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Tiny Catholic Church brings faith to the mountain

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Just off the ski slopes at Bryce Resort in Basye, there’s a small chapel with a cross on its roof.

It’s nearly at the base of the mountain and is seen easily by skiers and snowboarders on their way down.

Our Lady of the Shenandoah Mission, which seats about 100 people, is one of the diocese’s most far-flung communities, just minutes from both the West Virginia border and counties to the south that are part of the Diocese of Richmond.

There, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, people can find God.

“God never leaves us by ourselves. He’s always with us, whether we want to look for him,” said Father Augustine Tran, who currently oversees the chapel. “Who would think that in the middle of the resort, the ski slope, that there is the house of God? God is here with all of us. He’s here in the tabernacle.”

The octagonal chapel was the first project completed after the formation of the diocese in August 1974, and dedicated by Bishop Thomas J. Welsh in April 1976.

Since then, the chapel has been a mission of St. John Bosco Church, about 30 minutes to the east, making Our Lady of the Shenandoah Mission the diocese’s westernmost church.

The rectory at the mission — essentially just a bedroom and bathroom adjacent to the sacristy — has been vacant since June 2020, when Father Richard J. Ley, who had lived there since 2010, retired.

One Mass is offered at the mission every week — a Saturday vigil Mass at 5 p.m., with confessions heard beforehand. Father Tran, parochial vicar at St. John Bosco, celebrates that Mass once a month, while Father Marcus Pollard, chaplain at Christendom College in Front Royal, is there every other Saturday of the month.

Attendance has been down since the start of the pandemic, but Father Tran said one Saturday in January, 39 people attended Mass — some in ski boots and jackets.

The regular congregation at the mission is a mix of people who live in the Basye area as well as weekenders from Bryce Resort, which is open year-round.

“The people are very friendly and they are very down-to-earth,” Father Tran said. “It is a gem that we have out here.”

The late Father Michael Dobbins, pastor of St. John Bosco until his death in November, most recently had oversight of Our Lady of the Shenandoah. A note he wrote announcing changes to the weekly Mass schedule still hangs on the chapel door.

Now Father Tran is the only priest currently assigned to St. John Bosco, and by extension, the mission.

He said he and the regulars at Our Lady of the Shenandoah are looking forward to the day another priest can be assigned out in Shenandoah County. Until a new priest moves into the mission’s rectory, the chapel remains locked at all times except for Saturday Mass.

If people are planning a ski trip to the area and want to visit the chapel, Father Tran recommends calling St. John Bosco at 540/459-4448 in advance, and the chapel can be unlocked for visitors.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021