Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church: A Brief History
The Diocese of Wheeling was established in the State of Virginia in 1850 by His Holiness, Pope Pius IX. When West Virginia became a state in 1863, eight counties of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle remained under the Diocese of Richmond. Pop Paul VI incorporated these counties with the rest of West Virginia into the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese. The first Catholic family to settle in Romney, John and Catherine Stankwich of Galitzin, PA, arrived in 1936, and they were joined by families of Bob and Dorothy Alkire, James and Geraldine Alkire, and Betty and Mike Smith in 1945. At that time the only Catholic Church serving Mineral, Hampshire, Grant, Hardy and Pendleton counties was the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Keyser.
The first priest to offer Mass in this area was Fr. Joseph H. Hodges of Harper’s Ferry and he was later named Auxiliary Bishop of Richmond in 1952 and then the Bishop of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. The first Mass was celebrated in Romney in 1948 from the rear of a mission trailer by Fathers Michaels, Hodges and Connelly. In 1949, John Stankwich acquired the use of the Moose Lodge for Masses during the summer. Fr. Kenneth Rizer asked Mr. Stankwich and Mr. Smith to locate property for a small Church.
The American Legion Hall was used fro the Celebration of the Holy Sacrifice from 1950-1952. IN the summer Masses moved to Springfield School Auditorium during 1952-55, and the rest of the year they were celebrated at the New Century Hotel owned by future parishioner, Virginia Williams. Masses were also celebrated in private cottages. The Blue Beach Tavern was purchased in 1956 and served as a church for the families from Romney, Augusta, Springfield, Fort Ashby, Burlington, Moorefield and River Road as a Mission of the Church of the Assumption, Keyser under the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia for about 25 years.
Fr. Rizer served area Catholics from 1945 to 1957. Fr. Joseph Quinn became the first resident Pastor in 1976, when the Franciscans of the Third Order Regular (TOR) began to serve the Parish. He purchased five lots on School Street in 1980 and began Sacramental ministries in the new Church of Our Lady of Grace in July 1981. The first Baptism in the new church — of Katrina Ann Nickelson — took place on June 22, 1981. The new church was consecrated by Bishop Joseph H. Hodges on October 11, 1981. That November Fr. Quinn resigned due to illness. Upon Fr. Quinn’s retirement, Fr. Vianney Cunningham served Our Lady Of Grace as Administrator until Fr. Mark Reifel was appointed Pastor. Bishop Hodges presided at the first Confirmation in the new church on June 4, 1983.
Fr. Cunningham returned as Pastor in 1985 and departed in 1988. Fr. Stanley Miltenberger (OFM)Cap), Chaplain at Sacred Heart Hospital in Cumberland, MD offered Mass on weekends, and Fr. Fabian Sheganoski of Moorefield acted as Administrator until Fr. Christopher Panagoplos became Pastor in October 1988 and was succeeded by pastor Fr. Adalbert Wolski (TOR) in 1990. Fr. Wolski was reassigned in August 1991 and the final Franciscan (TOR) to serve Our Lady of Grace, Fr. Reginald Krakovsky, was made Administrator and celebrated Mass from September 1991 until the spring of 1992.
In 1992 the Missionaries of the Holy Apostles (MSSA) assumed direction of the church under Fr. Joseph Kenney. The parish’s first Deacon, Martin Rooney of the same order, served as Administrator from August 1992 until Fr. Joseph Salazar arrived in December 1992. In its jubilee year the Parish witnessed its first Ordination to the Priesthood when Deacon Martin Rooney was ordained by the Most Rev. Bernard W. Schmitt, Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. Bishop Schmitt also visited the congregation for its Jubilee Celebration and Confirmation on October 10, 1993.
Fr. Salazar continued to serve until Fr. Eugene J. Weber was appointed Pastor in June of 1998. He retired in June 2001, and Fr. Michael O’Reilly became Pastor in July 2001. The beloved Fr. O’Reilly served until his untimely death on Holy Thursday 2003. Fr. William J. Kuchinsky begain to serve in July 2003 until 2011. Under Fr. Kuchinsky, the parish debt for the church was retired, and in 2005 the former Patrick Bray property was purchased to be used as the new Rectory. The former Rectory is now used for the Parish Office, library and classrooms. In December 2011, Fr. Joseph Augustine, H.G.N. became our new Administrator.
The naming of the Church “Our Lady of Grace” honors Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It was She, of all woman, who was chosen by Jesus to be His Mother. To announce this good news the Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Mary. In greeting her Gabriel proclaimed: “Hail, full of grace!” [Lk. 1:28].
The Old Our Lady of Grace Church
One of the First Holy Mass's at Our Lady Of Grace Missionary Church