REIDSVILLE — Joyful music in English, Spanish and Latin marked the 50th anniversary celebration at Holy Infant Church in Reidsville June 24.
Holy Infant Church was dedicated on June 24, 1962, and 50 years later, the church's pews were filled with worshippers strong in their faith and in their Catholic witness in Rockingham County.
With Father Joseph Mack, pastor, as concelebrant, Bishop Peter Jugis celebrated the anniversary Mass and blessed the church's new altar. The new altar and ambo, built by a parishioner of Holy Infant Church, were among recent renovations to this unique architectural gem that also included installation of faceted glass windows.
Pictured above: Bishop Peter Jugis incenses the new altar at Holy Infant Church in Reidsville during a Mass June 24 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church's dedication. View a full gallery from the event at the bottom of the article. (Photos by Patricia L. Guilfoyle, Catholic News Herald)
On this anniversary of the church's dedication, Bishop Jugis said during his homily, it was an occasion to think about the three purposes of a church building.
A church is primarily a place set aside for the celebration of the sacraments and the Church's highest prayer, the sacrifice of the Mass, he said.
A church building also provides a means of transformation: by participating in the Mass and receiving the grace from the sacraments, Catholics conform more closely to Christ, becoming living temples of the Spirit. And in the case of Holy Infant Church, its recent renovations are symbolic of the parish's continual spiritual growth, Bishop Jugis noted.
"Just as the interior of this church has changed so beautifully as it has been renovated, you must also be changed – you must also become more beautiful," he said. "The external transformation of the interior of the church should be a reflection of what is constantly taking place within your own heart, within your own soul – being transformed by God's grace, becoming more loving, more holy, more grace-filled."
Bishop Jugis then recounted a story about the time an interviewer slyly asked Blessed Teresa of Calcutta what must be changed in the Church. Blessed Teresa gave a very interesting answer, he said: "The first thing that needs to change in the Church is you and I."
Thirdly, Bishop Jugis explained, churches are a tangible presence of the universal Catholic Church in a community, especially important in areas like Reidsville where Catholics are a minority. The church and its parish community can be a tool of evangelization and understanding of the faith.
And through our involvement in our parishes, we can link our faith to our actions, he said, enabling us to share the Gospel message with the wider community.
On the occasion of the church's anniversary, Bishop Jugis said, it is an opportune time to ask: "Are we bringing the light of Christ into our community, to scatter the darkness of this culture – sometimes called the culture of death, but also the culture of selfishness, a culture of materialism, a culture of relativism?"
In his remarks at the conclusion of Mass, Father Mack thanked all the parishioners who helped organize the anniversary celebration.
"The parish church stands as a good testament to the witness of the hard work of a small parish and its ability to endure the many challenges that have faced it over its history," Father Mack said. "It is an honor to be able to serve them as pastor."
Following Mass, parishioners gathered together under tents for a picnic and fellowship.
When Holy Infant Church was built in 1962, there were just a handful of Catholics in the area, then a booming community powered by tobacco and textiles.
Early on, local Catholics went to Greensboro or Danville, Va., for Mass, then for years later they traveled to Eden, where St. Joseph of the Hills Church was built in 1938.
In 1951, Catholics obtained permission to have Mass said at a local funeral home in Reidsville and then at Reidsville Municipal Building. As the number of faithful grew, the second floor of a local washerette was converted into a chapel and classroom space.
Through the influence of Mrs. Ashby Penn, a local philanthropist, the families were able to acquire land to build a church. At the bishop's request, they chose a hilltop site along the highway going into Reidsville – a visible location that would be easily accessible to Catholic travelers.
First they built a temporary chapel, later used as the rectory, and then with financial help from a Connecticut family interested in building churches in mission areas, they were able to finally construct a permanent church.
The church was dedicated on June 26, 1962, by Bishop Vincent Waters. The Connecticut family named the church Holy Infant.
A lot of the church furnishings were given as memorials from local families and companies, including American Tobacco Co., the area's leading employer.
But even with the growth and the new church, Holy Infant remained a mission church. Then in 1967, the church community became a parish on its own and received its first full-time pastor, Father Edward O'Doherty.
In 1982, the church underwent significant repairs after an unknown arsonist set fire to the building and caused considerable damage.
In 1985, the church was appointed the diocese's first permanent parochial administrator, Sister Pauline Mary Clifford, by Bishop John F. Donoghue.
Also in 1985, Father Peter Jugis, then pastor, began celebrating Mass in Spanish regularly each Sunday, drawing Hispanic Catholics from across Rockingham County as well as in nearby Virginia and as far south as Greensboro to be able to worship in their native language. He also served as pastor of Holy Infant Church from 1993 to 1996, so this 50th anniversary Mass was a kind of homecoming for him as well.
Now, about 150 Catholic families call Holy Infant Church their home, comprised of a diverse cultural mix of English- and Spanish-speaking Catholics.
Holy Infant Church is probably the most unusual looking church in the diocese.
Its architect was Richard Burke Schnedl of Reidsville, a North Carolina native who was in the first graduating class at N.C. State University's School (now College) of Design.
Schnedl was a devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright, and his designs featured similarly simple lines, open floor plans and understated elegance.
His design for the church featured bold white stucco walls, accented by piercing angular windows and high skylights, an outward-angled front door, and a curved roof line. Inside, the white walls and geometric accents highlight the crucifix mounted behind the altar. The accompanying bell tower is built of similar white stucco.
Since its dedication 50 years ago, the church has undergone a few minor modifications, but nothing as significant as what the parish did in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the church's dedication.
Parishioners and Father Mack raised funds to purchase the new faceted glass windows, made in a modern design to complement the church's contemporary architectural style.
(To see the unique faceted glass window designs, click here: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a378/frjoemack/New%20Church%20Windows)
Parishioner John Savinski constructed a new altar and ambo of dark wood, which contrasts with the church's white interior to set off the sanctuary and make it even more of the focal point for the church. Savinski also constructed a new altar of repose for the tabernacle, a new ambry (cabinet that keeps the three sacred oils used in the sacraments), and wall pedestals for the statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
PRIESTS AND RELIGIOUS WHO SERVED AT HOLY INFANT PARISH
1962-1966 Father Thomas Clements
1966-1967 Monsignor Dennis Lynch
1967-1978 Father Edward O'Doherty
1978-1979 Father Gabriel Meehan
1979-1982 Father Joseph McCarthy
1982-1985 Father Don Baker
1985 Father Peter Jugis
1985-1988 Sister Pauline Mary Clifford, parochial administrator
1986 Father Carl Kaltreider
1986-1988 Father Tom Stott
1988-1989 Father Ron Marecki
1989-1990 Father Raymond B. Hourihan
1990 Father Cecil Tice
1990-1993 Father Richard Sotelo, S.J.
1993-1996 Father Peter Jugis
1996-1997 Father Joseph Valentine
1997-2000 Father John T. Putnam
2000-2005 Father Christopher Davis
2005 Father Luis Osorio
2006 Father Christopher Roux
2006-present Father Joseph W. Mack
Learn more about Holy Infant Church of Reidsville: www.holyinfantreidsvillenc.com.
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor