Visit No. 10: Our Lady of the Shenandoah

Visit No. 10: Our Lady of the Shenandoah

Even skiers ought to repose in the the lap of the Lord — and here at Bryce ski resort, wonderfully, amazingly, is a Catholic church, right at the foot of the main slope. What a happy visit we had — if off-season, but that just means we must return soon!

Visit date: Sunday, November 26, 2023

Mass: 8:30 am Saturday

Address: 240 Fritzel Way, Basye, VA 22810

Website: Our Lady of the Shenandoah Mission – St John Bosco

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Lectionary: 160

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”


by Michael

After a wonderful stay in Luray, we packed up our cabin early Sunday morning and under to the rising sun drove through the New Market Gap which took us across the Goerge Washington National Forest to the Shenandoah Mountain, a long ridge that defines the western border of the Valley.

The drive to Bayse fulfilled what Bishop Burbidge told me just before we left, that he loves driving the windy roads — indeed:

While getting to Our Lady of the Shenandoah takes a few ups, downs, and arounds along the way, upon arrival to the Byrce Ski Resort, it’s rather easy to find: it’s that building by the ski lift with the big Cross on it (click on photos to enlarge):

Thanksgiving weekend was the coldest of the season so far, with nighttime temperatures into the low 20’s. Bryce took advantage of it to run the snow machines, which blew a layer onto the road at the base of the mountain. As we pulled up, a car was backing down the rise and having a bit of trouble making a sharp turn. It made it, but the car before it had even more trouble. I pulled the truck over and jumped out to see if I couldn’t help. A kindly young man was there already, and together we guided the driver, an elderly lady, back down to park safely on the side of the road. Our F150 had no trouble getting up, despite the ice and snow, which had given other cars such a hard time.

The young man walked her up the hill, and they both kindly posed for me at the top. They told me their names, which I have forgotten, so please do let me know if you read this — you’re both lovely, and, as my wife notes, the young man dresses quite nicely!

Terry stayed in the truck with the dogs, as it was too cold to leave them by themselves without running the heat now and then. (She assures you that she went to Mass when we got back home to Arlington later in the day.) So I represented the team at Mass. A bit discombobulated, I failed to get any good photos of our arrival, and then stupidly wore my prescription sunglasses into the Church, which left me either staring into the dark or, without the glasses, squinting to make out Father and the Crucifix behind him.

Since we were delayed by the snow and ice, the Mass had just started as we got inside. After an opening hymn, Father Ruskamp warmly greeted us and noted that the Church had suddenly filled up, “As if there was some trouble driving up the snowy path, or something,” he joked. But, before getting into the Mass, here for some background on the parish and its locale:

Bayse, Virginia

Bayse, Virginia is an unincorporated “census-designated place” (i.e., not a township but a geographic place count for the Census), named for the family of the wife of William Brice, who in the early 1900s built “Bryce’s Hillside Cottages and Mineral Baths.” Bryce’s catered to visitors to Orkney Springs Resort, a popular summer destination south of Bryce along eastern slopes of the same mountain ridge. Bayse is basically the modern Bryce (ski) Resort.

The Wikipedia entry on Bayse claims that the town may have been named for an early settler to the region named John Bayse. According to Discovering Bryce, Basye and Orkney Springs (Nvdaily), the larger area came be known as “Bayse.” Certainly, but that doesn’t explain why “Bayse” is a little town built on a ski resort called “Bryce.” It seems that a Bayse family descendant, Martha, a Washington, DC resident, inherited the property at today’s location, and in 1909 married a man named William Brice whom she met in DC. Together, they built Bryce’s Hillside Cottages, which they managed until her death in 1938 and his in 1940. (Here for his Findagrave entry, which explains some complicated personal details about his prior marriages.) After some litigation, the property passed to the children of his prior wife, Katie, eventually ending up in the hands of Paul “Pete” Brice, whose wife tells part of the story in an article, Mountain Magic – So it seems that the name “Bayse” just stuck, as Martha Bayse owned the property that William Brice developed.

So why, “Bryce” instead of “Brice”?

When I started this rather long journey into the history of Bayse, Virginia, I ran a query on the Bing Chat, which suggested that the name “Bryce” may have been for Ebenezer Bryce of the Utah “Bryce Canyon” fame (and, thus of the bizarre rock formation there called “hoodoos”). So much for AI dominance: at least the Chat machine admitted, “However, there’s no direct evidence linking this to the naming of Bryce Ski Resort. For a definitive answer, you might need to contact the resort or look for historical records or interviews with the founders.” Good advice. Pete Brice, who inherited the property from his father, William, managed the summer cottages, and realized both the winter sports and real-estate potential of a ski resort (people who like to ski would both want to own a property at the resort and afford it). So we have Bryce Resort, which today operates as a village, ski resort, golf course, mountain biking, and all-round outdoor sports destination.

Anway, such stories always touch my heart, as there is a ski resort named Bromley in Vermont, which, sadly, my family and I have nothing to do with (early Bromleys settled in Pawlet, Vermont, some twenty miles distant; our ancestor, one Judge Bromley, seems to have been escorted from the area, dressed in tar and feathers, in a wheelbarrow).

St. John Bosco Catholic Church, Woodstock, VA

If you click on the Our Lady of the Shenandoah website, you will see the page header, “St. John Bosco Catholic Church,” of Woodstock, Virginia, which had me a touch confused as we planned out the visit. Our Lady of the Shenendoah is a mission chapel, actually, so it is part of the St. John Bosco parish. Nevertheless, Father Ruskamp lives there, “in residence,” for reasons which we will discuss later.

St. John Bosco parish, founded in 1888, is one of the earliest Catholic parishes in the Shenandoah Valley, established four years after St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal. Located along the Indian Road, later, the Great Wagon Road (and now I-81), and near to Front Royal, the town Woodstock is the seat of Shenandoah County. Within the greater Virginia Appalachians, a quick search shows that there was at least one earlier Catholic church, St. Patrick’s, founded in 1875 at Speedwell, Virginia, in the southwestern part of the state known as Virginia Highlands (now Abingdon). The church at Virginia Highlands was built Irish immigrants who had first settled the region in the 1790s. As we know from our last visit to Our Lady of the Valley, in the 1870s, the Irish rail workers at Luray asked for but were not granted a Catholic church, so I can only assume that there were both earlier and more Irish Catholics working on line that ran through Woodstock, which the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad purchased just after the Civil War.

Our Lady of the Shenandoah Mission Chapel

Our Lady of the Shenandoah Mission Chapel was established in 1976. An Arlington Catholic Herald article from 2001, Ski Resort Draws Faithful to Basye Mission (not available on the ACH website, but which I found on the Wayback Machine) states that the mission church was the “first project completed after the Arlington Diocese was formed in August 1974, according to founding pastor Father Salvatore Ciullo, who was then a Capuchin Franciscan priest.” From St. John Bosco, Fr. Ciullo drove to Bayse every Saturday for vigil masses, which clearly nurtured and sustained the Catholic community at Bayse. Founders Gerhard and Shirley Drechsler recalled that before the Mission was built, “Mass was out on the ski lodge deck under a tree.” (Here for Shirley Dreschler’s Findagrave entry, which explains that she and Gerhard retired to Bayse and opened a Vineyard, restaurant and real estate agency). Not surprisingly, the Mission’s first in-residence priest, Father Trinkle, had worked before as a ski instructor in Killington, Vermont. Perhaps more interestingly, Fr. Trinkle signed as a free agent quarterback for the Washington Redskins in 1973 or 1974. He was cut in 1974 — my guess is that followed the Skins’ acquiring Joe Theisman. Here for fascinating articles on Fr. Trinkle: Father Trinkle becomes first hermit in the Diocese of Arlington Herald and Fr. Clarence Trinkle, diocese’s first consecrated hermit, dies.

