St. John’s Bosco is a product of the influx of Irish immigrants who came to Shenandoah County in the mid to late 19th century to work on the local railroads. Two of these individuals, Michael Geary and Patrick Reiley, organized and built the original church in 1888. It opened in February of that year with a few local congregants and a large number of immigrants.
During the early part of the 20th century the church struggled. Most of the Irish workers moved on as railroad construction projects shifted to the western part of the county. Few longtime residents were Catholic and pressure from the Protestant majority never ceased. During the 1920s financial concerns, and the presence of only a single Catholic family in Woodstock, forced the church to close.
However the influx of another immigrant group, this time CCC workers that arrived at the newly opened Camp Roosevelt near Edinburg and Massanutten Military Academy Cadets, allowed the church to reopen in 1939. Priests were supplied by Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Winchester and from Catholic University.
In 1958 the first resident priest was appointed to St. Johns. Three Capuchin Friars arrived that year. These individuals, with their brown cloaks and sandaled feet were viewed as a local oddity. A rectory was purchased at the corner of North and Main Streets to house them. They were joined by a group of Salesian Sisters in 1968. By that time, the strange glances and resistance from locals had abated.
New buildings were also added that year. A growing outreach program facilitated the purchase of structures to serve as a community kindergarten and community center. In 1971 Hanley Hall, a large school and activity building was completed behind the original church. The next year it was joined by a new church building which was four times larger than the original structure. Members of the congregation assisted with construction and provided supplies. It was dedicated in 1973. This structure features stained glass windows imported from Germany and made by Franz Mier, a noted craftsman. They were donated in 1972 by members of St. Joseph’s Church in
Richmond which had been remodeled.
In January 1985 the church founded its own Knights of Columbus council. This men’s group would grow to be a major portion of the church and today they occupy the original church building which was renovated in 1989. They remain dedicated to support the church, its mission, and the community at large.
Today the church serves an ever growing congregation. Locals, visitors, and individuals from surrounding towns attend worship in the county’s only Catholic Church. Many of these individuals are members of the area’s growing Hispanic community who bring a strong tradition of Catholic worship with them when they arrive.