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Arlington's First Bishop: Thomas J. Welsh
Bishop Thomas J. Welsh was installed as Arlingtons first bishop on Aug. 13, 1974, thus beginning an historic era for the Catholic Church covering 21 counties in Northern Virginia. The new diocese consisted of 136,000 Catholics in 49 parishes and seven missions. Those numbers have changed dramatically in 25 years. There are now more than 336,000 Catholics in 65 parishes and five missions.
Bishop Welsh was serving as an auxiliary bishop in Philadelphia and was rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pa., on June 4, 1974, when Pope Paul VI made the announcement that the Richmond Diocese would be split to form the new Arlington Diocese and St. Thomas More Church would be its cathedral.
Msgr. Richard J. Burke, pastor of St. Thomas More at the time, served as chairman of the installation committee. Msgr. Paul V. Heller, pastor of St. James Parish in Falls Church, read the papal bull, which outlined the boundaries of the new diocese. Concelebrants at the Aug. 13 Mass included Archbishop Jean Jadot, apostolic delegate, Baltimore Archbishop William Borders and Philadelphia Cardinal John Krol.
Thomas Welsh was born Dec. 20, 1921, in Weatherly, Pa., in what is now the Allentown Diocese. He was educated at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and received his doctorate in canon law at Catholic University in Washington. He was ordained a priest for the Philadelphia Archdiocese on May 30, 1946. He served the archdiocese in a variety of roles, including parish priest, high school teacher, retreat worker, in the tribunal, and Chancery and as seminary rector. He was ordained auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia on April 2, 1970.
After more than eight years in Arlington, he was appointed the second bishop of Allentown on Feb. 8, 1983, and installed March 21, 1983.
Much of the success Arlington enjoys today is the direct result of the strong foundation established by Bishop Welsh. He welcomed women religious into the diocese with open arms, including the Poor Clares, the Daughters of St. Paul, the Vocation Sisters from England, the Dominican Sisters of Nashville and Our Ladys Missionaries of the Eucharist.
The bishop saw the need to reach out to both Hispanic and Vietnamese immigrants who were flocking to this area in the mid-1970s. The Vietnam War was about to end, and many Vietnamese immigrants were forced to leave their homeland and settle in the Washington area.
The Office of Migration and Refugee Services was established in 1975 after Bishop Welsh was contacted by the U.S. Catholic Conference. Permanent Deacon Daniel Resendes was appointed its first director. By the end of 1975, over 2,300 refugees had settled in the diocese. In 1979, Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Parish was established in Arlington to minister directly to the Vietnamese community.
Bishop Welsh established the Family Life Bureau in 1977 under the direction of Father Franklyn McAfee. The bureau organized diocesan pro-life activities, which included the March for Life, special Masses and prayer vigils against abortion.
Bishop Welsh established six new parishes: St. Stephen the Martyr in Middleburg; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Lake Ridge; Our Lady of the Blue Ridge in Madison; St. Catherine of Siena in Great Falls; St. John Neumann in Reston; and Holy Martyrs of Vietnam.
He dedicated 11 new churches. Several more were near completion or in the planning stages when he left. In fact, Bishop Keatings first official act in 1983 was the dedication of Precious Blood Church in Culpeper.
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