|Profile Good Shepherd - Lebanon
BY JEAN DENTON of The Catholic Virginian
Faith, need, and generosity, those are the key elements that led to
establishing Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Lebanon.
Faith — the Glenmary priests had a mission, begun in the 1940s, to
bring a Catholic presence to the beautiful but poor Appalachian region
where Lebanon is located.
Need — in the 1950s, although St. Therese Church served a tiny
Catholic population in the remote community of St. Paul, VA, one could
travel 100 miles over the main road between Bristol and Bluefield and
never go through a town with a Catholic church.
Generosity — the church was built largely through a sizable monetary
donation by a Glenmary benefactor, a gift of a dump truck and the
volunteer labor of a priest's father.
Today, the parish meets its annual operating budget largely thanks to
an endowment made from a parishioner several years ago.
The tradition of generosity continues
Good Shepherd pastor Father Michael Herbert suggested, "If my priest
friends in the big parishes had the per capita contributions we have,
they would be rolling in it. "And it's not just money people are very
generous with the time and work they put into the parish." Good Shepherd
Church currently has a membership of about 60 households. Usually about
45 people attend Sunday Mass.
Father Mike, as he is known to his churchgoers, has been pastor since
2006 when Father Bob Krenik retired due to illness. Father Mike now
leads a three parish cluster that also includes St. Therese in St. Paul
and St. Mary in Coeburn.
A "late vocation," he has been a priest for five years now after a
long career as an attorney and law professor in Richmond. He said he
enjoys the rural setting of his church cluster and shares many of the
"extra" pastoral duties, such as visiting prisons and officiating at
weddings and funerals, with the other priests in the far southwest
region of the diocese.
Lebanon, population 3,200, is the Russell County seat. It is about 25
miles north of Abingdon. The town's economy is based on agriculture and
the coal industry, but in recent years a couple of information
technology companies have located there and provide employment for
residents as well.
Good Shepherd Parish was established in 1959 by Father Roland ("Rollie"). Later,
a Glenmary priest who had come to the region more than a
decade earlier and was living and serving in St. Paul at the time.
Father Hautz, now pastor of parishes in Gate City and Dungannon,
bought the four acres where the parish still stands with $7,000 in
Glenmary funds and celebrated Mass there for a few years in a trailer
given to him by a friend.
He sought money to build a church from his religious community. At
the time, the Glenmary’s were discussing, with "a wealthy woman in
Lebanon, Ohio," her making a contribution for a seminary building,
Father Hautz recalled.
When she explained she wasn't as interested in buildings as in
assisting a community, the Glenmary’s asked if she'd like to make a
donation to building a church in Lebanon, Virginia. She happily agreed.
Jay and Mary McCoy
Lead the Music
Father Hautz rustled up matching donations from the Catholic Church
Extension Society and Wheeling Bishop Joseph Hodges (the region's
diocese at the time), and built the church for $30,000.
Father Hautz hauled building materials in a dump truck given to him
by a contractor friend, and his own recently retired father, Ray Mintz,
did most of the carpentry, plumbing and wiring for free. It took three
years to complete construction.
Now facing needed renovations in all three churches of the cluster,
Father Herbert said there is little funding outside the operating
budget for the work. So he'll follow in the Hautz tradition and
look to parishioners to provide as much of the labor as possible.
Typical of the region, Catholics are a minority in Lebanon. Many have
moved in from other parts of the country, explained Good Shepherd
parishioner Cathy Stiltner who moved there in 1976 from northern
Virginia. But the small number of parishioners keeps the parish alive
with their active participation in ministry. Ms. Stiltner serves as
bookkeeper for the church and is one of several people who help set up
for Mass on Sundays.
McCoy, who coordinates Christian formation, counts on her fingers the
number of children and youth enrolled in religious education — plus one.
There are 11 from the entire cluster.
Nevertheless, all four parish catechists are diocesan certified
through the Pathways program. Managing a program with so few children is
challenging since they tend to be in clumps of age groups.
For instance, Ms. McCoy noted that last spring five children received
first Eucharist, but it will be several years in the future before any
more prepare for that sacrament. One teen was year ago, but it won’t be
until two years from now that three more will form a confirmation class
in the cluster. "That's just the way it is." Father Herbert pointed out.
But he added that attendance has been very good at adult formation
classes which include a monthly presentation by Melanie Coddington, the
diocesan regional Christian formation coordinator, and an occasional
Bible study series led by parish catechist Bob Dorton.
Father Herbert noted that he's gratified by adult parishioners'
interest in their own knowledge of the faith. "We can't skip a
generation," he said, "because if we miss one generation, it's gone.
"Jay and Mary McCoy, Jessica's parents, have led the parish music
ministry for 25 years. They explained that they try to provide a wide
range of musical styles to accommodate parishioners' tastes while also
enriching their experience of liturgy.
Mary McCoy also headed Christian formation for a number of years
before passing it to her daughter.
In serving the community, Father Herbert said Good Shepherd currently
"is limited in what we can do beyond liturgy and Christian formation,"
but he pointed out that many members are individually "doing a lot in
helping the poor and elderly" in the region.
The parish also provides monthly support to Lebanon's Christian
Center, a local social service organization run jointly by the main
Christian churches of the community. The Christian Center was
established in 1991 by the local ministerial group when the pastors
realized they all were receiving the same kinds of requests for
emergency family assistance.
year later, Sister Rebecca Rodenbaugh, of the Sisters of Charity of
Nazareth, arrived to serve as the center's director, a job she held for
13 years. The center is open six days a week. "It helped the people that
needed help," recalled Sr. Rebecca who supervised some 40 volunteers
from the sponsoring churches. It continues to provide for the local
Thinking of Father Hautz, the Glenmary's commitment and the work of
Sr. Rebecca, Father Mike pointed out, "For generations resources have
been poured into this area by the Church which has been known for its
outreach here. There was a Sister Rebecca in every parish, but we don't
have such resources anymore."
McCoy remembered the many women religious that served the wider
community in Appalachia.
"They came here and came into our homes and our families and cared about
us," she said. "And they transformed the view that people had about us
“Catholics." Cathy Stiltner believes Good Shepherd parishioners quietly
follow their example. It seems there are lots of people in the church who go out and live
their faith in the community, she said, and so people know who we are".