The foundation of St. Bridget’s parish was made possible by the generous legacy of a Richmond woman, Miss Annie Irvin, who died on December 21, 1948. Her will provided the sum of more than $200,000 for the building of a church on property owned by the Diocese of Richmond, at Three Chopt and York roads. This was in what was formerly the village of Westhampton, and the establishment of a parish there had long been a dream of Miss Irvin and members of her family. She specified in her will that the church should be named in honor of Saint Bridget, in memory of her mother, Bridget Murphy Irvin.
On May 18, 1949, His Excellency, the Most Rev. Peter L. Ireton, Bishop of Richmond, established the new parish, and named the Rev. Francis J. Byrne, S.T.D., then diocesan superintendent of schools, as its first pastor. The occasion for the announcement of the new parish was the silver jubilee celebration of the priestly ordination of Father Byrne.
The first Mass for the parishioners of St. Bridget was offered in the Westhampton Theatre, 5706 Grove Avenue, on Sunday, Sept. 11, 1949. Meanwhile plans for the new church had been completed by the architects, Gleeson and Mulrooney, of Philadelphia, PA and ground was broken on the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, August 15, 1949. Construction was begun shortly afterward by Doyle and Russell, Richmond contractors.
The new church was dedicated by Bishop Ireton on May 21, 1950. At the time of dedication, the structure was complete except for the marble statues and the stained glass window on the church façade. All the marble in the church, including the altar, statues and the baptismal font, was imported from Italy.
Parishioners gather for the dedication of the newly completed St. Bridget Church spring 1950.
At the time of its establishment, Saint Bridget parish included all of the city of Richmond west of the “Belt Line,” the name given to the railroad line cut just east of Hamilton Street. It also embraced the Tuckahoe District of Henrico County and parts of Brookland District, practically all of Goochland County and the eastern half of Fluvanna County.
The New School
Before the establishment of Saint Bridget parish, all this territory was part of Sacred Heart Cathedral parish, and Monsignor Ryan, then Rector of the Cathedral, inaugurated bus service for children in this area to attend Cathedral School. This service was continued and expanded by Father Byrne until the parish could provide its own school facilities.
In spring 1951, a campaign was held to raise money for a school building, and about $100,000 was pledged. Plans for the building were drawn by Gleeson and Mulrooney, and again the firm of Doyle and Russell was engaged to do the construction. Excavation for the foundations began in January 1952, and the building was completed and dedicated in the fall of the same year.
But the school got its start before the building was built. In August 1951, five Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary came from Tarrytown, N.Y. to staff the newly established Saint Bridget’s School. They were headed by Mother M. Gonzague, who brought with her Mother M. Presentation, Mother M. Patricia, Madame St. Jude and Sister Inez. They took up their residence in a house at 6007 Three Chopt Road, which was purchased by Saint Bridget’s for use as a convent. Classes began in September, with three grades in temporary classrooms in the church basement and kindergarten in the convent building.
In fall 1952, classes began in the new building for the kindergarten and seven elementary grades. The eighth grade was added the following year.
At this time only the basement and first floor of the school building were completed. Temporary classrooms were added on the second floor as the school enrollment grew, and the classrooms on that floor were completed in summer 1956. The original plans provided for the eventual addition of an auditorium-gymnasium wing at the east end of the structure.
SCHOOL PRINCIPALS BEGINNING 1951
Mother M. Gonzague, RSHM - 1951-1952
Mother M. Presentation, RSHM - 1952-1966
Sister Nicholas Fahey, RSHM - 1966-1967
Sister Louis Siegfied, RSHM - 1967-1977
Sister Odile McKenna, RSHM - 1977-1982
Sister Kathleen Cummins, RSHM - 1982-1990
Mrs. Bettijo Loving - 1990-1998
Mary Sue Dougherty - 1998-1999
Ms. Anne Carroll 1999- 2009
Mr. Ray Honeycutt - 2009 – Present
ASSISTANT PRINCIPALS BEGINNING 1984
Mrs. Mary Sue Dougherty – 1984-2000
Mrs. Charlene Becheley – 2000-2012
Mr. George Sadler – 2012-Present
Shortly before the establishment of the parish, the Diocese purchased a frame residence at 6006 Three Chopt Road, adjoining the property already owned by the Diocese. The building became known as the “White House,” the first rectory and church office of the parish. Later, in the early ‘50s, the parish was able to acquire the building at 6005 York Road, which served for a time as church office and residence for the pastor and one assistant.
The Rectory is Built
In 1961, Bishop John J. Russell gave permission for the building of a new rectory at 6010 Three Chopt Road. Plans were drawn by Edward L. Holland, successor to Gleeson and Mulrooney; the firm of Doyle and Russell was again awarded the contract, and the structure was completed and occupied in February 1962. It remains today the priests’ resident.
When Marymount School opened in 1952, the St. Bridget’s nuns took up their residence there, and the parish, at the direction of Bishop Ireton, sold the property at 6007 Three Chopt Road. Later, as the community of nuns increased, Marymount was no longer able to accommodate them, and the parish found it necessary to plan the construction of a convent. Plans were drawn, again by Edward L. Holland, and the building contract was given to Doyle and Russell. Construction began in 1965 and the convent was completed and dedicated in August 1966. It was used as the convent until the middle ‘80s, when it was converted to use as the Parish Center.
Saint Bridget’s parish experienced a phenomenal growth from the beginning and soon became the largest parish in the Richmond area. In 1962, Saint Mary’s parish was established by Bishop Russell, and to it was assigned that part of Saint Bridget’s roughly west of Sleepy Hollow and Parham Roads.
