Visit No. 9: Our Lady of the Valley

Visit No. 9: Our Lady of the Valley

Late November, and we’re finally back out on the road for our Diocese Mary-named churches pilgrimage — this time to Luray, Virginia. Our first visit to one of the Diocese of Arlington’s “western” churches, Our Lady of the Valley, reminds us why we’ve so much enjoyed these trips. It also launched Michael into a deep dive in colonial religious history, which we hope you find illuminating.

Visit date: Saturday, November 25, 2023

Mass: 8:30 am Saturday

Address: 200 Collins Avenue, Luray, VA 22835

Website: Welcome to Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time, Lectionary: 502

Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection,
came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying,
“Teacher, Moses wrote for us,
If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child,
his brother must take the wife
and raise up descendants for his brother.
Now there were seven brothers;
the first married a woman but died childless.
Then the second and the third married her,
and likewise all the seven died childless.
Finally the woman also died.
Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?
For all seven had been married to her.”
Jesus said to them,
“The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.
That the dead will rise
even Moses made known in the passage about the bush,
when he called ‘Lord’
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
and he is not God of the dead, but of the living,
for to him all are alive.”
Some of the scribes said in reply,
“Teacher, you have answered well.”
And they no longer dared to ask him anything.


by Michael

Starting mid-August, life intervened our Jubilee celebration Mary pilgrimages — a visit to Our Lady of Gaudalupe, family vacation in Maine, a wedding in California and work travel (Terry flies all over world), so now, just after Thanksgiving, we are thrilled to be back on the pilgrimage.

All along, we planned to wrap up with the “western” churches and land on the last day of the liturgical year at Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg. Terry booked our cabins back in September, and we’ve awaited anxiously for the dates to arrive.

After the Thanksgiving Mass at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More at which Bishop Burbidge presided, I let him know that we’re wrapping up our pilgrimage. He was thrilled to hear that among our last visits were the Shenendoah churches, as he told me how much he loves the windy country roads out there.

A cabin in the woods

The drive there from Arlington is mostly highways, but the final leg along Stonewall Jackson Highway, Rte. 340, while not windy itself, traces the rather windy “South Fork Shenandoah River”:

click to enlarge

We chose a woods cabin in the hills across the river from Luray, and the road there was indeed windy, tracking the river closely, and giving us an excellent tour of life along the river, including farms, cattle, horses, RVs, and houses and barns on stilts — the flood plain is quite large, probably a couple hundred yards wide at places. Snow melt plus spring rain can make these rivers explode. (Here for list of historic floods of the South Fork — 15-25 foot crests!)

Here are some shots of the view from our cabin, as well as of public boat launch by the river:

The following three sections dive into Shenandoah geography and history, and the history of Catholicism in Virginia and Maryland. Please skip down below them for the story of our awesome visit to Our Lady of the Valley.

Shenandoah Valley: some geography & history

A legends holds that the “Shenandoah” River was named by George Washington in honor of “Skenandoa,” an Oneida chief who supported the American revolutionary cause with warriors and, more importantly, food sent during the awful winter at Valley Forge. However, the 1751 Fry-Jefferson map (Jefferson as in Thomas’ father, Peter) calls it the “Shennando River”, which Washington would have known, as he also surveyed the area for Lord Fairfax in the late 1740s. (Here for a biography of Joshua Fry). The region was populated by, among tribes, the Senedo who may have called the river Schin-han-dowi for “River through the Spruces.” Another theory is that the name comes of the Iroquois chief, Sherando, who in the early/mid 1600s fought the Algonquian tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy (which was also at the time in conflict with the English in the Tidewater). Arguing against the name “Sherando” as the origin is that the name has stuck as a town in the south of the Valley, Sherando, Virginia, home to the famous Mt. Torry Furnace, a huge, thirty-foot iron furnace, or “bloomery” (the mix of iron and slag left over from smelted iron is called “bloom”). So Sherando is Sherando and not Shenandoah.

Or, perhaps, the name comes from Sheewa-a-nee, a son of the Algonquian head of the Powhatan Confederacy, who sent his son to the region to drive out the Iroquois. Sheewa-a-nee‘s descendants mixed with the Senedo, becoming the “Shawnee,” who themselves were later attacked by wandering bands of Cherokees, one group of which seems to have adopted the name “Shenandoah” upon arrival to the Valley (see History of Virginia). Arriving from the Carolinas, they picked up and did not originate the name. “Shenandoah” then, comes of a mix, match, or mispronunciation of one or the other Native American names related to the region. My vote goes to the most unlikely story that I see in the Shenandoah Valley entry at Wikipedia, yet quite fitting for a blog dedicated to Our Lady, “Beautiful Daughter of the Stars.”

