50 years of loving and serving like Christ

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Known for its diverse community and dedication to serving those in need, Good Shepherd Parish in Alexandria commemorated its 50th anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde May 30.

"We gather to rejoice and to give thanks for the … seeds of faith that were first planted 50 years ago here in Mount Vernon," Bishop Loverde said. "I pray that you will continue to be a parish that is faith-filled, Eucharist-centered and service-oriented."

Concelebrating the bilingual Mass with Bishop Loverde were Father Thomas P. Ferguson, pastor of Good Shepherd, parochial vicars of the parish; Fathers Luis Quiñones and Father Zacarías Martínez, parochial vicars; and Father Gerard Creedon, who served as pastor from 1979 to 1991.

Also concelebrating the Mass were Oblate Father Mark S. Mealey, diocesan vicar general and judicial vicar; Father Paul D. Scalia, bishop's delegate for clergy; Father John C. Cregan, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria and dean of Deanery 2; Father Leopoldo M. Vives, pastor of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria; and Missionhurst Father Michael F. Hahn, rector of Dominion House, Missionhurst's priests retirement home in Arlington.

Hundreds 0f parishioners and guests formed one voice as they joined Good Shepherd's multicultural choir to sing bilingual songs in honor of the parish's golden jubilee and in celebration of the community's rich history.

Good Shepherd Parish was founded in May 1965 by Richmond Bishop John J. Russell in response to the rapidly growing Catholic population emerging in southeast Fairfax County during the early 1960s.

Although the parish's first Mass May 30, 1965 was celebrated in a multipurpose room that also functioned as a classroom and meeting hall, the Good Shepherd community grew over time, and 19 years after the parish's formation, a new church was built and dedicated by Bishop John R. Keating Oct. 21, 1984.

Throughout the years, the congregation has received leadership from many dedicated members of the clergy, including Msgr. Frank E. Mahler, who served as both administrator and pastor from Dec. 1975 until June 1979, and Father George Griffin, who served as pastor from June 1991 until June 2003.

Father Ferguson has witnessed firsthand many of the changes the parish has experienced over the years. "When my family moved to Alexandria in 1978, my parents became parishioners of Good Shepherd, which was made up of approximately 500 families at the time," said Father Ferguson. "Today, there are over 3,100 registered households in the parish, so we have definitely seen a lot of growth."

Father Ferguson fondly remembers how his family was "warmly welcomed" into the Good Shepherd community, and this hospitality quickly inspired him to become involved in the parish youth ministry program and to work as both an altar server and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.

"I came here when I was 12 years old and I grew up in this parish," he said. "My faith was really formed in a large measure when I was here."

It was this faith that eventually led him to enter Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. After being ordained in 1994, he returned home to celebrate his first Mass at Good Shepherd Church.

After 38 years of being associated with the parish and four years as its pastor, Father Ferguson is proud that Good Shepherd remains "just as welcoming and hospitable as it was when it welcomed my family," and he marvels at the multicultural community that has formed within the parish.

While the parish was relatively homogeneous when it was formed initially, today, more than one-third of the community is Hispanic. In addition, many refugees who arrived at the parish from Vietnam during the 1970s remain active members of the community.

Leah Tenorio, director of Hispanic ministry at Good Shepherd, attended the parish's first Mass in 1965 and, after many years as a loyal parishioner, decided to work at Good Shepherd because she wanted to "serve the people who I felt were most in need in our community - immigrants."

Since joining the parish staff, Tenorio has helped Good Shepherd become an "authentic space for … immigrants to practice their faith in a way that is respectful of their cultures."

By facilitating the "inclusion of Spanish-speaking parishioners as equal members" of the community, Tenorio has helped create "one parish family" that continues to serve the greater Mount Vernon area.

"Good Shepherd has been a leader in exercising works of mercy, especially corporal works of mercy such as welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry and providing shelter for the homeless," said Father Ferguson. "The parish has tried to live by the ideal of 'loving as Christ loves (and) serving as Christ serves,' and the flurry of activity that surrounds this parish is actually the fruit of people trying to grow in love for God and allowing that love for God to flow into love for neighbor."

With newly renovated facilities and "a renewed sense of enthusiasm," Father Ferguson said the entire community at Good Shepherd looks forward to welcoming "the next 50 years of the parish's life."

Willis can be reached at jwillis@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015