Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart Catholic Church


Main Menu


Electronic Church Bulletin


On the First Friday of Every Month

St. Anthony's Church Hosts

The Two Hearts Prayer Vigil

Masses at 7PM & 10PM


Glenmary Council 7853


Catholic Diocese of Richmond







Sacred Heart Catholic Church

The Church on Holton Avenue in Big Stone Gap, VA

Sacred Heart Catholic Church

In Memory of Deacon Barron Flannary

Deacon Barron Flannary as Knight's Memoriam

Remembering Fr. Tony Rodriguez

Sacred Heart

Stonega Missions in Area 1902

Founded in 1938


Location: 1821 Holton Ave E
Big Stone Gap, VA 24219
Phone: (276) 523-1588
Rectory: (276) 523-1602
St. Anthony's Office
Cluster Web
Mailing: 1821 Holton Ave E
Big Stone Gap, VA 24219-3349

Office Hours

Variable Office Hours


Mass/Reconciliation Times

  • Sunday:11:30AM (English)
  • Holy Day:7:00PM (English)


  • Pastor Rev. Jose Arnel Dooc Ayo

Handicapped Accessible

  • Worship Areas
  • Social Hall
  • Restrooms
  • Offices
  • Meeting Rooms

Special Ministries

  • Lonesome Pine Hospital
  • Heritage Hall Nursing Home

Associated Parishes

  • Saint Joseph
  • Saint Anthony
  • Holy Spirit Catholic Community

Campus Ministry

  • Mountain Empire Community College

Prison Ministries

  • Wallen's Ridge State Prison

Local Town Web


The Catholic Virginian

PROFILE September 19, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 24

photo: Sacred Heart, Big Stone Gap: Catholics stay connected

Like many Catholics living in far southwestern Virginia, parishioners of Sacred Heart Church in Big Stone Gap must take extra steps to be connected when their faith community represents fewer than half of one percent of the area population.

But it can be and is done, they joyfully told The Catholic Virginian in a visit in mid-July.

While there are only a handful of young children in the parish and having a full-fledged religious education program is not an option, parishioners share in the responsibility of making the Sunday Mass a joyful experience for both children and adults.

Melanie Coddington, regional minister with the diocese’s Office of Christian Formation in southwestern Virginia, frequently comes to Sacred Heart to encourage joyful expression in the liturgy in leading the congregation in song. She also checks on the Christian formation goals parents are asked to share with their children.

“We have just a sprinkling of young children so we ask the parents to encourage home study,” she explained.

photo: Father Drake outside Sacred Heart Church with John and Diana Delavega after Mass.Grade school children do not have an organized parish structure for faith formation. But they leave Mass each Sunday with the Pflaum Gospel Weekly and age-appropriate catechism booklets provided to their parents or grandparents who are the primary educators of the children.

“The children and youth have something to connect with the Sunday readings and Catholic teachings,” Ms. Coddington said. “It’s to be used at home.

“More of the responsibility has to be in the hands of the parents,” she said. “That’s not a bad thing.”

Preparation for Confirmation for high school teens of the Big Stone Gap parish is done through cooperation with St. Anthony Parish in Norton, said Father Timothy Drake, pastor of both parishes as well as Holy Spirit in Jonesville and St. Joseph’s in Clintwood. This past spring two young people from Sacred Heart were confirmed with four of their peers from St. Anthony’s.

photo: Choir and musicians at Sunday Mass.On the adult level, Sacred Heart in Big Stone Gap has a long-standing adult Bible study which is coordinated by Milly Tate. A group of usually 8 to 10 adults gather once a week after they have read a chapter and answered questions at the end. The discussion is usually a lively exchange and various members of the group give their take on what they read. Different topics have included the Rosary and stewardship of the environment.

Like many in parishes west of Roanoke, most Sacred Heart parishioners come from elsewhere.

Larry Jackson, who has lived in Big Stone Gap for 27 years, is originally from England and grew up in Barnsley, Yorkshire.

“I’m a mining engineer, now retired,” he said, adding that he has lived in the U.S. for 43 years, having come first to West Virginia.