All this disruptive history of the region’s Native American life ultimately ended with overwhelming European settlement in the generations that followed Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676-77, which itself had resulted from tensions further to the east between settlers, tribes, and the coastal elites who thought the expansion was bad for their business, their governance, and their land holdings. Early18th century settlement into the region was driven by mostly Pennsylvania Dutch migrants, known as “Shenandoah Deitsch” who followed long established Indian paths and, as small, isolated groups themselves, were tolerated by the tribes. (German remained commonly spoken in the Valley through the 19th century). But the constant inter-tribal warfare had weakened the Native American presence, and leadership of the crown colony of Virginia had become expansionist, so the indigenous presence fell near completely to European migrants and, to some extent, their African slaves (here for Enslavement in the Shenandoah Valley and How did Shenandoah County get into the slavery business?). So the cycle of expansion, social and military tension, then official action, repeated into the 18th and 19th centuries.

The first official exploration across the Blue Ridge sounds fun to have been part of: the “Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition” of 1716, led by the Royal Governor himself, Alexander Spotswood. The colonists and their Indian guides made it to the head of the Rappahannock River (Algonquian for “river of quick, rising water” — indeed!) and crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains at Swift Run Gap, just east of Stonewall and not far south of Luray. The expedition officially opened up interest in those lands, starting a bit of a scramble over previously ignored Indian agreements and other land charters. Two years later, in 1719, Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, inherited the Northern Neck Proprietary, which had landed upon his mother’s family, the Culpepers, variously spelled, but a name familiar to anyone who has driven down Rte. 29 to Charlottesville. In 1732, Fairfax read the obituary of his agent in Virginia, Robert Carter, and was shocked at Carter’s wealth– by far the wealthiest man in Virginia — as Carter was supposedly managing Fairfax’s holdings and not profiting from them as such.

In 1735 Fairfax sailed to Virginia to figure it all out, then returned to England two years later. He came back in 1747, and stayed in Virginia the rest of his life, becoming the only peer to actually reside in the Colonies. In 1748 he employed a young George Washington to survey his lands west of the Blue Ridge in order to uphold his extensive claims, which the powers at Williamsburg resented. In 1752 he retired to an extravagant “hunting lodge” called Greenway Court near White Post, Virginia, north of Front Royal, at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. He died in 1781 just after the Battle of Yorktown, having lived through the American Revolution quietly — the “quiet” likely due to his association with General Washington.

[Interestingly for me, I had always thought that Robert Carter was called “King Carter” for his enormous plantation holding the most slaves in Virginia — instead, I learn from The Fairfax Grant, that he earned the name working as Lord Fairfax’s local agent, aka tax collector, as most of Fairfax’s revenue was derived from an annual property tax called a “quitrent,” or “quit rent.” While Carter’s agency was enormously lucrative for Lord Fairfax, Carter patented some 300,000 acres to himself, thus enriching himself at Fairfax’s expense. Clearly he lorded it over the region, well earning the nickname “King.” As a Robert Carter descendant, I can only shrug my shoulders at this one…]

Into the 18th century, important among the migration “pull” factors to the Valley were, as with the entire Appalachian range, the eastern watershed that fed tremendous agricultural productivity, marked trade routes, and provided power for mills. An additional “pull” was the significant presence and easy extraction of iron ore, especially in the eastern Valley, given the ore deposits along the western slope of the Blue Ridge. Westward colonial expansion, such as that over the Blue Ridge and across the Shenandoah Valley, led to the 1754 French-Indian War, which itself led directly to the American Revolution. The causal line there is direct, so we can relate the region’s experience directly to both wars.

During the interlude between the wars, the Shenandoah Valley portion of the “Great Wagon Road” was its busiest section, meaning that it served as a gateway to the westerns slopes of the Appalachians, in violation of King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited, unsuccessfully, further settlement in the Ohio valley. With portions of it originally known as the “Indian Road,” the Great Wagon Road connected Philadelphia westward through Lancaster, then headed south at Martinsburg, WV, pretty much following today’s I-81 corridor down to Roanoke, where the pathway splits westward to Knoxville and southward towards Charlotte and, ultimately, Augusta.


