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Missions Parish St. Mary's - Coeburn


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Catholic Diocese of Richmond







Mission Parish St. Mary

St. Mary's, Coeburn, VA

The Struggle to Maintain Our Parishes - The New Cluster

The struggle to maintain our other mission parishes causes us to place some our mission churches into a different cluster. Therefore the churches that were originally established as mission churches of St. Anthony's are now separated into clustered communities. St. Mary's Coeburn, St. Therese's, St. Paul, and The Good Sheppard, in Lebanon are now all clustered together.

St. Mary's Parish Coeburn, VA

Founded in 1955



109 Beech Ave Ne
Coeburn, VA 24230-1724


(276) 889-1690


(276) 889-1690


(276) 337-8851






P O Box 1724
Coeburn, VA 24230-1724

Office Hours



Mass Times:

Saturday - Vigil of Sunday Mass

  • Spring and Summer - 5 pm

  • Fall and Winter - 5 pm

Mass/Reconciliation Times

  • Vigil: 5:00PM (English)
  • Daily: 5:00PM; Tuesday Only (English)
  • Holy Day Vigil: 5:00PM (English)


  • Pastor Rev. Xavier Banasula

Office Hours

Tuesday St. Therese 9:00 a.m -12:00 Noon
Tuesday St. Mary 2:00 p.m - 3.30 p.m.
Wednesday & Friday Good Shepherd 9:00 a.m- 12.00 p.m.


Special Ministries

  • Advocacy Center
  • Wise Correctional Unit #18, Flatwoods Job Corps Center

Associated Parishes

  • Good Shepherd
  • Saint Therese

Local Town Web

St. Mary’s Coeburn, looks ahead on 50th Anniversary

By D. J. Mathews - Special to the Catholic Virginian

Bishop Dilorenzo stands in front of St. Mary’s Coeburn; Priests with him are, from left to right; Father Michael Herbert, Glenmary Father Roland Hautz and Father Joseph D’Aurora

"Fifty years of good work. well done and all the best," Bishop Francis X. Di Lorenzo told e congregation at a special ass for St. Mary's parish in Coeburn, Oct. 8. The occasion was the 50th Anniversary of this small church in the Appalachian mountains of far southwest Virginia, where the Bishop also pointed out "you are vibrant, you are alive, you are missionary."

Close to 100 people, many of our surrounding churches in St. Paul, Dungannon and Norton, name out to
attend the special liturgy. At a reception at the Kilgore Center which followed St. Mary's parishioner
Donna Bates provided a continuous PowerPoint presentation of old church members and pastors from
over the years.

Sister Jaculyn Hanrahan, newly appointed director of the diocese’s Appalachian Office of justice and
Peace, served as hostess for the occasion. And the bishop, who had come to the Diocese of Richmond
16 months ago after heading the Diocese of Honolulu, was treated to a hula dance by a parishioner
from St. Anthony's in Norton.

A few of the founding church members also reminisced about the early days of the church. Martha
Clay, white haired and proud to be the oldest member at 87, explained that she met her husband, a
Coeburn native, when he attended college near her hometown of Jackson, Tenn.
She met Rose Lawson and Genevieve Hunsaker when their husbands also brought them to Coeburn, a
small coal town, after World War II. There was no Catholic church then but Mrs. Clay said priests held
"tent meetings" to generate interest.

By the early 1950s a small group of Catholics attended services in various places in town, including the
Women's Club, a beauty shop owned by Mattie Payne, who was taking instructions in the faith, and the
homes of long time Catholics. Prominent among those were Genevieve Hunsaker and Rose Lawson.
"We have the distinction of having Mass said in our living room," Patty O'Brien, Mrs. Lawson's daughter, pointed out.

Coeburn soon needed the steady presence of a priest. Father Roland Hautz, a priest of the Glenmary
Missioners out of Cincinnati, was sent to the Norton parish in September, 1953, to be an associate
pastor to Father Ray Dehen. As his assistant, Father Hautz ministered to the needs of Catholics in
Coeburn, where Father Dehen felt they needed a permanent structure.

"Father Rollie, go build a church," Father Hautz recalled the older priest telling him. He drew up the plans for the brick and block structure, with a little niche near the eaves for a statue of the Virgin and Baby, and used the donated services of a Catholic builder in Bristol to help provide a
sketch of the church.

