St. Francis celebrates 50th anniversary Thursday

Staff report

September 30, 2013

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church of Jefferson will celebrate its 50th Anniversary 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3 with a bilingual Mass, followed by a covered dish supper in the church hall.

Many former pastors and parishioners will be at the event to help the church celebrate this special occasion. There are still a few families, who attend St. Francis, who were the charter members.

In honor of the day, a Remembrance Book has been prepared for all the parishioners to receive. In it, members of the church have written down some of their fondest memories over the past 50 years that the church has been in Ashe County. Pictures and memorabilia have also been gathered and will be on display.

The first Catholic Mass in Ashe County was offered in a motel at Tugman’s Inn in downtown West Jefferson on a portable altar in 1954 for 12 people who comprised three families. Later, Mass was celebrated in the basement of a parishioner named Lloyd Bullet.

St. Francis was founded through the efforts of a few resident Catholics. The acceptance of a Catholic church in a well-grounded Protestant community would be a test of faith on both sides.

Naming the church after Saint Francis of Assisi — revered around the world for his kind, gentle nature — could have not been more appropriate. At the time the church was dedicated, it was a Mission of Saint Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Boone.

Over the years, Saint Francis went from being a mission of Saint Elizabeth to become a Glen Mary Mission Church under the auspices of the Dioceses of Charlotte. In 1998, Glen Mary no longer had a priest to staff the church; at that time the decision was made to make Saint Francis a Diocesan Church.

The church that would become St. Francis of Assisi was originally built in 1899 as a Presbyterian Church at the turn of the 2oth century. The building was purchased for $12,000 in 1962, when St. Francis had about about 30 members.

Saint Francis has grown steadily over the years to include 250 registered families, according to Fr. James Stuhrenberg, who has led the church since 2010.

Due to increasing attendance, 2013 finds the church building at a new location off Luther Road. “We plan to have it all buttoned up by winter, then complete the inside work. We should be done late spring next year,” said Stuhrenberg.

“We love being on the Main Street,” he said of the church’s move out of its home of half a century. “But we need more social space, more parking. In the summer time, there are people downstairs watching Mass on closed circuit TV.”

Stuhrenberg said the building will be put up for sale. “We hope some medium-sized church would like to make it their new home,” he said.

Saint Francis members actively participate in community affairs, and the church is much involved in programs that benefit the less fortunate, as well as programs that elevate the quality of life in Ashe County.

The Ashe County Sharing Center was established by members of the church in conjunction with other county residents. New Beginnings, a nonprofit organization aiding foster and in-crisis children in the county, was started by Saint Francis parishioners.

It is the sincerest desire of the membership that Saint Francis community will grow and flourish for the greater honor and glory of God.