Luray is known today for the Caverns, which we passed by but didn’t pay any attention to. Our only take-aways on the Caverns are that: 1) looked like the car lot was plenty full for late November; 2) signage indicates it has expanded into a bit of a theme park; and 3) it surely keeps this little town alive.

More to our experience in and around Luray, you may recall from your history classes that the Shenandoah Valley was, during the Civil War, the “breadbasket of the Confederacy,” and thereby target of the set-in-verse, northern Army “Sheridan’s Raids” of 1864, which to the locals was known unpoetically as “the Burning.” Driving through the Valley, we were constantly struck by the beauty, size, and productivity of the farmland. I regret not throwing the car off the highway to grab a photo of a large field peppered by round hay bales like pieces on an enormous checkers board. But you can imagine it.

Luray is separated from the I-81 corridor by the Massanutten Mountain range that forms the eastern portion of the George Washington National Forest and which divides the Shenandoah Valley into its eastern and western parts. The “valley” in Our Lady of the Valley, therefore, lies between that line of mountains to the west, and the Shenandoah National Park (and Skyline Drive) which is in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east. These two sets of Appalachian foothills run north-south like spines from Strasburg down to Massanutten Peak, east of Harrisonburg. As such, Luray was not along the Great Wagon Road, which tracked the western side of the Valley across the Massanutten range from Luray. However, the eastern Valley’s productive farms and iron ore deposits, along with Richmond legislative interest in promoting Virginia railroads, led to the placement of a railway through Luray, the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, started in 1867. A competing line was built along the North Fork Shenandoah River (I-81 corridor) by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which sought to connect the productive Shenandoah to Maryland and not Virginia markets. (See Railroads of the Shenandoah Valley – and Why Isn’t Harrisonburg on the Main Line?) While the Shenandoah Valley Railroad line is still active for freight as part of Norfolk Southern, it no longer serves passengers, so the Luray station is now the city Visitor Center.

Down the street from the old railroad station lie the still active grain elevators of the “Page Co Op Farm Bureau,” which, its sign says, is the “oldest in the state.” I don’t doubt it, and it’s really cool! Across the tracks are an old schoolhouse, a VFW lodge, and a startling and unique remnant of Virginia’s past, a slave-auction post, made both further startling and poignant by a statue across the street to “Confederate Soldiers”:

But who needs the Visitor Center when the local Catholic church publishes a wonderful set of links for visitors to Luray, along with Catholic resources: Links | Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church (

Colonial anti-Catholicism

Before we get going here, please note that Father Dansereau of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception reminds me that the Catholic presence in Virginia predated that of the English: see here: Spain and Jamestown. To this story, I’d like to add that of Catholic free blacks in Spanish Florida, which became a refuge for escaped slaves from the Carolinas. When Britain seized control of Florida following the French-Indian War, most of the free blacks were evacuated to Spanish Cuba. (See African Americans in St. Augustine 1565-1821)

Catholicism in Virginia suffered from the onset of English colonization at Jamestown in 1607 with the Church of England as its official religion and enforcement upon settlers of the “Oath of Supremacy” that required acknowledging the King, and, thus, not the Pope, as head of the church, the same oath that St. Thomas More had refused of Henry VIII. (See Penal Laws Against American Catholics: 1606-1789.) After Elizabeth I, the Oath went generally unenforced, but the Virigina Company put a strict prescription for it in its second Charter of 1609.

Catholics who wanted to settle in Jamestown had to hide their religion, such as we see in the curious burial of Captain Gabriel Archer | Historic Jamestowne who died during the “starving time” of the winter of 1609-10. He was interred with military honors — and a small silver box containing bone shards and a lead ampule that may still hold holy water or anointing oil. The thought is that he was secretly a Catholic, and, if so, that he was buried with the reliquary means that whoever buried him was Catholic, as well (see Secret Catholics at Jamestown – The Atlantic; behind a paywall: if you want to see the full article, let me know).