“I never felt like a stranger when I came here,” Mr. Jackson told The Catholic Virginian. “My first Sunday here in church was (Glenmary) Father Bob Rademacher’s last Sunday here.”

photo: Father Drake presides at Mass.He and his wife, June had thought of moving to Florida or elsewhere when he retired, but it didn’t happen.

“My wife and I said ‘where do we want to go when I retire?’, but we thought about it for a while and both of us said ‘Why would we want to leave and go anywhere else?’

“I love where we live,” Mr. Jackson continued. “We have the beautiful countryside with the mountains and four distinct seasons.

“And it’s also the people, the Catholic family I have in Big Stone Gap. They are a big part of my life.”

A sign of the close-knit community among Sacred Heart parishioners is the call list which has the phone numbers of each family and is used when one of them might need prayers.

map of big stone gap“My wife, June, is called first and then someone calls another until everyone on the list is called,” Mr. Jackson explained. “”It might be that someone is sick or going to the hospital and we’ll ask ‘will you say a prayer for him?’ and of course, everyone says yes.”

Taking it one step further Debbie Samples uses her artistic talents to design and make a card which she sends to parishioners on their birthday or special anniversary.

Outreach to the wider community, much of which includes many low-income families, includes a thrift shop known as Rita’s Shop which sells used clothing at low prices.

Much of the clothing is supplied by St. Augustine Parish in Richmond and St. Nicholas Parish in Virginia Beach.

photo: the back, from left, Larry Jackson, Henry Keuling-Stout, Fran Keuling-Stout and Evan Samples.Herbert Ireson and Orville Gates help unload the truck deliveries.

“We get one from St. Nicholas in the fall and from St. Augustine’s in the summer,” Mrs. Tate said. “They send a tractor trailer full of clothes, towels and sheets and all kinds of odds and ends.

“We also get a nice load of toys for the children and we give this to the children at Appalachia Elementary and Powell Valley Primary and Middle Schools.”

The prices charged to customers are “real cheap,” Mrs. Ireson said, adding, “I think it gives them more independence to pay for it.”

“Then they can go home and say to their kids ‘I bought this for you’ rather than ‘somebody gave this to me,’” Mrs. Tate added.

Mrs. Ireson said that in the past she and her husband have had 12 foreign exchange students, normally Catholics, live with them for a year while the student attends Union High School, a recent merger of the former Appalachia High School and Powell Valley High School. Various students have come from Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bolivia, and Brazil.

“When there were Catholic students staying with other families, we’d pick them up at the Methodist church on Sundays and take them to our Catholic church,” Mrs. Ireson said.

The distance from Richmond is more than 350 miles. “We’re closer to four other state capitals than our own capital in Richmond,” Mrs. Tate said, and then cited Nashville, Tenn.; Charleston, W. Va., Frankfort, Ky. and Columbus, Ohio.

The population of Big Stone Gap is about 5,000. Of that number, normally only about 30 attend Sunday Mass at 11:30 a.m.

photo: Father Drake looks at new mower purchased with a diocesan Home Mission grant. With him is Ron Samples.While there are a large number of retirees in the Big Stone Gap parish, those in the work force include lawyers, prison guards, teachers, and police officers. Many in the community are employed at Wallens Ridge, a maximum security state prison which sits on top of a mountain.

Money is tight for many families in Appalachia and this is reflected in the parish budget. During the cold winter months, parishioners now gather for Mass on Sundays in what is known as Glenmary Hall in the lower level. It is named for the Glenmary Home Missioners who provided the first Catholic presence in the area.

photo: The historic district of Big Stone Gap includes several Victorian houses.The building is heated by an oil-burning furnace and when heating oil prices rose to high levels last winter, there was not enough money to keep it beyond maintenance level.

Mrs. Ireson, a member of the Big Stone Gap parish since 1970, says parishioners are friendly and caring to everyone. She recalled that when her husband had surgery, people from the church would drop by with food and jam.

“It’s like a big family,” she said. “No matter who you are, when you come into the church the first time, you become family. We take care of each other.”

Mrs. Ireson had kind words for Father Drake.

“You have to admire Father because he is always there when you need him,” she said. “He has four parishes to take care of and he tries his best to take care of everybody.”