The key takeaways from that 2001 ACH article demonstrate how the Misson Church actually got built, first quoting Shirley Dreschler,

“When my husband saw how dynamic Father Ciullo was and how beautifully he promoted the chapel, he knew if anyone could make it happen, he could,” said Shirley. Her desire to receive daily Eucharist mover her to help establish the chapel. “God was good,” she said. “He did something wonderful over and over, so the small part we did was our participation in His plan.”

and, per this notation, it’s great to see that Pete Brice participated in the establishment of this church:

The building of Our Lady of the Shenandoah began through a series of donated land exchanges involving the Drechslers and local resident Joe Luter. Pete Bryce, for whom the surrounding resort is named, and founding mission members, through their advocacy and support, were also instrumental in establishing the chapel.

basye mission (

Mass at Our Lady of the Shenandoah

Half blind from both leaving on and taking off my prescription sunglasses, I found my way to the third row from the front on the right and squinted up at Fr. Ruskamp. This a Sunday Mass, our Reader went through both Old Testament and Epistle readings, the latter from Corinthians 15, that the Lord puts “all his enemies under his feet.” Fr. Ruskamp read the Gospel with patience and firmness, which I enjoy, as I try not to read along with the Gospel from my Missal, especially since at the Liturgy of the Word I pray for “focus and clarity” for my wandering mind.

In the homily, Father focused on judgment — the sheep to the right, the goats to the left — rather than kingdom, which gave him the excellent opportunity to look at those of us to his left (we to our right, which is interesting if you think about it) and joke, “Well, sorry, you people to my left…” He discussed the two sides of the verb, “want,” either “to desire” or “to need,” and how we mostly think of it as of desire. For example, he explained, he spends too much time on YouTube looking at videos of new motorcycles, all of which he “wants” but does not need.

The Devil, he explained, takes advantage of our desires, but also uses our distractions to seize us. Quoting Jeremiah 18:12, I believe, he encouraged us to avoid “following our own devices,” which leads us to evil. Our modern devices are not inherently evil, but they are easily used by the Devil, so we must not, like motorists rubbernecking to see an accident, then getting into our own accident, let our foolish distractions lead us to evil. Christ the shepherd doesn’t use his crook to grab us by the neck. Instead, he welcomes us, invites us, and when we come to him, then he throws us over his shoulder. It was a practiced and eloquent homily, which I enjoyed greatly. Father distributed the Eucharist by himself, and after Mass led us in a hymn that all joined in singing.

I don’t recall any particular reference to Mary. Most noticeable, actually, was that most of the faithful were not from Bayse. I saw various postures and attitudes of prayer, which spoke of the presence of different Diocesan cultures. The lady in front of me, for example, during the Creed, explicitly pronounced “for us” rather than “for us men”, which, clearly, is practiced at her home parish. After Mass, there were gatherings and rather vocal conversations inside the church: again, such is not a practice common to most of the Arlington Diocese churches we have visited, in which Mass is followed by quiet, individual prayer or common Devotion.

Father Ruskamp kindly greeted us in the narthex after Mass, and generously entertained my questions. I told him about our Marian journey, and he smiled while telling me about his time at the Basilica of St. Mary and Our Lady of Sorrows. I mentioned the Bishop’s love for the windy roads out here, and he replied that he’s fortunate to have this assignment, which he loves, especially taking those roads on his bike (a BWM, he told me, while agreeing that it’s a good thing we’re convincing my daughter to give up her bike before she has to…). I asked about his congregation off-season, and he observed that beyond a core of thirty or so parishioners, there are visitors year round, such as from summer sports like mountain biking. (Indeed, when we drove off, we saw in the parking lot a gathering of mountain bikers preparing for a run.) He explained that we’re very fortunate at the Diocese of Arlington to be able to support a small mission chapel like his, as many other Dioceses have resorted to traveling priests. such as we have in Winthrop, Maine at the Archdiocese of Portland.

Looking over the articles and accolades on Father Ruskamp, he has clearly earned himself this happy assignment, although after our experience there, I don’t recommend he use the bike when the resort is making snow!

– Michael


I don’t usually run a bibliography on these entries, but there’s much to sort through on the story of Our Lady of the Shenendoah, Bayse, Bryce, and Father Ruskamp:

Our Lady of the Shenandoah & other Shenandoah churches

Arlington Catholic Herald

Father Robert L. Ruskamp

Bayse & Brice families and Bryce Resort

Wikipedia articles






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