You may know that Maryland was established in 1632 by George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, as a refuge for English Catholics. You may not know that his colony was not just for Catholics, but for all “trinitarian” Christians, with the goal to prove peaceful coexistence of Christian sects. And, you may not know that he earlier founded a colony in Newfoundland, which he personally abandoned after a terrible winter, and, while keeping proprietorship of it, headed for Jamestown, as he was a minor investor in the Virginia Company. He was expelled from Jamestown for refusing the Oath of Supremacy. Not to be messed with, Baltimore returned to England and, over the objections of Virginians, including one Wiliam Claiborne — more on him later — successfully petitioned King Charles I for the land that would become the proprietary colony of Maryland. Although he died shortly before the charter was granted, he arranged for his son, Cecilius, the second Lord Baltimore, to take over. Cecilius sent his brother Leonard and over 200 settlers, including two Jesuit priests, aboard the ships “Ark” and “Dove,” which arrived in 1634 at the mouth of the Potomac.

The colony thrived, proving practical George Calvert’s vision of peaceful relations among Christians. However, it was short-lived. The same year the Maryland Legislature at St. Mary passed the “Maryland Tolerance Act,” 1649, a group of Virginian Puritans who, persecuted in Virginia, and taking advantage of the religious tolerance in Maryland, founded Providence, today’s Annapolis (see Puritans in Colonial Virginia). No irony here that the Puritans themselves immediately commenced to persecute Maryland Catholics, leading to the “Plundering Time,” a period of severe anti-Catholic tyranny. During the Plundering, the capital St. Mary’s was sacked and Jesuit priests were captured and sent to England under imprisonment. An instigator and key actor in the Plundering was the Virginian Puritan land surveyor, adventurer, and former Virginia colony Secretary of State, William Claiborne, the same man who tried to block Lord Baltimore’s initial petition to Charles I for the Maryland colony.

In 1631, Claiborne had set up a trading post on the mid-Chesapeake island, Kent, which lay in territory granted to Calvert the following year, and which Claiborne later lost to Leonard Calvert by force. Claiborne wanted Kent back — and revenge on the hated Calverts, who had thwarted his ambitions to expand Virginia, and his own claims, north of the Potomac. Oh, and they were Catholic. With considerable allies in both Williamsburg and London, and backed by an official claim on Kent Island by Virginia, he leveraged resentment at the creation of the Maryland colony and general anti-Catholicism, and upended the entire region during the Plundering. Additionally, the ongoing English Civil War (1642-1651) had disrupted colonial relations, with alliances and interests diverging or realigning. Royalist Virginia (the “Cavaliers”) were forced to accept Parliamentary rule, as did Lord Baltimore, who appointed a Protestant governor in order to keep control of Maryland. Equally disruptive to both Anglican Virginia and Catholic Maryland was that Oliver Cromwell, the “Lord Protectorate” of the Commonwealth under parliamentarian rule, was a Puritan, and he and his supporters were both anti-Anglican and anti-Catholic. Maryland and Virginia were forced to negotiate with the new English government on less than ideal terms.

After the Plundering Time, Maryland reaffirmed the Tolerance Act, but the Puritan elements under Claiborne again seized power. The Calverts managed to regain sovereignty and enforced a period of calm and religious toleration, but upon the death of the second Lord Baltimore in 1675, the Anglican-dominated Maryland legislature outlawed Catholicism, launching a repression that endured until the end of American Revolution, and that would have continued but for George Washington’s tolerance and material and political support of Catholics during and after the War. Through it all, while Maryland was host to the largest Catholic population in the Thirteen Colonies, only about 10% of it was ever Catholic.

What this has to do with Virginia is fourfold:

  1. Through Claiborne, Virginia fought a diplomatic and proxy fight against Maryland (see Virginia-Maryland Boundary on Chesapeake Bay/Eastern Shore, which explains the bizarre border in the lower Chesapeake);
  2. Both anti-Catholicism and anti-Puritanism pervaded Virginia politics;
  3. Suppression of Puritans in Virginia fueled marginalization of Catholicism in Maryland;
  4. A similar dynamic followed in the Shenandoah with migration of anti-Catholic populations who were themselves marginalized in Virginia.

I recommend to all, but especially to those converted from a Protestant faith, the book “Stripping of the Altars” by Eamon Duffy (and recommended to me by Father Dansereau), which documents the vitality of Catholicism in 15th and 16th centuries England, thereby demonstrating that the English “Reformation” was in no way a “bottom-up” conversion by a people who willingly abandoned their faith and religious traditions.

