Our Parish History
This area of Virginia was first settled by English speaking colonists in the early 1600's. Almost four centuries passed before the establishment of the first Catholic Church in Isle of Wight County - Good Shepherd Parish. Prior to 1984, Catholic families in the county traveled to Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, or Newport News to attend Mass. By then the local population had grown to 20,000 and it was felt that there might be enough Catholics to establish a parish.
In March 1984, a meeting of area priests, a representative of the bishop, and about eighty potential parishioners was held. As a result, the Catholic community of Smithfield was formed as a mission of St. Mary's Church of Suffolk. Rev. Christian Haydinger of St. Mary's took on pastoral responsibility for the new community.
Christ Episcopal Church in Smithfield graciously offered the use of its facilities for meetings and liturgy. Our first Mass was celebrated there by Fr. Haydinger on July 21, 1984.
From the beginning, plans were made toward obtaining our own church. By 1989, enough progress had been made that Rev. Thomas B. Nee, our second pastor, asked Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, that we be named a diocesan parish.
The parish's name, Good Shepherd, was chosen by the bishop from a list submitted by the parishioners.
A parcel of land near Benns Church had been given to us by the Kirk family, but by the time we were ready to build, newly enacted laws prevented us from proceeding. Bishop Sullivan authorized our looking for another place to purchase, and after a search, our current site was found. Ground was broken in February 1992 for the first phase of construction, our first building. On September 27th the new church was consecrated with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Sullivan. At last, Isle of Wight County had its first Catholic Church!
In June of 2000 Mrs. Joanne Gordon was appointed as our Pastoral Coordinator. Under her leadership, our community of almost 200 families began Phase II of our building project. On July 18, 2004, Bishop Sullivan, Msgr. Thomas Caroluzza, Fr. Ernest Bulinda, Fr. Jun Balarote, Fr. Piotr Bialkowski, other parish leaders from around the diocese, and Rev. Gary Barker (from Christ Episcopal Church) joined the Good Shepherd family in celebrating the ground breaking for the expansion. The $1.7 million project was underway, and in June 2005, the sanctuary and Blessed Sacrament chapel were dedicated. A lay leader, Gordon rose to the challenge, entrusted to her by the Bishop, of overseeing the building of the worship space. The building, an extension of the original, contains 7,817 square feet, has a seating capacity of 560, and a daily Mass chapel seating 50 people. With diligent fund raising and generous donations our debt has been reduced to $277,400 by December 2010.
On June 26, 2005, Bishop Emeritus Sullivan joined with the parish in dedicating the new sanctuary.
We now have 350 families – quite a difference from the 50 families we started with in 1984! We have religious education programs for all ages. During Gordon’s leadership retired priests and military chaplains celebrated Mass and other sacraments with us. In July of 2012 Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo assigned Fr. Oscar Paraiso as the Pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd.
Today we retain the spirit of a small parish with a strong sense of community. Because we were beneficiaries of ecumenism when we started, we remain involved with other local church communities As a parish community we play and socialize as well as worship together. We look forward to carrying this spirit of Christian fellowship well into the 21st century!
Thanks be to God!