“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” ~~ St. Paul
The history of Catholics in Virginia dates to the 16th century, when Jesuit expeditions passed through the Fredericksburg area. Later, the Brent family contributed to much of the development in the area and the Northern Neck, establishing the first Catholic settlement in Virginia in 1647. A crucifix north of Fredericksburg on Route 1 honors the Brent family’s contributions.
In the 1880s and 90s, Northern Neck tomatoes were well known for their unique flavor and required many extra hands to harvest. Entire Polish families, or “Bohemians” as they were called, were recruited in the Baltimore area and transported to Kinsale during late spring and summer. They harvested tomatoes, canned fish and picked the luscious blackberries which grew profusely in the countryside and were brought to the factory by the bucketful.
Some Bohemian visitors from Maryland settled in make-shift shanties on the slope leading from steamboat hill down to Kinsale’s public landing. This location was convenient to the tomato factory operated by George P. Bailey, of Plainview. Others set up housekeeping in the same type of dwellings on the hillside and shore of the Yeocomico at the foot of the present Earl C. Moss residence, probably working the nearby factory owned by W. J. Courtney of Mundy Point.
There were two stores at the top of the hill overlooking the steamboat wharf and between them an old-fashioned drugstore, where the Bohemians sold homemade ice cream on warm Saturday afternoons. Despite the Bohemians’ apparent contentment, there was a worm in the apple. These hard working and pleasant people, who baked mouthwatering bread in outdoor ovens and so energetically harvested the local fruits and vegetables, longed for their own church; lacking a Catholic church, they would leave the county.
Mindful of the situation, Mr. Francis Tubman of Mt. Holly, a well known owner of a mercantile business, offered to supply the needed materials for the building of a church and succeeded in getting other local residents interested in the project. Mr. John K. R. Crabbe (of Mt. Pleasant estate in Hague) and his wife Annie C. donated the land, a beautiful hilltop location for the first Catholic Church to be built in Westmoreland County and the Northern Neck.
The little church was built in 1890 and dedicated by Father Deneen of Baltimore, Maryland. Priests would come by ferry from Leonardtown, Maryland once a month for some years to celebrate Mass. When the workers ceased to come back, St. Paul’s fell into disuse, then into decay and was finally closed. This might have been the end of the lovely little mission church had not fate and human kindness intervened a second time, in the form of Mr. Paul Settle.
Early in the year 1923, Mr. Settle received an urgent letter from his cousin, Cromwell Hardwick, asking him to take over the job of managing the Hardwick Hotel, a thriving business in Kinsale. Mr. Settle, born in Warsaw, Virginia but currently living in Washington D.C., refused the offer at first, stating that his wife Jane was born and reared in Washington and he knew she would not be able to adjust to country life.
More discussion convinced Jane to move to Kinsale but only if a Catholic church could be found nearby. Before long, Paul Settle had received permission from Bishop O’Connell of the Diocese of Richmond to restore St. Paul’s, and with the help of other members, the mission was repaired. Jane Settle, who became “Aunty Jenny” to the other parishioners, not only adapted well but spread kindness and help wherever needed among the community.
As the years passed, the congregation so increased that during summer months, when city visitors attended, many latecomers had to stand outside to hear Mass. Eventually the priest obtained permission to say Mass in the Cople School Auditorium but a larger church was definitely needed.
Parishioners joined hands with Reverand Leonard Bachman, S. T., the pastor of St Elizabeth of Hungary, in Colonial Beach, and by 1965, the congregation of St. Paul Catholic Mission attended services in a brand new church, erected in the shadow of the first St. Paul.
For more information about the history of Catholicism in Virginia click here.