Our website is made possible by displaying online ads to our visitors.
Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our site.

A new church in Arlington, a skybridge for an Alexandria school

First slide
First slide
Previous Next

Take a good look at the campus of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington. If all goes well, in a few years everything on the 2.5 acres of land in the heart of Clarendon will be replaced with a new modern campus, carefully tailored to support the parish’s mission. The goal is to build a new church, rectory, office and parish center. The remaining, underlying land will be leased, most likely for an apartment complex, to generate revenue that will finance the project.


Construction and redevelopment are also underway elsewhere around the diocese, as churches are improved or replaced to better serve the faithful. In addition to the recent dedication of the new St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax, St. Ambrose Church in Annandale is planning to construct a replacement church in late 2021, and similar projects are well underway at several parishes, including St. Paul Mission in Hague and St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg. Corpus Christi Church in South Riding is scheduled to be dedicated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge in early May after its completion. Separately, the Basilica School of Saint Mary in Alexandria has planned enhancements to its campus.




The St. Charles redevelopment project is one of the diocese’s biggest and most innovative projects to date. It’s an expensive and complex undertaking, but Father Donald J. Planty Jr., pastor, is up for the challenge. “Our buildings are aging, and not only are they aging, but they don’t support our mission as effectively as they could in terms of the spaces,” he said. “At the same time, the site that we have has tremendous value to it. There’s the possibility to develop, but there’s also a need to better support our mission, now and in the future.”


One big change will be the church’s new location on the property — more prominently facing the busy bar and restaurant hub along Arlington’s Orange Line Metro corridor. “The façade of the new church (will) face the public square, as has always been the tradition of town planning,” said Father Planty. “That’s been my vision from the beginning and that was the consensus of the parishioners. We want something visible and beautiful.”


The new church also will look different from the current one. “The parish is a wonderful community of worship, but the building doesn't necessarily match the community,” said Rashad Badr, a parishioner and chairman of the parish redevelopment committee. “Growing up, I would go visit churches overseas, specifically in Lebanon where my parents are from. There was always something sacred and special about all of those places, and you don’t get that initial impression looking at St. Charles. Our hope is to build something that matches and advances the spiritual and communal strength of the parish”


Behind the church, the parish center building will surround a courtyard open to the sky. Parking will be moved underground. Potentially, a preschool will be on the ground floor of the developer-managed building. The parish also is looking into opening a coffee shop. “This is an urban parish and two-thirds of the residents of our parish are in their 20s and 30s. The coffee shop would be another way to draw people into the church,” said Father Planty.


The parish hired the Walsh Colucci law firm and David M. Schwarz Architects to help map out the future look and layout of St. Charles. The parish also is working with the diocese and Arlington County officials. Bishop Burbidge has approved the next step: finding a development partner.


Father Planty estimates that if all goes right, it will be 18 months to two years until demolition, after which the parish will have to find a temporary home while their new church is built. “Those will be our years of wandering in the desert,” he said. “We’ll have to find temporary worship space, residence for the priests, office space, meeting space.”



About nine miles to the south, the Basilica School of Saint Mary in Alexandria is working toward a new and similarly innovative look for its historic campus. The school has awarded construction of a new skybridge to connect the existing middle school building to the historic main building. In addition to letting students walk over the parking lot instead of through it, the bridge will house the school’s new library media center. Outdoor play areas are getting an update as well.


“(We’re creating) a modern-day learning area where students can learn some of those 21st-century skills, have makerspaces (collaborative work areas) and really engage in some multimedia and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities,” said Principal Dan Cinalli. Plans also include “a newly designed exterior with an upgraded recess playground area for the students on the side and behind the school.”


The school launched the Mary Lead Us Campaign to finance the skybridge and other campus improvements. So far, they’ve raised $6 million toward the $8 million goal. Some of the renovations are finished, including a refurbished chapel and cafeteria and a more secure entrance. The campaign also will support the creation of a Mater Dei Program and Classroom for students with special needs. “We hope to continue that legacy of providing facilities for our boys and girls that are state of the art,” said Father Edward C. Hathaway, pastor, in a video about the campaign. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021