A band of Jesuits settled near the York River opposite Jamestown in 1570 and spent two years trying to Christianize the native tribe of Chiskiacs but to no avail, and they were eventually were massacred by the Chiskiacs.
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. Catholics had few rights in the Virginia Colony and as a result only a few hundred Catholics settled here before the American Revolution.
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.
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.
Finding St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, Virginia:
Address: 631 North Jefferson Street Roanoke, Virginia 24016
Tel: +1 540-344-9814
Click here for the official website of Saint Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke