A parish in three stages

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If you are attending Mass at St. Jude Church in Fredericksburg for the first time it could be hard to find. No cross sits atop of steeple - there's no steeple. The only way you would know it's a Catholic church would be by the large sign above the door and front window. And the sign could say "Dave's Auto Parts," as easily as it says "St. Jude Roman Catholic Church." The church, once home to a health club, shares space in the strip mall with a bank. The parish worships, and meets for things like religious education, in one big room. In December, they'll move to their interim home in space once occupied by Extreme Powersports, which sold motorcycles and jet skis. There's a pattern here.

"We've built up our spiritual muscle," laughed Father David L. Martin, pastor.

At 16,000 square feet, with parking for more than 100 cars, the new space is bigger and, according to Father Martin, "it looks more like a church." The new space also will house the parish office, which is now several miles away in another rented space. Father Martin lives in a rectory miles away from both sites.

But even this new space is temporary - three to 10 years. The new church will be built on 25 acres of land that Father Martin purchased in 2005.

Looking at the site one sees only a sign that reads "Future site of St. Jude Roman Catholic Church." You need to use your imagination to see a place of worship. There are trees and a road, actually two tire marks formed by vehicles driving deeper into the property. But Father Martin sees a church there.

He envisioned a new church when he was pastor of St. Isidore the Farmer Parish in Orange. He got as far as breaking ground there, but didn't see the church completed before he was reassigned.

"It's very exciting to be in on the ground floor of the establishing of a parish," said Father Martin. "It's an awesome responsibility, but very exciting."

The parish has been at its current location since becoming a mission parish in 2003. Four years later, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde established St. Jude as a parish, making it the 68th in the diocese.

Father Martin, ordained a Stigmatine priest in 1973, began service in the Arlington Diocese at St. Mary Parish in Fredericksburg in 1987. In 1988, he was assigned to St. John the Evangelist Parish in Warrenton. He moved to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Falls Church in 1989, followed by assignments at Church of the Nativity in Burke in 1983 and then at St. John Parish in Orange in 1995, until it combined with St. Mark Parish in Gordonsville to form St. Isidore the Farmer in 2002.

In 1991, he was incardinated into the diocese and has served as a parish priest ever since.

St. Jude is raising money to build the church through a capital campaign. They hope to raise $3 million and so far have $1.5 million pledged.

"Over 40 percent of parishioners have responded (to the campaign)," Father Martin said. "I hope in five years the church is finished."

The parish community is new, but it's strong and committed.

Corita O'Brien and her husband, Hugh, have been parishioners since the mission church was formed.

"It's a most welcoming and vibrant parish," said Corita. "If (people) come and get involved, they realize it's a great place."

Corita helps run the dinners at the Thurman Brisben Homeless Shelter in Fredericksburg and says she's not lacking for volunteers. Parishioners seek out volunteer opportunities.

Many parishioners see Father Martin as the lynchpin of the parish.

"If someone is in the hospital, he's right there," said Hugh. "He builds community."

Being so new, the parish is still finding its identity.

For many parishioners, being a member of St. Jude is watching a work in process.

"It's as if the Holy Spirit asked us to help build this parish," said Corita.

Next week's profile

St. John Bosco in Woodstock

Quick facts

St. Jude Parish

10800 B Courthouse Rd.

Fredericksburg, Va. 22408

540/891-7350

Address (Mid-December)

10725 Courthouse Rd.

Fredericksburg, Va. 22407

Pastor: Fr. David L. Martin

Deacons: Robert F. Borchert, Robert A. Lyons

DRE: Joyce Franklin

Mass Schedule:

Sat.: 5 p.m. vigil

Sun: 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m.

Mon., Tues., Wed.: 9 a.m.

Fri.: 12:15 p.m.

Parishioners: 1,648

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010