In fall 1973, preparation for the silver jubilee celebration of the parish, the sanctuary was renovated by the removal of the center portion of the altar rail and the building of a platform, covered by gold carpet, for a new altar of sacrifice. The interior of the church was painted and decorated according the original plans of the architects. The new altar of sacrifice, constructed of the same botticino marble in the other church altars and altar rail, was installed in January 1974.
Father Thomas F. Shreve (later Monsignor Shreve, P.A.) was named the second pastor in June of 1974. Father Shreve led the parish to further embrace the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. He encouraged the parish family to continue its outreach to the poor and needy.
It was during the time that Monsignor Shreve served as Pastor of St. Bridget that the Skinner Organ came from the now deconsecrated Monumental Episcopal Church, which was built on the site of a tragic theatre fire that took the lives of many notable Virginians, including the Lt. Governor, at the time of the fire. The church, a notable piece of architecture, adjacent to the Egyptian building, is now owned by the MCV foundation. It was Dr. Charles Caravati who arranged for the Skinner organ to be given to St. Bridget.
It took two weeks for several parishioners to dismantle the organ and move it to St. Bridget. These parishioners,Tom Dailey, Jim Gross, Kevin Gross, Tom McGranahan, Harry Stebbins and other dedicated volunteers then spent numerous Friday evenings and Saturday mornings reassembling the organ piece by piece before it being lifted onto the balcony. Parishioner Eileen Dailey recalls that when the church was built the balcony was designed to support the weight of a pipe organ, as Monsignor Byrne always wanted a pipe organ in this church.
Insofar as the Steinway & Sons piano located at the front of the Church, there is a plaque on the wall behind the piano, which reads: ‘IN LOVING MEMORY OF MADELINE KASTELBERG BY MADELINE TAYLOR AND FAMILY”
Following Father Shreve, Father Freederick J. Feusahrens was appointed pastor and with his deep faith and good humor was loved and led the parish for three years.. It was during the pastorates of Father Shreve and Father Feusahrens that the parish continued growing and many parishioners stepped forward to serve in the liturgical life of the parish.
Father William V.Sullivan was appointed pastor in 1983 and began a twelve year tenure as pastor of St. Bridget Parish. During his pastorate Father Sullivan (later Monsignor Sullivan) recognized the need for facility expansion as the parish grew and grew.
Father Sullivan led the parish in a renovation of the church sanctuary to better accommodate the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. The parish also accepted the challenged of building a commons for fellowship and this was done filling in the convent garden and building the commons on top off it.
Also at that time the convent became the parish offices and meeting rooms. Doors were opened into the convent exterior walls that connected the “new” offices a and meeting rooms to the commons. Nurseries and accessible restrooms were also added at this time.
Addressing overcrowding in the church, openings were made in the exterior walls of the church so that chairs could be put down in the commons for parishioners to attend Mass from there.
After his busy years at St. Bridget Monsignor Sullivan was transferred to the Ashland parish and Monsignor Thomas G. Miller became pastor in 1995. Monsignor Miller served as assistant to Monsignor Byrne for five years. Monsignor Miller’s tenure was marked by continued growth in the parish and the parish staff.
Another brilliant man and with his ready smile and common sense, Monsignor Miller served as pastor for 7 years.
Around 1997 St. Bridget Church began its Ministry to Haiti, and in 1998 St. Paul in Carissade was dedicated after a year of fundraising and construction. Our Ministry to Haiti continues due to the work of a dedicated group of parishioners who partner with The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in this effort of love and care for the people of Haiti.
Father Michael Renninger was assigned as pastor in summer of 2002 but after Monsignor Sullivan’s untimely death was appointed to succeed him as cathedral rector in February of 2004. Father Ken Shuping became administrator of the parish followed by Father Joseph Metzger as pastor in June 2004.
Father Metzger was subsequently transferred to Norfolk and Monsignor William Carr became pastor in 2005,. Like Father Miller, the newly ordained Father Carr served as an assistant to Monsignor Byrne.
Among his varied duties and his many memories of that time, Monsignor Carr fondly recalls the enjoyment of serving as Director of parish productions such as “Murder in the Cathedral.” The 1974 program for that Dinner-Theater event states: “Father Carr brings experience and ability to Murder in the Cathedral as acting and direction of plays was his avocation in the seminary and in high school. Father envisions this production as a means of bringing people together as well as staging a fine play. The many adults and teens who have cooperated in this effort will agree upon its success!”
After being named pastor of St. Bridget, Monsignor Carr and the parish leadership developed a master plan for the property and got right to work on the school where central heat and airconditioning as well as new windows were provided. Following that the new Buzard Opus 42 pipe organ was built for the church and continues to provide world class music and reveal the church’s great west window.
Monsignor Carr also led the parish to deeper appreciation of worship through “The Real Presence” programs and as of this writing expanded that effort to include the Catholic identity of St. Bridget School and of our many children in public and private schools.
Many current parishioners will recall former St. Bridget staff who served our parish so admirably in the past, including Gary Beckmann, Mary Kate Berglund, Margaret Hock, Sister Bernadette Kieninger, Sister Pat McCabe, Debbie McDonald, Ellie Meleski, Alicia Meyer, Fred Molleck, Sister M. Gertrude Mueller, Sister Betty Pflieger, Robert Todd, Mary Townsend, Wendy Wood and many other dedicated and fondly remembered friends.
To these and to all parishioners who worked and continue to work so diligently on behalf of St. Bridget parish we owe our deepest gratitude, and pray for God’s continued blessings as we go forward!