Land needed to be purchased, but the neighbors near a selected site were reportedly leery of selling
land to the Catholic Church. So Alton Lawson bought some land outright for the church to use. He also
provided a bulldozer and, along with several other future parishioners, helped blast rock out of the
side of a hill.

Other donations to the church included a tabernacle from Edward Jiru of Waukegan, Ill., funding from
the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and a statue of the Virgin and Child for the outer niche, from Father
Hautz’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Hautz of Milford, Ohio. On Aug. 7, 1955, Bishop John Swint of Wheeling, W.Va., dedicated the new church, It was "95 at least,"

Father Hautz said of the temperature, adding there was no air conditioning during what turned out to
be an extremely long Mass. St. Mary's parish has remained small, with an average of 30 people attending the Saturday vigil Mass.

There's been a concern in recent years of the church being without a regular pastor due to the shortage
of priests, and the idea of "clustering" with two other parishes being seen as an option.

Father Timothy Drake, pastor of St. Anthony parish in Norton, has had to serve Sacred Heart parish in
Big Stone Gap, putting St. Mary's in the position where it needed to be part of a cluster with St.
Therese parish in St. Paul and Good Shepherd Church in Lebanon, which are" 15 and 33 miles away,

Martha Clay initially felt it was "kind of a shock" being part of a cluster. Now, she feels, "it’s good. They don't have enough (priests) to go around."

Elsie Kern has been an active member of the church since the early 1980s and is not surprised that they
are now a clustered parish. "If we hadn't clustered, we wouldn't have had a priest," she says. Hugh O'Donnell, liturgical song leader at St. Therese in St. Paul, who met several of St. Mary's parishioners at a clustering picnic of the three parishes in August, believes there is a benefit to

"You get to know people better," he said. "I just think it's a nice way to have more perspectives on
church decisions." Mrs. Kern thought Father Robert Krenik, the current "cluster" pastor, was most helpful in working on church finances "and being supportive. But the priest has been hospitalized in Charlottesville in the past month, being treated for leukemia.

Father Michael Herbert, parochial vicar at parishes in Tazewell and Pocahontas, has been presiding at
Mass on weekends.  Parishioners of St. Mary’s, Coeburn, hope to see "Father Bob" back soon and are praying for his recovery. "We miss him," Mrs. Kern said.

Fr. Charles Ssebalamu

Fr. Charles Ssebalamu is originally from Masaka Diocese—Uganda (East Africa). On August 3, 1996, Fr. Charles Ssebalamu was ordained as a priest. Fr. Charles has a degree in Philosophy and Theology, from Urban University Roam and a Diploma from National Seminaries in Uganda. For two years, Fr. Charles worked in a rural parish. After that, Fr. Charles worked for thirteen years as Secretary to the Bishop of Masaka Diocese. On August 10, 2011, Fr. Charles joined the Diocese of Richmond.  Fr. Charles has served the cluster parishes of Good Shepherd (South Hill), St Catherine of Siena (Clarksville) and St. Paschal (South Boston). Beginning in July 2012 till November 2012 He served as Parochial Vicar at St. Bede’s. We are now blessed to have him as our pastor.

A group of loving and dedicated priests from Africa came to the Diocese of Richmond. After he arrived, Fr. Charles Ssebalamu served the bishop and other parish communities, then Fr. Charles came to Coeburn to serve the Spirit of the Mountains cluster, including the parishs of St. Mary in Coeburn Virginia, St. Therese in St. Paul Virginia and Good Shepherd in Lebanon Virginia.


Fr. Mike Herbert's Ordination

Michael J. Herbert makes a promise of obedience to Bishop Francis X. Dilorenzo during his ordination to the priesthood March 2, 2005 at St. Ann Church in Ashland. Others, from left, are seminarian Tony Marques, Father Michael Renninger, Vicar for Vocations, and Deacon Eugene Kamper. Father Herbert's first assignment was parochial vicar at St. Bridget parish in Richmond.


The Catholic Virginian

PROFILE August 8, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 21

photo: Father Herbert in front of St. Mary Church, Coeburn.St. Mary’s, Coeburn, and St. Therese in St. Paul: ‘A great love among the people’

The Appalachian mountain towns of Coeburn and St. Paul are not growing, and neither are their already-small Catholic churches.

