Roman Catholicism in the Hill City: A Digital Exhibit
The closing of Holy Cross Regional School at the end of the academic year in June 2020 marks the end of an era in Lynchburg. In an environment dominated by Protestant, and in particular Southern Baptist churches and culture, the Catholic history of the Hill City is a unique testament to the presence of a world-wide faith community which traces its lineage to the first century A.D. (Anno Domini=year of our Lord). With the loss of Holy Cross Regional School, a school for Catholic and non-Catholic students alike whose families value the atmosphere, close community and morals of Catholic school education, Lynchburg and the surrounding counties will no longer have any Catholic primary or secondary education facilities, a fate replicated in communities across the United States today.
The presence of Catholics in Lynchburg dates to the construction of the Kanawha Canal in the 1830s which brought Irish workers together with enslaved black laborers. The small number of Catholics who were in Lynchburg before the arrival of canal workers worshipped at home, since there were no churches. The first mass, celebrated by Father Cooper, is documented as being in the house of Mary Dornin in 1829. With the influx of young, single male Irish Catholics staying on in the Hill City after the canal construction project ended, a permanent place of worship was soon on the horizon.