RICHMOND, Virginia (WRIC) – The church has always been a fixture in the African American community. Richmond has one of the oldest black Catholic churches in the country, the Holy Rosary.
Whether it was during slavery or the civil rights movement, historically the black church has been a haven for African Americans.
In the heart of Church Hill, the roots of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church go back to the 1930s, when the Redemptorist Fathers started the Church Hill Catholic Mission on 27th Street.
Frank Nelson, deacon of Holy Rosary Catholic Church, said the church was established as a mission for African Americans in the Church Hill area.
The mission grew out of St. Augustine’s, now closed, which was an integrated parish in the Fulton area.
Ben Miles has been a church member his entire life and remembers his humble beginnings.
“Holy Rosary was started, I believe, in 1953 and started in a house on 27 and P streets, which belonged to a man named Mr. George Pollard, who let the church use the facility,” Miles said.
Father Raymond Schantz, a Redemptorist priest, helped move the church to 33rd and R Street. He is pictured next to my alter-boy, Bishop Walter Barrett, the parish’s first black pastor.
Miles said they say the Holy Rosary is the oldest black Catholic church in existence because it was not the original Black Catholic church in the city of Richmond.
The first was St. Joseph’s in Jackson Ward, it closed in 1969 as part of an effort by church leaders to integrate parishes.
Miles said they wanted to force black people to go to the cathedral which was not far from St. Joseph.
Over time, the parish and the Church of the Holy Rosary have grown. The current shrine, chapel and office were consecrated in 2004 and are run by Father David Stanfill.
Although Catholic in its essence means “universal”, what sets the parish apart is that it embraces culture.
“When you talk about African American churches, people will often notice that the music is different. So you will have gospel music and that music really reflects the spirit of the people, ”said Nelson.
There are icons of the black Madonna and the infant and the black Jesus Christ on the cross in the church. Never miss another 8News Facebook postFind 8News on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; send your new tips toiReport8@wric.com.