From loss to rebirth

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It's recycling at its most profound. Dioceses across the country are consolidating their parishes by closing churches and merging congregations. The sacred artifacts from the closed churches are being acquired by those building or renovating their own. It can be a poignant time for the parish that's closed, but a joyous one for the community receiving the sacred church objects.

St. John the Baptist Parish in Front Royal built its new church more than 12 years ago using sacred objects from closed parishes. They bought stained glass windows, altars, tabernacles, statues, Stations of the Cross, candle sticks, a baptismal font and cruets from churches in Pennsylvania. The holy water font came from a parish in West Virginia.

(See video profile on the parish here)

The old church still stands beside the new one and is used for eucharistic adoration and weddings.

The parish wove the story of other Catholic communities into its own long and rich history.

The original church was built by the family of John Carrell Jenkins, a Marylander who fought for the Confederacy. When Jenkins contracted typhoid, he was treated by a Catholic sister, and his last request to his family before he died was that a church be built in appreciation of the sister's care.

His grief-stricken family donated the money for construction near the place of his death and provided the altar, pews, vestments and sacred vessels. There's a tablet on the side of the church that reads, "Pray for the Soul of John Carrell Jenkins - Died October 11, 1861 - Out of Whose Means Principally - This Church Has Been Erected."

Construction began in 1883 under Father Denis J. O'Connell, who was called to Rome before it was finished. Work was completed by Father J.B. O'Reilly. St. John the Baptist remained a mission church until it was designated a parish of the Richmond Diocese in 1940.

The cost of the land and construction for the original church was $5,500. The new church, built in 1998, cost nearly $1.4 million.

Father William Ruehl served as pastor for 22 years and oversaw the building of the new church. The old church was too small to contain the growing congregation. Father Ruehl retired in 2005 and was followed by Father Edward Hathaway, who served until 2007 when Father Jerome Fasano became the current pastor.

Father Fasano attended Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, N.Y., and was ordained by the late Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh in 1977.

He's a man who knew what he wanted to do since he was 3 years old.

"I never had a conscious moment when I did not want to be a priest," said Father Fasano.

As shepherd of the parish, Father Fasano is impressed by the "remarkable" dedication of his flock.

There are 100 people who attend daily Mass and the priests hear confessions six days a week. Eucharistic adoration in the old church begins Monday morning after Mass and continues until Saturday at 10 a.m. It closes so the chapel can be used for weddings or funerals. When it's open, there's someone there at all hours.

St. John the Baptist is solidly pro-life and has a working relationship with Human Life International, which lies within its boundaries.

The parishioners are generous with their time and money, supporting such community-based efforts as the Congregational-Community Action Project, which helps people with emergency food, clothing and financial assistance.

There's a strong contingent of altar servers, with 60 boys coming from the 1,000 families that make up the parish.

The large religious education program serves more than 360 students, plus nearly 100 home-schooled children.

Julie Luckey is religious education coordinator for first- through second-graders.

She developed several programs including English as a second language and a program to teach children to sing at Mass at an early age.

"A lot of people didn't sing," said Luckey. "We developed a hymn book so when they leave second grade, they could sing everything in there."

Catechist Carrie Brogan developed an innovative program for non-Catholic children called "My First Catechism." The program teaches basic catechism and allows students to attend Mass if they wish and do arts and crafts. Attendance averages from16 to 20 children.

Luckey said children who attend the program are usually not church-going, but many get into the spirit of things.

"Bringing these non-Catholic children to love Mother Mary (is what) I find most rewarding about our religious ed program," she said.

Father Fasano said that the true spirit of the parish can be seen at the annual Corpus Christi procession. More than 600 people kneel in the street during the march, serving as witnesses to the faith and dedication of a parish constantly growing in a spirit of rebirth and renewal.

Next week's profile

Christ the Redeemer in Sterling

Quick facts

St. John the Baptist Parish

120 W. Main St.

Front Royal, Va. 22630

540/635-3780

Pastor: Fr. Jerome W. Fasano

Parochial Vicar: Fr. Richard T. Carr

DRE: Fr. Jerome W. Fasano

CRE: Onalee McGraw (seventh - 12th grade)

CRE: Julie Luckey (K - sixth grade)

Mass Schedule:

Sat.: 8:30 a.m., 5 p.m. vigil, 7:30 p.m. (Spanish vigil)

Sun.: 7 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 (extraordinary form of the Roman rite, chapel)

Mon.: 7 a.m. (extraordinary form of the Roman rite, chapel)

Wed.: 7 p.m. (extraordinary form of the Roman rite, chapel)

Weekdays: 8:30 a.m.

Parishioners: 3,187

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011