‘Everybody can do something’

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Some anniversaries are celebrated loudly, with parties and ceremonies, big occasions marking big accomplishments. Other anniversaries are celebrated quietly - in small moments of recollection and reminiscing, moments that can be easily forgotten or skipped over if you're not careful.

Such was the case when St. Agnes Church in Arlington celebrated the 43rd anniversary of the current church building's dedication during a quiet daily Mass on an Advent morning flecked with snow. With 30 people in attendance - a smaller-than-average crowd, maybe due to the weather - Father Carroll L. Oubre, parochial vicar, encouraged attendees to think about life in 1967. The same year touch-tone phones and zip codes were introduced, and a quarter could buy a gallon of gas, St. Agnes Church was dedicated.

"The church is more than a building. The church is the faith of the people," Father Oubre said, while reflecting on the number of sacraments celebrated at the church over the years.

The parish began in 1914, as a mission of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Arlington. For the first six years, attendees worshipped in rented spaces, including a movie theater and a grocery store. The first permanent church was dedicated in 1920 by Richmond Bishop Peter Ireton. Years later, in 1936, St. Agnes was established as an independent parish. (See a video profile of the parish here.)

Father Lee R. Roos has been at St. Agnes for seven years. He was named administrator soon after the death of Msgr. James McMurtrie and was promoted to pastor in 2005.

He believes St. Agnes is a "wonderful parish," - multigenerational, with some parishioners who have been involved for 50 years, as well as families and young people new to the area.

For the last 45 years, the parish has had a Brother Dennis and Associates program, in which a portion of every weekly tithe is given out in micro-grants to charitable causes for people in need. Father Roos estimates that Brother Dennis contributions average about $1,500 per week.

While Brother Dennis is not real - the name was made up by then-pastor Father James More - the good the program has done throughout the world is undeniable. In the back of the church, amidst statues, shrines and the baptismal font, there is a rotating globe on which push pins mark the locations where the funds have been sent.

The money has been given to organizations as far away as Kenya, South Africa, the Phillipines, India and Haiti. Locally, the funds have helped crisis pregnancy centers, homeless shelters and social service agencies.

"It is a way to keep visible before our parishioners the needs of the world," Father Roos said. "We're recognizing God's blessings to us and using those blessings to help others."

Father Roos believes the fact that the program was started even before the current church was built shows the importance of giving to others, even when the money given could be used just as easily at home.

The Brother Dennis program, like all of St. Agnes' ministries, has strongly benefitted from the parish's perpetual adoration chapel, which has been open for 10 years.

"In adoration, we realize such is God's gifts to us, we're called to be gifts to others," Father Roos said. "Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something."

Parishioner Bernadette Michael agrees. She thinks of the perpetual adoration chapel as "a treasure."

"It's a huge influence on the parish with so much grace that comes from that," she said. "It's another avenue of opportunity to grow spiritually and a nice little place to pray."

For the past six years, Michael has been director of religious education. According to her, there are about 350 students enrolled in the program, with 30 volunteers serving as teachers and aides.

In addition to the students in religious education, there are 360 students in pre-kindergaten through eighth grade at St. Agnes School, founded in 1946 by the Sisters of Notre Dame. While the sisters no longer work at the school, Father Roos says they have left - and continue to leave - a strong influence.

"So much of our school has a debt to them and their witness," said Father Roos.

The parish has a very active athletics program for young people, as well as a young adults ministry, a choir, and various prayer groups and organizations.

Father Roos believes the parish takes inspiration from its patron, St. Agnes, who was a 12-year old martyred in Rome during the third century.

"She's a virgin and martyr and inspiration for youth that they can rise above the challenges they face," Father Roos said.

Inspiration is one thing the parish specializes in through its outreach projects and strong community atmosphere.

"Our ministry is to people, to prepare the word and celebrate the sacraments," Father Roos said.

Quick Facts:

St. Agnes Parish

2002 N. Randolph St.

Arlington, Va. 22207

703/243-4793

Pastor: Fr. Lee R. Roos

Parochial vicar: Fr. Carroll L. Oubre

In residence: Fr. Frank J. Ready and Augustinian Fr. Cedric P. Wilson

DRE: Bernadette Michael

Mass Schedule:

Sat.: 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 5 p.m. vigil

Sun: 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon

Weekdays: 6:30 a.m., 9 a.m.

Mon.: 7:30 p.m. (Spanish)

Parishioners: 4,539

School: St. Agnes School

2024 N. Randolph St.

Arlington, Va. 22207

703/527-5423

Principal: Kristine Carr

Students: 360

Website:saintagnes.org

In the news:

Stewards of God's garden

Fresh faces at first Friday Mass

Emptying herself for others

Video:

St. Agnes, Diocese of Arlington

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010