Around the middle of the 19th century, groups of people from Liberty (as Bedford was then known) and nearby towns gathered on the front lawn of the home of Major William Leftwich to listen to Father Edward Fox as he spoke from the veranda. This young priest rode horseback or drove his buggy from Holy Cross Church in Lynchburg to preach and explain the Faith. Unfortunately, his death brought an end to all such contact with the Church for people of the area.
Civil War years brought to the region railroads, and those who built them, especially the Irish, most of whom were Catholic. In the Spring of 1874, Father McGuirk, a young priest assigned to Holy Cross, felt an empathy for these Catholics from Liberty and celebrated the first Mass in the basement of the old Court House. Soon after, Mr. McGrosson donated a plot of land on South Bridge Street.
In August 1874, the cornerstone of St. Mary’s Church was laid by Cardinal Gibbons, then Bishop of Richmond. Bricks for the building were made on the property and on August 29, 1875, the first Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Gibbons, in the little brick church on the hill, for approximately 50 Catholics.
As the years passed, the building of the National Elks Home brought Brother Elks to swell the church’s congregation. New industries, the growth of the Smith Mountain Lake area, the establishment of a World War II Air Force Radar Base, and the natural beauty of the countryside, brought more Catholics. Soon the little church was too small, and property to build a larger one was purchased on Oakwood Street. Local industries and businesses generously contributed to the campaign for funds. Everyone worked and sacrificed, but the goal probably could never have been reached except for the generosity of one special group of people, Brother Elks.
Mr. Thomas Brady, the administrator of the National Elks Home, conducted a special
campaign and obtained donations from Brother Elks all over the country. OnAugust 9, 1954, the ground was broken for a new church and on September 20, 1955, one year after the shovel full of earth was lifted by Mayor Carlyle, a new Catholic Church, Holy Name of Mary, was dedicated on Oakwood Street. The church was renamed “Holy Name of Mary”to show the special reverence that Catholics have for the Virgin Mother of the Redeemer.
The ensuing years brought continued growth, both spiritually and physically. A property beside the church became the pastor’s residence, used in part for church offices, religious education classrooms and for parish meetings. Committees for parish administration, works of charity and Christian education were formed, expanding the church’s presence in the local community. With a growing number of parishioners, growing parish needs and structural problems with the existing building, it was soon clear that more changes would be needed.
Master plans for a major expansion were drawn up. In 1988, a new residence for the pastor was purchased and the former rectory was devoted to administrative offices, classrooms and committee meeting rooms. On May 9, 1993, Bishop Walter F. Sullivan broke ground for a much larger church. It was completed using much of the original construction material and furnishings. It was dedicated by the Bishop in 1995. We were extremely grateful to Mr. W.D. “Skip” Tharp and his entire staff for allowing us to use the chapel at Carder-Tharp Funeral Home free of charge during the construction.
In 2003, a classroom, social hall/kitchen and office addition was added on to the building. The old office building (the former rectory prior to 1988) was torn down to make way for additional parking. Both upper lots were paved so the church would be more easily accessible to the disabled. Automatic doors were installed at the entrances to the church and the sanctuary. In 2011, the social hall was officially named “McNally Hall” in honor of Father Steve McNally, pastor from 2001-2009, to celebrate his 25th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.
Currently there are over 500 families registered at our church. If you have been attending Holy Name of Mary and would like to register as a parishioner, please fill out a registration form, bring it to the office or give it to a staff member on Sunday. You can find registration forms in the commons next to Father’s vesting room or download one here.