The original name of the Catholic community, made up of families residing in Dinwiddie and Chesterfield Counties was The Sacred Heart of Mary. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s this small group of Czech immigrants gathered in each others’ homes to celebrate Mass, said by Monsignor O’Farrell, the pastor of Saint Joseph’s Church in Petersburg. This group consisted of approximately eighteen families. Longing for a church, these dedicated farmers and craftsmen planned and worked steadfastly to see their dream fulfilled.
Using donated building materials, they began construction of a modest wooden church in Dinwiddie County in 1906 on approximately three acres of land provided by the families of Karel and Katerina Piecek and Alois and Fannie Blaha. The new church was named Saint John Nepomucene Catholic Church. Through sheer determination the work was completed in time for the church dedication on May 16, 1907, the feast day of Saint John Nepomucene, a celebrated Czech martyr and the patron saint of Bohemia. The first Mass in their new church was celebrated by Monsignor O’Farrell of Petersburg. The sermon was delivered by Father Hornung of Baltimore, Maryland and the church was consecrated by Bishop Van de Vyven of Baltimore, Maryland. For 100+ years this dedication has been remembered with an annual May Celebration, with visiting Czech families coming from miles away. The celebration features dancing, games, and a menu of traditional Czech and American foods.
In the beginning, Saint John’s was a mission of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, built in New Bohemia the year before. Although at first the records of the two parishes were mixed together, there is some account of Saint John’s founding families. Having arrived in Virginia in 1889, Joseph Blaha appears to be one of the first Czechs to settle in Dinwiddie County, where he later purchased a farm in 1893. The Hocova (Holc) and Kuzelka families also arrived in 1889 and established small farms in Chesterfield County; this group was part of the original Saint Mary’s community. The families of Cacek (1897), Kroupa, and Alexander Stech (1908) arrived from Russia, and from Moravia came the families of Novotny and Absolon, all settling in Dinwiddie. Sometime after the year 1900 the families of Alois (Louis) Blaha, Matthew Cizler, Jan Kuska, and Karel Piecek arrived, along with brothers Frank and Charles Uzel. In 1905, a Slovakian, Joseph Mikuska, arrived and also made his livelihood by farming. Franz Prohaska moved in the area in early 1907 from the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Other immigrants coming during this time include Joseph and Stephen Glazer who bought farms in Price George County, and the Kohout family who settled in Chesterfield County.
In 1914 under the guidance of Father Stefl, the parishioners formed the Sokol Club. In 1915 the Sokol Club took up collections to buy a church bell which was officially blessed on May 16, 1916. In 1931, the wooden church was replaced with a larger brick structure, again being built by parishioners. For temporary use the old wooden structure was hoisted onto logs and rolled across the road onto the Stech family property. This brick church, with a seating capacity of 130, stands today as built in 1931, but now with the addition of a handicapped ramp donated in 2004 by the Louis and Margaret Blaha family and the Ernest and Hattie Cerny family. Over the years since 1931, the interior has been renovated and updated several times with altar reconfigurations, the installation of refinished pews (1993), repainting and recarpeting (2002), and a new organ (1998). The most recent interior change (2003) is the covering of the clear glass windows with beautifully designed glass units, financed by parishioner sponsorship.
The Sokol Club then set a goal to raise funds to finance the building of a parish hall. The Club also raised money to help support widows and orphans back in Czechoslovakia. The completed wooden hall, located where the Park Service Road now exists, was blessed by Most Reverend Denis Joseph O’Connell, Bishop of Richmond. The new hall served as a place to teach religion, and to hold social events, potluck dinners, and dances. It had upstairs rooms for the priest to stay overnight, and it remained in use for forty years.
Plans for a new parish hall began in 1948. Completed in 1954, the new parish hall was of sturdy cinder block construction, and it contained a large kitchen, a raised stage, and an expansive dance and social hall. Once again the parish farming families provided most of the labor and funds. This building became well known throughout the neighboring communities as “Peanut Hall”. With lively square dancing and the sounds of polka and big band music resounding, large Saturday night crowds were drawn from near and far. With the funds raised from these public dances, the building debts were quickly paid off, and the building was further redesigned to establish classrooms for religious education. In 1963 an additional twenty acres of land was given to the parish and diocese by Mary J. (Seidel) Piecek, the widowed daughter-in-law of Karel and Katerina Piecek. After serving the community for forty-five years, the “Peanut Hall” and it three acres were purchased by Chaparral Steel in 1999. Under the leadership of Reverend John J. Martinez, and with the diligence of a determined building committee, the proceeds from the sale of the old hall were used for the construction of a modern brick parish hall, begun in late 1999. Located to the south of the present church, the new hall was completed by summer’s end of 1000. This building is our parish hall today with its parish office, classrooms, a large pantry and kitchen, a stage, dance floor and cloakroom. The church, the new hall and the extensive paved parking lot now support our parish activities.
The church’s cemetery is believed to have been established in 1910 with the burial of Mary Prochaska. In 1940, Father Stefl was laid to rest in Saint John’s cemetery. The cemetery holds approximately 200 of our parish’s deceased family members and friends.
In December 1978, a pledge drive was undertaken to purchase a rectory for the pastor. A nearby three-bedroom residence was obtained to accommodate the pastor and any visiting clergy, as well as the parish office.
In 2003, a Crisis and Bereavement committee was established to provide relief assistance and funeral reception arrangements to any and all parishioners as needed.