It's Flag Day in Kilmarnock and a group of local Catholics
have gathered to pay their respects. Led by a group of men
from the Infant Jesus of Prague Council of the Knights of
Columbus, a crowd of nearly 30 adults and children process
from the church to the parish hall across the street. A local
barbershop chorus, the Northern Neck Bay Tones, provides
patriotic music while the group walks.
This flag-raising ceremony is just one of many events
celebrated annually by parishioners of St. Francis de Sales
Parish in Kilmarnock. Despite its small size - one of the
smallest parishes in the diocese with only 405 families - the
parish is an active one, with an involved community willing
to reach out and get involved.
(For more about the parish's flag-raising ceremony, click
Father James C. Bruse has been pastor of St. Francis de Sales
for the past 16 years. During his time in Kilmarnock, he's
seen the population increase greatly. Today, many
parishioners are retirees who have moved to the area from
Northern Virginia. The average parishioner is 77 years
"With the Northern Virginia churches, they're very busy, very
active, very work-a-day," Father Bruse said. "Down here, you
have retirees. It's a different atmosphere. There are
retirees who have time to help out. When I was at St.
Elizabeth Ann Seton (in Lake Ridge) or St. James (in Falls
Church), we had to gear everything around 9 to 5. Down here,
we can be more flexible. It's busy, but a different form of
The parish is home to an active Knights of Columbus Council
and a women's council, as well as a youth ministry and
religious education classes. The parish also has strong
spiritual devotions - with a devotion to the Holy Infant of
Prague and a weekly Miraculous Medal prayer group. The Legion
of Mary has 100 auxiliary members and eight active members
who visit the sick, homebound and nursing homes to distribute
Communion and pray the rosary. Father Bruse estimates that
with all the parish activities there are socials in the
parish hall at least twice a week.
In Kilmarnock, the parish serves as the only Catholic
presence among mostly Methodist, Episcopalian and Baptist
churches. Each year, the parish participates in a seven-week
Lenten worship service with neighboring faith communities.
The various congregations also are working together to form
an emergency shelter.
According to Father Bruse, that is what makes the parish
special - the willingness of parishioners to dive in and get
involved with the community's spiritual and social life.
"My favorite thing would be the love that people have for the
Lord," Father Bruse said. "It's rewarding to see that they're
very spiritually oriented and that they care about the holy
sacrifice in Mass, the sacraments and each other, and love
God above all things - and they can show that. That's what's
beautiful. It's a very spiritually centered church down
The furthest point from the Chancery in the Arlington
Diocese, St. Francis de Sales was also the first Catholic
church in Virginia's Northern Neck, a peninsula bordered by
the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahanock River on
the south. Parish history dates back to 1885, when the
original church was built. In the early years, it operated as
a mission with a priest coming by boat once a week until the
priests of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity took up
residence. A new church was built in 1956 and in 1966 the
church was elevated to parish status. Since 1981, the parish
has been staffed with diocesan priests.
Because the parish mission, St. Paul Church in Hague, is 40
miles away, the boundaries of St. Francis de Sales cover
hundreds of square miles from Northumberland County to
Lancaster to Richmond to Westmoreland.
Up until 2004, there was only one priest assigned to the
parish and its mission. For the first 12 years of his
assignment, Father Bruse would drive the 40 miles each way
every week for Mass. Now, Father John O'Donohue serves as
parochial vicar of the parish. With his help, St. Paul
provides faith organizations, a religious education program
more about Fr. O'Donohue here.)
As time passes, both St. Francis de Sales and St. Paul
continue to grow. At St. Paul, the goal is eventually to
build a new church to replace one destroyed by termites more
than 20 years ago. At St. Francis de Sales, the parish is
transforming an old house into a building for religious
education classes. An expansion of the parish hall is also in
Lifelong Northern Neck resident Henry Lane Hull has watched
the church change and expand over the years. As a local
historian, he knows where the community has come from - his
grandfather built the parish's mother church, St. Elizabeth
in Colonial Beach, back in 1906. Hull attributes the growth
in recent years to the parish leadership.
"Father Bruse has been such a great pastor for the last 16
years," Hull said. "He's done so much and been an
inspiration. When you have a good pastor, it makes people
really want to work to make things better."
St. Francis de Sales Church
154 E. Church St.
P.O. Box 759
Kilmarnock, Va. 22482
Pastor: Fr. James C. Bruse
Parochial vicar: Fr. John M. O'Donohue
DRE: Nancy Weber
Sat.: 5 p.m. vigil
Sun.: 9 a.m., 11 a.m.
Weekdays: 9 a.m.
St. Paul Mission
7070 Nomini Hall Rd.
Hague, Va. 22469
Sat.: 5 p.m. vigil
Sun.: 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 4 p.m. (Spanish)
Parishioners: 1,360, including mission