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Church construction boom in Arlington Diocese

First slide

It’s been more than 30 years since parishioners of the 126-year-old St. Paul Mission in Hague  have worshipped in a proper church. In 1982, termites destroyed the building, forcing the community into a parish hall that seats only 160, said Parochial Vicar Father Andrew J. Heintz. During the summer tourist season, its standing room only at their four Sunday Masses. 

Since then, the parish has been saving money to build a new spiritual home, from fundraising at the annual spaghetti dinner or the recent capital campaign. Now, they have an architectural plan and hope to move forward with in the next few years. 

Architect James McCrery, a graduate of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, created designs for several diocesan upcoming projects, including St. Paul. He described the new church as traditional, colonial style, and “clearly Catholic but clearly Virginian.” The 300-seat church will have a bell tower, stained glass windows and a statue of St. Paul in a nook above the front door. 

St jude watercolot

St. Jude Church in Fredericksburg is scheduled to be completed in 2018.

St. Paul is one of six parishes building a new house of worship. St. Ambrose Church in Annandale, St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg and St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax are replacing existing structures, while St. Jude Church in Fredericksburg and Corpus Christi Church in South Riding are building permanent churches for the first time. 

In total, there are currently $164 million worth of diocesan construction projects planned, though $70 million of that is going toward the new Paul VI Catholic High School building in South Riding. Several projects are set to be completed in 2019 or 2020. 

“It’s going to be a busy couple of years,” said diocesan Planning Manager Bob Nashed. 

The ambitious new projects are a necessity as communities outgrow small, older facilities. But underneath the practical need, the pending church designs show the great desire for more traditional church buildings. 

“The church carries with it millennia of architectural tradition. Only in the last 50 years has there been a willingness to set all of that history aside,” said McCrery. “People like to be part of something new …  (and there has been) a thirst for beauty that has gone unquenched for a very long time.” 

The prevailing theme for upcoming projects, Nashed echoed, is churches built in the cruciform style, facing east with towering heights. 

St. Patrick is replacing both its church and school to accommodate the growing number of people in the Fredericksburg area. But the pastor, Father John A. Zeigler, mentioned that the new structure will not look like the old church — a relatively short, brick building with a steeple and colonnade. 

 “(The new church) will be a nice, very simple, elegant sanctuary. …  It should triple the seating capacity (and be) a traditional-looking Catholic church,” said Father Zeigler.

As with many of the other churches, raising money for the project has been a years-long labor of love for parishioners. St. Patrick has been fundraising since 2013, and now has $5 million pledged, said Father Zeigler.

But before the site plan and the budget, churches have to decide if they can no longer put money into an aging structure or continue to celebrate overflow Masses — in short, is there a compelling reason to build something new?

Starting in 2009, St. Ambrose hired professionals to conduct a feasibility and planning study for the possibility of a new church, then discussed the results in multiple town hall meetings. Five years later, the bishop approved the plan to move forward.

st ambrose interior

With the new building, St. Ambrose Church in Annandale will be able to accommodate more worshipers.

The current church in the round design will be replaced with forward-facing pews, a rose window at the entrance, vaulted ceilings and a cornerstone taken from a crypt near the tomb of St. Ambrose in Milan. 

A parishioner told Pastor Father Andrew J. Fisher with the new church, “visitors should feel that they are entering a sacred place, somewhere different from this world, a place that turns our hearts to thoughts of eternity,” In addition to major construction, the diocese is working on several smaller fixes. Some churches will update or expand rectories or parish halls. Some want more traditional art or liturgical furnishings, or to relocate the tabernacle to a place of greater prominence within the sanctuary. Others will replace old lighting with LEDs and install more efficient heating and cooling systems.

Whether big or small, the construction projects show the willingness of diocesan Catholics to give time, talent and treasure to their beloved spiritual homes. “It speaks well to a strong Catholic community here,” said Nashed. 

Church construction in the diocese 

St. Ambrose Church in Annandale

New church and rectory

$10.8 M

800 seats 

Estimated completion — 2019


Corpus Christi Church in South Riding

New church on new site

$17 M

1,200 seats

Estimated completion — TBD


St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax

New church and parish center

$16 M

1,200 seats

Estimated completion — 2019


St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg

New church and school

$10 M

Seating capacity — unknown

Estimated completion — 2020


St. Jude Church in Fredericksburg

New church on new site

$5.9 million

700 seats

Estimated completion — 2018 

Learn more: St. Jude’s recent groundbreaking


St. Paul Church in Hague

New church

$4 million 

300 seats 

Estimated completion — TBD


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016