Shenandoah Catholic Churches

Consistent with Virginia and the Shenandoah region’s dominant Protestant presence, as well as general, historical anti-Catholicism across the nation (expressed in such ways as obligatory public education, restrictions on Catholic public display, discriminatory zoning, and so on — I should write an article on that history), Our Lady of the Valley opened only in 1953, long after requests for a Catholic church were made by Irish railroad workers who in the 1870s built the railroad through Luray. German protestants had settled the Valley in the early/mid- 1700s, likely bringing with them long memories of the break with the Roman Catholic Church and the Thirty Years War from the 1600s. In addition to the mostly Lutheran Germans, came vehemently anti-Catholic Scotch-Irish settlers, so there remained stiff resistance to Catholicism in the region through to the 20th century.

As a result, services, catechism, and other Catholic gatherings were held in private homes. The closest Catholic church to Luray was St. John the Baptist in Front Royal, which opened in 1884, although only as a mission church; it was not designated as a parish until 1940 (see Our Parish History | St. John the Baptist and From loss to rebirth – Arlington Catholic Herald). From what I can tell, the oldest parish in the entire region is St. John Bosco, founded in 1888 at Woodstock, which is along the northwestern rim of the Valley, and along the Great Wagon Trail. (More on St. John Bosco church, as our next Mary-named church visit is Our Lady of Shenandoah, a mission chapel attached to St. John Bosco.)

In 1951, Bishop Ireton invited the Redemptorist Fathers, whose devotion is to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to serve, according to History | Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church, “the 36 surveyed Catholics living in the 1,000 square foot miles area covering Luray, Grottoes, and Charlottesville.” Thirty-six? Seems so few, but a search of the 1951 census records (using IPUMS from National Historical Geographic Information System; source: Manson, et. al) yields zero Catholics in Page County — incomplete survey? Participants unwilling to answer the question? Another source shows 129 Catholics in Page County in 1990 and 600 as of 2020. By comparison, Arlington County registered15,734 Catholics in 1951, constituting a significantly larger proportion of the total population than those Catholics in Page.

To serve the fledging Catholic communities of western Virginia, the Redemptorists built a mission at Elkton, VA, south of Luray (and now in the Diocese of Richmond — see History, and Bishop Ireton asked them to minister to residents of Luray. Holding services at the “Rotary Room” at a local hotel, then moving to a bank building, and with meetings at private homes, the Catholic community coalesced and organized, ultimately buying the present property in 1953. Construction started immediately, and the Our Lady of the Valley was dedicated on October 31, 1954, presided by the Bishop himself. Today, Our Lady of the Valley is still the smallest parish in the Arlington Diocese (see The diocese’s smallest parish – Arlington Catholic Herald) — yet is defiantly and proudly Catholic, as we discovered.

The first Catholic church built in Virgina was our very own Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria — not until in 1795 (our first Mary-named church visit). Here for an article on Catholicism in Virginia: Catholics in Virginia ( — speaking of which, here for our latest Mary-named church visit, no. 9 to:

Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church

We arrived Friday late afternoon with plans to visit the Mary-named churches at Luray and Bayse, using a cabin near Luray as our base, which allowed us to bring the dogs. We settled in to the cabin and closed the day early, anxious for the morning visit to Our Lady of the Valley, which holds 8:30 am weekday masses, which, we correctly assumed, included Saturday, as a 5pm Vigil Mass is listed separately. That night didn’t allow for much sleep, as dogs don’t like change and we were in a different bed with ill-fitting sheets. (Note to selves: bring our own beddings to the next cabin stay.) Despite a restless night, we awoke early and excited.

Fortunately, I thought to take a look at the Weekly Bulletin — note to Church pilgrims: always look at the Bulletin!! — which informed us that weekday Rosaries start at 8:05. Terry was on it!

Terry went in to join the Rosary, while I wandered around the grounds, colder for the freezing temperatures and, worse, for not having my hat, which I thought I had left in the cabin but was sitting in the truck the whole time. I really enjoy these walks around churches, which makes me more aware of the grounds of my own parish — especially, after noticing the tucked-away Mary grotto at Our Lady Queen of Peace, our own tucked-away Mary statue behind the Cathedral where nobody ever goes. (Plan on some talking about that after the construction is completed…)

I entered the church as they were starting the fourth Decade. Terry had sat a couple rows behind a gentleman in the right front row who led the Rosary, and there were about four others to the left and behind us. I didn’t notice, but by the time Mass started there were a good dozen or so people, including a family with young children.

