Small in size, but packing a punch

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St. Ann Church is tucked away on a dead-end street in Arlington, cut off on the south by I-66. It's not difficult to find, you just need a keen eye for the small signs that point the way.

See See video profile on the parish here

With just 1,300 families, it manages a variety of successful programs, from Angel Meléndez's Hispanic community ministry to Ashley Well's youth program.

"We're small, but we do it all," said Father Donald C. Greenhalgh, pastor.

They're small, but growing. Father Greenhalgh said they've added about 500 families since 2005.

"People come here and they stay," he said.

The parish was a baby boomer born in 1947 as part of the Richmond Diocese. Father Dixon Beattie was the first pastor.

The cornerstone for the church was laid in 1948 and the building stood until 2003 when it was demolished in preparation for the construction of the new church.

The school was built in 1951 with an inaugural class of 289 students from grades kindergarten through fourth.

The succeeding years brought an expanded school, a rectory, convent, parish library and even a credit union. Always generous, parishioners donated $420,000 to help build the first Catholic high school in the area - Bishop Denis J. O'Connell.

Father Beattie retired in 1968 and was succeeded by Father Charles Ferry in 1969. In 1972 Father Frank Hendrick became pastor and worked to update the church in accordance with the teachings of Vatican II.

In 1976, Father John O'Connell became the fourth pastor, followed by Msgr. John Cilinski in 1981. Under Msgr. Cilinski, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was established at the parish, and he dedicated a parish garden and brought computers to the school. He also oversaw the construction of a new rectory, chapel and parish center.

Father William Schardt became pastor in 1989 and served until 2005, when he was succeeded by Father Greenhalgh.

The new church was dedicated in 2005. The cornerstone from the first church became part of the new structure and the new cornerstone was cut from stones of the old church, symbolic of the continuity in the community. The statue of St. Ann and columns from the old church were saved and placed in a memorial outside.

Father Paul M. Grankauskas, parochial vicar, came to St. Ann from St. Mary of Sorrows in Fairfax. St. Ann School is special to Father Grankauskas who frequently goes over to help teach religion classes.

"(I like teaching) third-, fourth- and fifth-graders," he said. "They still listen to you."

Because of the relatively small size of the parish, the people get to know each other.

"It tends to be more intimate," he said.

There are multigenerational families at the church and they know each other. He said the 8:30 a.m. daily Mass is a special draw for parishioners. Some have been attending for years and many go out for breakfast afterward.

The Spanish community at St. Ann is small compared to parishes like St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church. Meléndez said that from 175 to 200 people actively participate in Spanish activities. He said the lack of Spanish-speaking priests is a problem in the diocese. He sometimes has to struggle to find a priest for the Sunday Spanish Mass.

Meléndez is trying to ind ways to build more cooperation between the Spanish population and the English-speakers in the parish.

"We've come a long way working with the Anglo community," he said.

With 175 students, St. Ann School is the smallest school Principal Mary E. Therrell has worked at. She's been there for two years and said she enjoys the small size.

"It's charming and intimate," she said.

She said the Father Greenhalgh is a big supporter of the school as is Father Grankauskas.

"We see a lot of Father Paul," she said.

Therrell is very proud of an innovative science program that was implemented at the school - LabLearner.

LabLearner is a hands-on fully equipped laboratory that helps students learn science though experimentation.

Like many parishes, St. Ann has a special, or signature, ministry. There are several health care facilities within or near the parish boundaries.

The priests and parishioners visit the sick at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, the Sunrise Senior Center in Arlington and the Capital Hospice of Northern Virginia in Falls Church.

Both Fathers Greenhalgh and Grankauskas are on call at Virginia Hospital Center. They have pagers that can go off at any time.

"We're like emergency responders," said Father Greenhalgh. "One day I was called four times after midnight."

Fathers Greenhalgh and Grankauskas are helped by a contingent of lay volunteers.

Jim and Jane Duffy volunteer at the Sunrise Senior Center where Jim sings at a special service for residents and Jane presides over a ceremony that includes the distribution of consecrated hosts brought from the church. Fathers Greenhalgh or Grankauskas celebrate Mass once a month.

It's a ministry the Duffys find rewarding.

"I may have been the most blessed of the people I saw today," said Jane, of a recent visit to Sunrise.

Mary Green volunteers at Capital Hospice and finds the experience satisfying on many levels.

"I'm amazed at the spirituality I see at Hospice," she said.

The church has social justice and pro-life ministries, religious education, Christian Family and Cursillo movements. Parishioners donate thousands of pounds of food annually to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

Life at St. Ann is a testament to the Faith.

"If you can't find it here," Father Greenhalgh said, "It's not Catholic."

Next week's profile

St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle

Quick facts

St. Ann Parish

5312 N. 10th St.

Arlington, Va. 22205

703/528-6276

Pastor:Fr. Donald C. Greenhalgh

Parochial vicar: Fr. Paul M. Grankauskas

In residence: Fr. Jorge Acho

Deacon: William J. Donovan

DRE: Stephanie Dannemiller

Mass Schedule:

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

Sun: 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. (Spanish),

Weekdays: 6:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m.

Parishioners: 4,944

School: St. Ann School

980 N. Frederick St.

Arlington, Va. 22205

Principal: Mary E. Therrell

Students: 175

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010