Bishop dedicates new parish center at Nativity Church

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People arrived at the Church of the Nativity in Burke early Dec. 5 for the 5 p.m. vigil Mass. By 4:30 p.m., the parking lot was nearly full. It was a special night; the parish was dedicating the recently completed $8 million Father Richard B. Martin Center.

Father Martin was pastor of Nativity for 17 years until his death May 3, 2014 from complications of diabetes. He founded Operation Starfish which has helped more than 80,000 people in Haiti. He was much beloved at Nativity.

Father Martin began planning for the center in 2008. On Sept. 13, 2014, Father Robert C. Cilinski, pastor, and Father Frank J. Ready, founding pastor, turned over soil in a ceremony marking the start of construction. The center features a parish hall with a gym, classrooms and meeting rooms.

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde was the celebrant for the dedication Mass assisted by Fathers Cilinski and Bill Korpi, parochial vicar. At the start of Mass, the sanctuary was full. Congregants unable to find seats stood in the church vestibule.

In his welcome, Bishop Loverde said that the new center "is a tangible testament to (Father Martin's) love for you and all people in his pastoral care."

After Mass, Father Cilinski spoke about the newly completed center.

He said that when the second-graders saw the interior for the first time the looks on their faces were priceless.

"They asked their teacher if they could pray for rain for indoor recess," he said.

Father Cilinski said that the building was a fine tribute to Father Martin.

"His name will be sweet upon our lips," he said of the former pastor.

The construction team and diocesan staff who managed the construction were publicly thanked.

"Job well done," said Father Cilinski.

Before Bishop Loverde, Father Cilinski and the congregants left the church to walk to the center, the bishop was presented with a plaque in honor of his 50th anniversary as a priest. A house, the Bishop Loverde Home, was built in his honor at Good Shepherd Village in Haiti, which is funded by Operation Starfish.

In his remarks, the bishop said that he was happy to dedicate the new parish center. It was a shock when Father Martin died, but he knew who he wanted to replace him - Father Cilinski.

"He's a wonderful successor to Father Martin," said the bishop.

The celebration moved to the new center where parishioners and friends gathered at tables or stood waiting for the ceremony to begin.

Bishop Loverde and Fathers Cilinski and Korpi went to the stage where students joined them for a blessing and to cut a ceremonial ribbon.

Praise for the new center and the man it's dedicated to was universal.

"Father Martin was all about giving," said parishioner Andrew Viccora. "He was a great guy."

Bob and Jane Gibson are parishioners of St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax. They both knew Father Martin personally.

"He was the closest thing to God on earth," said Jane.

"We're excited about this," said parishioner Tim Yeager. "It's a great tribute to Father Martin."

Yeager has children who attend the school, and he is looking forward to CYO basketball games in the gym.

There was a party after the blessing with food and singing, but perhaps in the back of everyone's mind was the memory of the man who made this, and much more, possible.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015