As the sacristan, seated to our left with his wife, the reader, got up to prepare the candles and offerings, I realized that the man in front of us leading the Rosary was the Pastor, Father Perez. I had noticed that he didn’t sit still during the Rosary — and he kept this state of fidgeting throughout the Mass, which became both engaging and endearing. Father Perez doesn’t sit still!

Above all, Father Perez is earnest. His Mass could have been before 200 much less the 12 of us there, and was prepared and presented as equally important no matter how many attended. He spoke to and beyond us, and always upholding us. As Terry and I told the Catholic Herald, and I have repeated on this blog, one of the great joys of this pilgrimage has been to see the wide variety of services by priests within the structures of the Catholic Mass. Be it the Major Elevation, the choice of Eucharistic prayers, or the homily, we have been enlivened and inspired by the different presentations of communion with the Lord at each visit. For this reason alone, we strongly recommend anyone engaging in such a pilgrimage to include Mass and not just prayer in the visit. Mass is the culture and the center of the parish, so to attend a Mass is to know and not just visit it.

A particular joy for our visit here was that Terry and I had just listened to an episode of the podcast, “Sermons for Everyday Living,” entitled, “Why Bother to Attend Holy Mass?” (starting here min 21:09), and this was our first Mass to apply its lesson as to the precise placement of our own intentions, prayers, and thanksgiving in the Offertory. Recently, I asked our Deacon how I might better offer myself to the altar, and he told me to be thoughtful and participatory. Good advice, that, but not much to act upon. This podcast homily, however, explained it directly: our offering is an intention presented to God, after the Creed, as the priest lifts the paten from the host and commences the Secret Prayers (my phrase, not his). We were especially intrigued by the idea that, as the priest places a drop of Holy Water into the Chalice, he is dropping also our intentions along with the Lord’s humanity. (Later, Fr. Perez said he was not aware of that purpose, but he did not object to it; I also asked Father Dansereau, who held to the same while emphasizing that it’s really about the hypostatic union.) Whatever the precise meanings, motions, or purposes, afterwards Terry and I both spontaneously remarked to each other how we felt ourselves more than ever part of the sacrifice, literally, and figuratively, there at Our Lady of the Valley church.

Before all that, Fr. Perez’ homily had left us buzzing with thoughts and inspiration. Father explained how the Sadducees attempted to trick Jesus with their question about brothers sequentially marrying a widow, but that the Lord “schooled them” — and they stopped asking questions they really didn’t want an answer to. Terry and I both guffawed at the “schooled” comment, which drew a look from our neighbors, but which we enjoyed thoroughly.

Father discussed the “series of martyrs” from the week, including two he might have included in the Thanksgiving Day mass, and today’s Martyrs, including Saint Catherine of Alexandria from the third century — the Alexandria with the library, not the one by DC, he joked. St. Catherine was learned and taught Greek philosophy, and so was something of an ancient Saint Benedicta of the Cross (Gertrude Stein — whom Terry only the week before had spent a retreat studying). While imprisoned and tortured, St. Catherine converted the Roman emperor’s wife and his Captain of Guards. Infuriated, the emperor demanded she marry him, whereupon she affirmed that she was already married to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret appeared to Saint Joan of Arc, which Father related to the Transfiguration, with Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, discussing his impending crucifixion. He additionally noted that St. Catherine has the double crown of virginity and martyrdom. She was martyred cruelly, but as with St. Joan of Arc, her tormentors were unable to kill her their way. Joan’s heart was so full of the Lord Jesus Christ that they had to burn her three times before her heart succumbed; St. Catherine, who was put upon the “breaking wheel,” was not torn apart by it as expected, the wheel coming apart, so they had to behead her instead.

Father led the Eucharistic prayers, with Terry and I both attentive to our own offerings and when / how they were presented to the Father. Two notable events I’d like to record. The first is that I really appreciated Father’s mannerism in the Major Elevation — he held the host and the chalice as high as he could, and then, remarkably, lowered them so very slowly, so that we all felt their descent and followed it. Fantastic. The other is that at the invitation to Holy Communion, two children ran from the back up to the altar, both kneeling at the prie-dieu (kneeler before the alter), the older one, who received communion, holding the younger one, who did not, but who looked upon the older brother with reverence as he received communion. Beautiful.

