Largest parish united in Christ

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In order to fully understand All Saints Parish in Manassas, one must attend a Sunday Mass, insists Father Robert C. Cilinski, pastor for the past 12 years.

The largest parish in the diocese, All Saints has more than 21,000 registered parishioners from 5,800 families. The new church, which was built last summer to replace one built in 1974, seats 1,500.

According to Father Cilinski, those seats are often full, with nearly that many people coming to each of the seven Sunday Masses. It's a powerful sight - more than a thousand Catholics, of different ages, backgrounds and walks of life, all united together in prayer.

Of course, it wasn't always this way. The parish had humble beginnings back in 1879. Built literally upon rubble from the Civil War, the parish was founded by Catholic immigrants who came to the area to find work on the nearby railroad. The original church, located in what is now Old Town Manassas, sat fewer than 100, but served as the only Catholic church for hundreds of square miles, with boundaries extending to Woodbridge, Triangle and the Bull Run Mountains. For years, visiting priests would come from Warrenton to celebrate Mass.

When All Saints was named a parish in 1929, its first resident priest and pastor was Father Michael Cannon. From 1942 to 1993, the parish was under the pastoral care of the Stigmatine priests. Since their departure, the parish has been staffed by diocesan priests.

As the years passed, All Saints split into six parishes: St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle, Our Lady of Angels in Woodbridge, St. Timothy in Centreville, Holy Family in Dale City, Sacred Heart in Manassas and Holy Trinity in Gainesville.

"This very large family was once a mustard seed," Father Cilinski said. "Since then, it has grown into a very fruitful vine."

While the parish has grown tremendously over the years, Father Cilinski says it still holds on to that same strong faith from its earliest years, a bond that ties all parishioners together.

"Just the other day I was reflecting on how, many have planted and many have watered, but it's God that has given the growth, so thank you, God," Father Cilinski said. "It's always God's grace that helps it grow and it's the grace of God that unites us all together in the Church."

The parish is home to many different ministries and organizations, including a youth ministry, prayer groups, a senior citizen group, and a highly active Knights of Columbus with more than 600 members.

The parish places a strong importance on education. All Saints School was founded in 1957 and originally staffed by the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia. In 2009, the school earned a Blue Ribbon designation and this year, the school has its largest enrollment in history - 558 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. David Conroy has been principal for 16 years.

"There's a tremendous spirit that surrounds the school," Conroy said. "Our pastor has done a great job of helping everyone feel united and one in this great community."

All Saints is home to a large religious education program and an active home-schooling group. The parish youth ministry program is led by parishioner Rob Tessier. It includes a theater ministry, which involves hundreds of young people every year.

The parish focuses strongly on outreach locally through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and internationally through Medical Missionaries and All Saints' work with their twin parish, St. Thomas Parish in Thomassique, Haiti.

Father Juan Puigbo, parochial vicar, is a priest from the diocese of Maturin in Venezuela. He has been at All Saints for the past year and has spent much time working with the Hispanic community.

He estimates that nearly 40 percent of parishioners are Hispanic. The challenge that comes with such diversity is keeping the parish united as one community, instead of a group of several communities sharing a building.

"It's a very diverse community in itself, so the challenge is to show that we are one parish, that we are not two parishes in one church," he said. "We are one parish, one church united in Christ, and of course we are diverse - in language, in ministries and in needs."

For Father Cilinski, the best thing about All Saints is its strong basis in the faith. He enjoys celebrating the sacraments and being with parishioners during some of the most important moments of their lives.

"Being in the thick of life with the people of God and celebrating God's love for them in those moments - what a privilege it is to be invited into those moments with so many families," he said.

He hopes that parishioners will be inspired by the parish name to remember their ultimate goal - helping each other to holiness and sainthood.

"We need all the saints praying for us because we are all called to be saints, and the purpose of the parish is that we can all join that great communion," he said. "The beautiful thing about the parish is that we are united in our friendship with Christ. Therefore, the differences among us don't make any difference at all."

Katie Bahr can be reached at kbahr@catholicherald.com.

Quick facts

All Saints Church

9610 Center St.

Manassas, Va. 20110

703/368-4500

Pastor: Fr. Robert C. Cilinski.

Parochial vicars: Fr. John A. Melmer,

Fr. Francisco Méndez de Dios,

Fr. Juan A. Puigbo and

Fr. Jeb S. Donelan

Deacons: John W. Eberlein and

Richard T. O'Connell

DRE: Samantha Welsh

School:

9294 Stonewall Rd.

Manassas, Va. 20110

703/368-4400

Principal: David Conroy Jr.

Students: 558

Mass schedule:

Sat.: 8 a.m., 5:30 p.m. vigil.

Sun.: 7:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11: 30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. (Spanish)

Weekdays: 7 a.m., 8:30 a.m.

Parishioners: 16,735

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011