Harvesting 125 years of faith

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When it comes to celebrating anniversaries, St. Paul Mission Church in Hague knows how to do it right. More than 350 people arrived at the new St. Paul rectory June 29 to celebrate 125 years of Catholic faith. A large banner welcomed visitors: "Honoring the past and building the future" - a fitting motto considering the celebration was held on land purchased for their new house of worship.

Festivities started out with Mass celebrated by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. During his homily, Bishop Loverde applauded the first families who were responsible for the mission church's conception in 1890. A group of Polish immigrants known as "Bohemians" came from Baltimore to work in the area's canning factory. Frustrated that there were no Catholic churches in the area, they threatened to quit if they could not practice their faith. The voices of the faithful were heard, and St. Paul Mission was established.

Those founding families have since left the area, but they left behind the seed of Catholicism that continues to grow in the Northern Neck. The area has become a popular destination for vacationers and retirees who have revitalized the mission church.

In 2007, St. Paul Mission was assigned its first resident priest, Father John O'Donohue, who engaged the growing Latino community by adding a Spanish Mass. The mission has grown even more with the help of its current parochial vicar, Father Andrew Heintz, who has been working with the bishop to plan for a new church for the community.

"We feel very lucky to have a resident priest," said longtime parishioner Joni Lawler. "St. Paul is very important to me. Here everyone knows everyone and (they) have relationships."

Lawler started coming to St. Paul with her family when she was a child. Every weekend, they would travel from McLean to Westmoreland County for sailing. On one of their expeditions, they got a flat tire, forcing her parents to walk up the road for help. But instead of buying a new tire, they bought a cottage.

As the years went by, Lawler's parents fell in love with the community at St. Paul Mission where they retired, and they were eventually buried in the cemetery at the old church.

Another member of St. Paul Mission, Florence Charlie, insists that while St. Paul might be small in size, it is big in heart.

"They do a lot to help the surrounding community," she said.

One of the charitable events hosted by the Ladies of St. Paul is the annual spaghetti dinner in August. The proceeds go to support organizations in the local community, such as The Haven Shelter for battered women.

After the anniversary Mass, guests enjoyed refreshments as they socialized and talked about the future of St. Paul. Thanks to the hard work of Father Heintz and the building committee, architectural drawings are ready and parishioners are awaiting the groundbreaking on their recently purchased 37 acres.

"St. Paul is really looking forward to the day when we can finally establish a beautiful new church on our grounds," said Father Heintz. "We are so pleased with what we have and feel that God has really blessed us."

From the rectory window one can see the rays of the setting sun on the soy field where they hope to build a church that will continue to spread the Good News and kindle God's love in Hague.

Buyers can be reached at abuyers@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015