St. Mary’s in Coeburn and St. Therese in St. Paul are 12 miles apart in the coalfields of Wise County. They have 50 members between them.

About 35 regularly attend weekend Mass. So the celebrations are intimate.

Arriving at St. Mary’s for Saturday evening Mass is like walking into someone’s home. Parishioners are gathered inside around the door and warmly introduce themselves and each other to visitors.

It’s not a formal greeting committee. The members just happen to be standing there catching up on the week’s happenings, and they are pleased to see newcomers. They are happy to see each other, too.

photo: map of norton area“There’s a great love among the people,” said Hortense Mooney, a regular lector.

Indeed, most of the members know one another very well, having prayed and worshiped together for a long time as a tiny community of Catholics among an overwhelmingly non-Catholic population.

The two parishes were among several in far southwest Virginia established by the Glenmary order of priests who came as missionaries to the region in the 1940s. They served what current pastor Father Michael Herbert describes as “discreet Catholic communities” that formed when many eastern Europeans migrated to the area to work in the coal mines.

photo: St. Therese, in St. Paul.St. Therese was built in 1949 as a mission of St. Anthony in Norton and became a parish in 1954. During that time Glenmary Father Rollie Hautz built St. Mary’s Church in Coeburn, officially established in 1955.

Father Mike, as he’s known to parishioners, now is pastor of both parishes along with Good Shepherd Church in nearby Lebanon.

Although he lived and worked in Richmond for many years before being ordained a priest in 2005, he said he especially enjoys the “very personalized” ministry in these small, rural faith communities.

“It’s one-on-one where you are constantly dealing with every individual in your parish,” he explained.

photo: Father Herbert and Deacon Sean Prince during Mass at St. Mary’s.Living their Catholic faith in their beloved but non-Catholic community seems to define the people of St. Mary and St. Therese where many are retirees, often having moved “back home” after careers elsewhere. Father Mike calls this a “blessed connection” to their birth place.

Lillie Peters of St. Therese is a typical example. She’d gone to Michigan at age 18 to work in an automotive plant. When she returned a dozen years ago, to the very farm where she was born, she brought her husband Pete, a Michigan native, with her.

The Peters’ run the Neighbors Aid Store, a community food pantry and emergency assistance organization that serves more than 225 impoverished families a month.

Coeburn parishioner Sister Jackie Hanrahan explained, “The lives of our members in the community are indicative of our Catholic faith. It is a true witness that I think is most profoundly evident to others at funerals, weddings and holiday events.”

Sister Jackie herself came in the 1980s to minister in the area as a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame. She has an obvious affection for St. Mary’s.

While working in the area for years as a legal services attorney and director of the former diocesan Appalachian Office of Justice and Peace, she also has been the church music leader.

“This is my parish,” she smiles proudly as she talks with fellow parishioners after Mass, “I live here.”

photo: Mass at St.Therese, St. PaulBill Hunsaker now lives in Norton but still occasionally attends Mass at St. Mary’s where he grew up and was an altar server in the 1950s.

He recalled that when the church was established, it consisted of only three Catholic families, the Hunsakers, Clays and Lawsons with a dozen children among them. Those families are still represented in the parish membership.

Dominican Sisters Margaret Flynn and Beth Jaspers also regularly attend Saturday Mass in Coeburn. They live in Norton and run the Advocate Center that they established 26 years ago.

As its outreach ministry, St. Mary’s budgets continuing financial support for the center that provides direct health and housing assistance to low income families in the region.

St. Therese’s social ministry is to provide the facility for the Neighbors Aid Store in its basement and storage shed.

Having such small membership the two parishes can do little more, financially, than maintain the church buildings and provide liturgy and social activities.

“We do what we can,” Father Mike said.

photo: Dishing up at St. Therese’s monthly breakfast, from left, are Danny Laney, Tom Horne and Victor Rojas.Meanwhile, they participate in other ministries through “on-the-ground ecumenism,” as Father Mike calls it. All the churches in these small towns are small so it is natural for them to come together for charitable work as well as special Christian celebrations throughout the year.

The latter includes a series of prayer luncheons during Holy Week and a community-wide Thanksgiving service.

