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Where the Holy Spirit is ‘alive and well’
The Faith continues to grow in Woodstock.
Gretchen R. Crowe | Catholic Herald
Gretchen R. Crowe | Catholic Herald
This crucifix hangs above the altar at St. John Bosco Church in Woodstock.

Eunice Taylor, 80, was raised in Woodstock at a time when she remembers only two Catholics being in town. Until she married her Catholic husband, John, and became one herself, that is.

Over time, the Catholic presence in Shenandoah County has grown, thanks to the existence of St. John Bosco Church. The church is responsible for ministering to the entire county — an expanse of 512 square miles — which can generate a lot of work for the parish priests. Luckily for Fathers Wilhelm J. Ettner, pastor, and Zacarias Martinez Martinez, in residence, the parish’s older generation keeps the community running on all cylinders.

(See a video profile of the parish here.)

The retired community members of St. John Bosco hold the church on their shoulders, said Erma Granier, who moved to Woodstock with her husband, Jessie, a few years ago. Exiting the chapel after spending time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, rosary wrapped around a Bible, the Graniers said the people who belong to St. John Bosco have true faith.

The Taylors are examples of these people of faith, people who have lived and breathed the parish’s development and growth as carefully as if it were a member of their own family. The couple remembers everyone who built pieces of the church buildings, fundraised money and cleaned the sanctuary. In a tour of the property — which consists of the old church, the “new” church, a thrift store, a multipurpose parish hall, a religious education hall and offices — the Taylors pointed out, piece by piece, which properties the parish acquired when.

Before Mass, they pray the rosary and the chaplet of Divine Mercy and spend time together with fellow parishioners.

Going to Mass is like spending time with extended family, Eunice said. “We’re all very close-knit.”

And, added John practically, after you’re retired, spending time at the church gives you something to do.

(Click here for story on St. John Bosco's Life Chain.)

According to a parish history compiled by parishioners, St. John Bosco got its beginnings in 1884 at the hands of two Irish railroad workers who purchased the land off Main Street and built the original church. After World War II, the church was given as a gift to the Richmond Diocese, and became a mission of Sacred Heart Parish in Winchester. Three Capuchin Friars of the Province of New Jersey were sent by the Richmond bishop to staff the mission in 1958, and a year later, St. John Bosco was established as an independent parish.

“In their brown robes and their sandaled feet they were quite a sight in the town of Woodstock,” said Eunice of the friars.

Over the years, pastors, including Capuchin Father Sal Ciullo, expanded the church by building a parish hall and a new church, dedicated in 1973.

“Mountain stones and pebbles from a local parishioner’s farm were collected and used for the construction of the face of the church as well as the front walkways,” the history reads.

In 1976, Our Lady of the Shenandoah Mission in Basye was dedicated. The mission currently is overseen by Father Richard J. Ley, parochial vicar, and serves 114 parishioners.

Capuchin friars served at St. John Bosco until diocesan priests began staffing the church in 1992.

Other pastors include Capuchin Fathers Cyril Karlowicz, Sylvester Catallo, Bob Calabrese and Martin Schratz. Diocesan pastors include Fathers Joseph J. Loftus, Robert Ruskamp and William Aitcheson. Salesian sisters and Missionary Servant Sisters served in succession from the 1970s to the 1990s, offering support for the religious education program.

In the time that Father Ettner has been in Woodstock — he was assigned as administrator in 2005 and elevated to pastor in 2007 — St. John Bosco has grown, with its parishioners now numbering 1,160. The growth encouraged a group-effort renovation, led by Father Ettner, 2007-08. As a result, the church acquired a new sanctuary floor, pews, furniture, tabernacle, tiling and stained-glass windows.

Eunice picked the carpet.

“It was a great project for the parish,” she said. “It really brought us together. It’s a beautiful church. You walk in and you sense Christ.” (Click here for more on the 2008 renovations.)

As a first-time pastor, Father Ettner said he is gaining valuable experience in an ideal setting.

“It’s smaller (and) it’s more manageable,” he said. “You get to know the people better in the community. You develop that friendship with them.”

St. John Bosco’s older generation provides an example for younger families in the parish — whose numbers are growing steadily — through demonstrations of selflessness and self-giving, said Father Ettner.

This sense of service is a driving force for parishioners, Father Ettner said, and Eunice agreed that the parishioners’ desire to help others is “endless.”

But parishioners don’t only witness to their fellow Catholics. As members of the only Catholic church in Shenandoah County, the parishioners witness to Woodstock’s non-Catholics, especially through their outreach, Father Ettner said.

“They know (the Catholics) are here,” said Father Ettner.(Click here for story on Right of Christian Intitiation of Adults program at St. John Bosco.)

Woodstock has seen a small increase in the number of Hispanic immigrants, so having Father Martinez from El Salvador in residence to minister to them makes an impact.

“He’s been a great asset to the parish for both the English and Spanish communities,” Father Ettner said. “To have somebody who can speak Spanish and be there for the people makes a big difference.”

According to its mission statement, St. John Bosco’s goal “is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.” Father Ettner believes they accomplish that mission.

Parishioners have “a joyful spirit of Christ” — one that allows the church to grow and encourages visitors to return, he said. “The Holy Spirit is definitely alive and well.”

Quick facts

St. John Bosco Parish

315 N. Main St.

Woodstock, Va. 22664


Pastor: Fr. Wilhelm J. Ettner

Parochial vicar: Fr. Richard J. Ley

In residence: Fr. Zacarias Martinez Martinez

Mass Schedule:

Sat: 9 a.m., 5 p.m. vigil

Sun: 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon (Spanish)

Weekdays: 9 a.m.

Parishioners: 1,160

Mission: Our Lady of the Shenandoah Mission

Basye, Va.

Parishioners: 114


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