Mass ended, and Father led us in the Saint Michael prayer. Terry and I walked out, me hoping perhaps to speak to Father or a parishioner, but they all stayed inside the church, reciting what I thought was another Rosary, but which Terry recognized as the Divine Mercy Chaplet and which she vows now to memorize — or, per the website, it may have been the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which the parish recites after Saturday morning Masses, following the tradition of the Redemptorists who started the church there.

We returned to the cabin and the dogs, super happy with the visit and excited about the next at Our Lady of the Shenandoah at Bayse the next morning. We spent the next few hours roaming about the wandering roads, getting lost and discovering western Virginia, including to pass by the “Dukes of Hazards” museum, whose parking lot was packed that afternoon. We ended up in Luray at the Visitor Center, had a nice conversation there and walk by the railroad tracks.

A chat with Father Perez

Later that afternoon, I doubled back to Luray for supplies and to see if I couldn’t have a conversation with Father Perez, whom we were unable to speak with after Mass.

I arrived to the church about 4:00, with a couple cars in the lot but nobody around. I approached a family that was walking the Stations, reciting the Rosary, only interrupting them when a freight train ran by for which they stopped their prayers. The mother told me that Father was taking Confessions, so I waited around until 4:30 to see if I could catch him before Mass. And I did, thankfully.

He looked at me and smiled, “I saw you this morning!” “Yes, Father,” I replied, “And my wife and I are so happy to visit,” and I explained the Mary-named churches pilgrimage. We talked about the various other churches, including Bayse, Madison and Fredericksburg, where we were heading next, and the various priests he knows in each place. I told him that we truly enjoyed his homily, and that I had asked Terry to give me a full Saint Joan of the Arc lecture on the way back to the cabin. He said, you know, there’s a really good book on her that you’d be surprised about — but I interrupted and blurted, “Mark Twain!” — Terry’s source — to which he said, “Yes, that’s the one!” and explained to me how Twain worked twelve years on his book and how it is authoritative and accurate, and that Saint Ignatius Press published an excellent version of it.

Father then launched into a history of Agincourt, Henry V, and Charles VII, and looped back into Catherine of Alexandria, whom he said he only knows through his studies of Joan of Arc and wants to learn about more — as if he didn’t already know so much! I thanked him for the history lesson and for not assuming that we the parishioners don’t want to constantly learn more about such things — and Scripture, of course, and that through these visits we’ve come to appreciate priests who take the effort and time to present homilies that truly teach.

It was so kind of Father Perez to give me this time between his 4:00 confessions and the 5:00 Vigil Mass, so I left apologizing for the interruption but yearning to ask more questions.

Devoted to Mary

On a pilgrimage devoted to Mary, we especially enjoy experiencing the various acts and ways of devotion to Mary: Our Lady of the Valley, indeed, is fully devoted to Mary. With scheduled daily Rosaries, Marian devotions after every Mass, twice-monthly Marian Devotion Group meetings, a prominent Mary statue in the garden, and another amidst the Stations of the Cross walk, the parish lives up to its claim on the website that,

Our church name hints of our love for Mary. Our church has a strong link to Marian devotion, which began under of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. We continue this devotion today

from About section on Welcome to Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church

This page explains the connection to Mary from the parish’s founding

“Our little church at Luray is named after Our Lady Mary. May our valley remind her of her native hill country of Judea; may she intercede for us that God’s love and blessing reach into our hearts and lives.”

– “Quote from our Church Founders” (History | Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church

There’s also a connection here to St. Francis of Assisi, and, I see from the parish website that there is an annual “Saint Francis Day Animal Blessing” (see photo here).

Back to the cabin, we enjoyed dinner, prayed our evening prayers, including to the Holy Family, and tried, if not successfully, to rest the night for the next day’s adventure to Our Lady of the Shenandoah at Bayse, Virginia.

– Michael

Inside the Church

Panoramas of Church Grounds


This entry took a lot of looking up. Along w/ inline sources above, here are some other sources of information

Virginia History

Colonial History




One response to “Visit No. 9: Our Lady of the Valley”

  1. […] together drew the first official map of Virginia, the Fry-Jefferson Map (1751) that I mentioned in Visit no. 9 to Our Lady of the Valley. Col. Fry and Peter Jefferson were commissioned by the colony to survey Lord Fairfax’s lands […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.