“These have been very well received,” the pastor said. “We have different styles of worship, but it’s beautiful to see everyone come together and blend with one another in spirit. In an area that was once intensely anti-Catholic, we are now very appreciated.”

It works both ways. “One thing I like about it here is the mix of people,” said St. Therese parishioner Frank Molinary. “You learn how to live with different classes of people and people of different faiths and experience.”

Mr. Molinary grew up in St. Paul and retired to the community with his wife Connie after a career with a railroad company that had them living mostly in the Midwest. His mother Pauline, now 90, has been a pillar of St. Therese. “She’s the godmother of us all,” laughed Father Mike, explaining that church records of baptisms and confirmations show Pauline Molinary listed time and again as godparent or sponsor.

  Father Mike Herbert was an attorney and then a law professor for 17 years at the University of Richmond before becoming a priest six years ago.

He’s been in rural southwest Virginian most of the time since his ordination, currently pastoring a cluster of three parishes in Coeburn, St. Paul and Lebanon. But the move away from the urban scene hasn’t been difficult as he takes pleasure in the life of the small church communities of the Appalachian mountains.

He also has been gratified by another aspect of his ministry.

“Part of my own work that I hadn’t anticipated but have come to love is ministering to a lot of non-Catholics — not in a formal way, but just in daily ministry,” he said.

Father Mike explained that he shares hospital chaplaincy duties with other local Christian ministers and is on-call once a week.

“Almost none of the people I see in the hospital are Catholic. In fact, they are mostly fundamentalist Christians.

“So I’m dealing with people of a different tradition in a very direct way. They are sitting with their sick or dying loved one, and just for a few minutes I’m their pastor,” he explained. “I’m not going in as a Catholic priest, but as a minister and a fellow Christian.”

Father Mike suggests that Catholicism and other mainline Christian religions “are pretty intellectual” and “tend to look down on” fundamentalist expressions of faith.

“Some of the criticism is legitimate,” he said, “but it is a deeply held faith of millions of our brothers and sisters. I’ve learned a little of their lingo and their viewpoint and experiencing it with people as they are struggling, suffering or dying has given me a profound respect for that kind of Christian faith we tend to ignore or look down on.”


St. Therese parishioners enjoy sharing breakfast in the church hall after 8:30 Mass once a month. Ms. Molinary and Debbie Laney usually provide the spread and everyone shares in the easy, familiar conversation.

At a recent Sunday breakfast they discussed their sadness over the decreasing population evident by the recent closing of the local high school where Ms. Laney had been a teacher. She is from Connecticut but her husband Danny is a native of neighboring Dry Fork.

Their daughter Sydney, 9, is one of only three children in the parish (there are none at St. Mary’s), and attends Christian formation classes at Good Shepherd Parish in Lebanon.

The population here began to decline with the economy in the 1960s as jobs were lost to automation in the coal industry and the closing of some mines. Many young people, like Mr. Molinary, left the region to find work. Although he was drawn back by family ties and Appalachia’s natural beauty, he still laments the fact that young people don’t stay because of a lack of employment.

Dominion Power Company is building a large coal-fired power plant on the edge of St. Paul. It brought in 1,600 construction workers temporarily, but they will leave when the facility is complete in a year.

Father Mike said 75 permanent skilled employees will be hired to operate the plant, “but we know they’ll all live in Abingdon.”

St. Mary and St. Therese are two of the five smallest parishes in the diocese, the pastor said. The parishes are aging, and unlike Lebanon, 20 minutes away, new people aren’t moving in to the community.

“We talk about this all the time, very candidly,” the pastor emphasized. “We recognize that we’re in a diocese that is looking at a significant decrease in the number of priests. There are some parts of the diocese that are growing rapidly and others aren’t growing at all.

photo: St. Mary congregation sings with music leader Sister Jackie Hanrahan on guitar, Sister Beth Jaspers and Sister Margaret Flynn (middle row), and Connie and Greg Perry, first row.“The question will become how many parishes will close in the next five years? We’re aware of that.

“But we can’t roll over and play dead. So we’ve undertaken as much renovation and improvement to our physical plants as possible,” he continued, pointing out that much of the labor has been provided by parishioners — particularly Caz Renkiewicz of St. Therese.

“We’re doing everything we can to maintain our facilities and improve their functionality to make them more accessible for our people,” he said.