christians. The story of St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, is well known. He is considered one of the most creative of Christian writers. He is shown with a sword and a scroll.
St. Peter was a fisherman who became the "Rock" on whom Christ built his church. He was named in Matthew's Gospel to be the keeper of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and is thus shown holding a key.
The next pair of windows are St. Elizabeth of Hungary and Our Lady of Guadalupe. St. Elizabeth, daughter of a king, was especially known for her great works of charity. She would daily take bread to hundreds of poor. Her husband felt that this charity work was beneath her dignity and wanted her to stop. One day while on her way to visit the poor, with her cloak filled with bread, her husband stopped her. When he asked her what she was carrying, she opened her cloak and roses fell to the ground. She is pictured wearing a gold crown.
Our Lady of Guadalupe recounts the legend that the Mother of Christ appeared to a young Indian boy on a hillside in Mexico, commanding him to tell the Bishop to build a cathedral at a nearby site. The Bishop was skeptical and told the boy to bring him some evidence of the occurrence. When the Lady appeared again, she removed the boy's mantle and filled it with flowers even though it wasn't the season for flowers. She wrapped the flowers in the mantle and told the boy to deliver the flowers to the Bishop. When the mantle was unrolled, an image of the Virgin Mary was engraved upon the mantle. Our Lady of Guadalupe is pictured surrounded with beautiful golden rays with an angel at her feet.
The next two saints are St. Aloysius Gonzaga and St. Vincent DePaul. St. Aloysius was born in Spain. His father wanted him to lead a military life, but Aloysius decided on a religious life. He joined the Jesuits and was sent to Milan to study. He suffered from ill health and was allowed to take his vows early. Two years after taking his vows, he was working with hospitalized victims of the plague, when he caught the disease. He died at the age of 23. He is known as the protector of young students and patron of Catholic youth. He is shown wearing priestly robes.
St. Vincent DePaul was the founder of the Congregation of the Mission, a society of priests call Vincentians. He also founded the Order of the Daughters of Charity. He was responsible for establishing many hospitals and orphanages, and is the patron of charitable groups and children. He is portrayed wearing the grey habit of his order and holding a child in his arms.
One of the focal points on your window tour is the magnificent rose window located above the main entrance to the church. St. Cecilia, patron saint of music, is shown surrounded by a circle of angels offering their salutations as they perform on a variety of musical instruments. Legend has it that she was condemned to death because she would not give up her faith. She was sentenced to die by steam suffocation, but God intervened and protected her. A soldier was then assigned to behead her but he bungled the job and she lay dying for three days. As patroness of music and musicians, she has become a symbol of the church, teaching that good music is an important part of the liturgy.
As you continue to the right, the next windows are St. Teresa of Avila and St. Agnes. St. Teresa is pictured wearing the habit of her order, the Carmelites. She later founded St. Joseph's Convent in Avila for nuns who wished to live an enclosed spiritual life based on a strict rule. She opened sixteen more convents, wrote books on spiritual liturgy, and lived a life of deep contemplation.
St. Agnes, early in her life, vowed to live a life of purity, consecrating her virginity to God. She was denounced as a Christian by unsuccessful suitors. She refused to be intimidated when faced with the instruments of torture, so she was beheaded by order of the governor. She was martyred for her innocence and purity and is represented by a lamb, the symbol of virginal purity.
The next window is "The Last Supper." The illustration in this window shows our Savior with seven of His chosen apostles. Surrounded by these apostles, our Lord distributes the bread and wine, transformed into His Body and Blood.
The next windows are St. Anthony of Padua and St. Joseph. St. Anthony was a Franciscan monk well known for his great skills as a preacher. Sent out as a missionary, he brought many sinners to God through his prayer and good example. He is shown in his brown monk's habit holding the Christ Child, who is holding the world in his hands. St. Anthony is patron saint of lost articles and is still known throughout the world as the "Wonder Worker".
St. Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth, became the husband of Mary and the foster father of Christ. He is shown in lavender and brown robes holding a carpenter's tool. He is known as "The Worker" and is the patron saint of social justice.
Next we have the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Margaret Mary. Kneeling at an altar, Margaret Mary Alacoque experienced a vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus made at least twelve promises to her, one of which was that he would bless those who honored His Sacred Heart and would give them the graces they needed in life and death. She is pictured facing the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The flames that come forth from His heart are a sign of His burning love for us. The crown of thorns that surround His heart is a sign of sacrifice and penance to make up for sin.
The last big window is St. Patrick. St. Patrick is patron saint of Ireland and is shown in his robes of Bishop. In his right hand, he holds a shamrock in the attitude of the great mystery of the Blessed Trinity, one God in three divine persons. During three decades in Ireland, he encouraged the study of Latin and brought Ireland into closer relations with the Western Church. He converted the Irish to the faith they have so fiercely defended through the centuries.
In the front of the church, overlooking the sanctuary are the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each of the evangelists is pictured with a symbol associated with him. Matthew is pictured with the winged man because Matthew's Gospel traces Jesus' human genealogy. Mark's symbol is a lion. His narrative begins with, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness," and this suggests the roar of a lion. Luke is symbolized by the ox, the animal of sacrifice, since Luke stresses the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. The high-soaring eagle is the emblem of John because in his narrative he rises to the loftiest heights in dealing with the mind of Christ. This completes the walking tour of the windows in the main sanctuary.
By 1902, parish organizations, boasting large memberships, were St. Andrew's Benevolent and Literary Society, Knights of Columbus, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Catholic Benevolent Legion, Guild of Our Lady of Ransom and Ladies' Aid Society.
Father Lynch left Roanoke in 1910 for a pastorate in Greensboro, North Carolina, but his remains were returned and interred on the grounds of St. Andrew's directly in front of the church. In 1999, as a result of construction at Roanoke Catholic School and at St. Andrew's, Father Lynch was moved to a place of honor in the Mausoleum at St. Andrew's.
Father Lynch was succeeded at St. Andrew's by Rev. James E. Collins who stayed until 1912 when Rev. Joseph Frioli assumed the pastorate. He remained until 1921 when Rev. John A. Kelliher came to St. Andrew's. In 1930 Rev. Thomas B. Martin became pastor and remained until his death in November 1949. One of his assistants was Rev. Joseph H. Hodges, who became Bishop of Wheeling, West Virginia, and remained there until his death in 1985. Rev. John S. Igoe became pastor following Father Martin and remained until 1964 when Msgr. J. Louis Flaherty came to St. Andrew's. After Msgr. Flaherty's elevation to Auxiliary Bishop of Richmond, Rev. George J. Gormley came as pastor and stayed until his retirement in 1981. Rev. William S. O'Brien was assigned to St. Andrew's from 1981 - 1990. Rev. Carl J. Naro came to St. Andrew's in 1990 and retired in 1993. Rev. Steven R. Rule returned to the parish of his birth and baptism in 1993 and with his coming, we saw many changes at St. Andrew's.
It had been known for a long time that St. Andrew's needed a place for social gatherings. Father Rule was the driving force in spearheading a campaign to raise funds to accomplish this. He was so successful, that not only did St. Andrew's get the Social Hall it so badly needed, but also a Minor Worship Chapel, music rehearsal room, classrooms and a Mausoleum.
Father Rule remained with us for nine years. He was replaced by ,Msgr. Thomas G. Miller. Msgr. Miller who retired in 2015. In August of 2015, Fr. Mark White was assigned as pastor of St. Andrew's with Fr. Matt Kiehl as Parochial Vicar.
Historical information condensed from HISTORICAL SKETCH, ST. ANDREW'S PARISH, by Margaret Maier Cochener, copyright 1989.
"That all may be one, even as Thou, Father, in me and I in Thee; That they also may be one in us".
St. John 17:21
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