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$5 million Catholic church taking shape across 7.5 acres

August 13, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - On a 7.5-acre site just south of the four-way stop in town, the roar of heavy construction equipment is being heard often.

The machines are making way for a new St. Agnes Catholic Church that will cost a little more than $5 million to build.

The work started in February, and when it is completed, the church will stretch across 7,500 square feet and will have 125 parking spaces in a park-like setting, church officials said.

The current St. Agnes Catholic Church at the intersection of Washington and Church streets served about 60 families in 1980, church officials said.

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By 1989, the number of families going to the church roughly doubled, and last year, about 349 families were served by the church, according to a history of the church prepared by John King, a member of the church's building committee.

Today, about 780 people are members of the church and functional limitations in the current church forced the need for a new place of worship, according to King and the Rev. Matthew Rowgh.

The new church will emphasize "the strong sense of community that is central to St. Agnes," according to King.

The structure will be oval, and the worship space will have an in-the-round design where members can see each other more easily, according to King and Rowgh.

"You see that a lot in our newer churches," Rowgh said.

The church's nave will seat more than 400 people and an adjacent day chapel will seat about 30 people, King said.

Completion of the church is scheduled for next spring and St. Agnes officials say they will continue to use their current building for liturgical celebrations that are suited for its size and character.

While officials at St. Agnes Catholic Church have tried to work with town residents as they proceed with construction of a new church off Duke Street, it has been challenging at times, according to Rowgh.

Rowgh said some residents have strongly objected to tearing down trees for the new church and they have expressed concerns about its modern design in the historic town.

Some residents have even complained about animals that would be displaced by the construction, said Rowgh.

Rowgh said church officials have tried to be sensitive to neighbors by keeping them updated on the construction schedule.

And despite the opposition from some people, the church must move ahead on what it believes is right for the institution, Rowgh said.

"We have a right to develop what we feel is appropriate for our use," Rowgh said.

Catholic worship in Shepherdstown dates to the 1800s, said King, who added the existing St. Agnes church appears to be the second Catholic worship space in town.

Some records refer to a "Catholic chapel" built around 1800 and being used until at least 1824, King said.

A part-time pastor served the current church for most of the 20th century and also served churches in Charles Town, W.Va., and Harpers Ferry, W.Va., King said.

A burgeoning Catholic population in the Shepherdstown community forced the need for a full-time pastor in 1980, King said.

"St. Agnes Church is a place where the faithful gather to pray, encounter the word of God, be nourished by the Eucharist and go forth to serve the world. The liturgical and sacramental life of the church frames our mission of worship and witness, teaching and learning, serving and leading, reconciling and loving," King wrote about the church.

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