‘A name, not a number’

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Every morning, when the weather's fine, Father Terry Staples sits on the front porch of the rectory of St. Isidore the Farmer Church in Orange and prays. His view is the small brick church, of which he has been pastor since fall 2009, and acre upon acre of rolling farmland.

"It's almost like a retreat house," said Father Staples of the spiritual home of 230 parishioners in Orange County.

Located 87.2 miles southwest of the Chancery in Arlington, St. Isidore was established in 2001and dedicated in 2002 as a result of a merger between St. Mark Parish in Gordonsville, built in the late 1800s, and St. John Parish in Orange, built in the 1940s. (See video profile on the parish here.)

Missionhurst priests staffed the two parishes until diocesan priest Father David Martin was appointed pastor of both by the late Arlington Bishop John R. Keating in 1995. Father Martin, now pastor of St. Jude Parish in Fredericksburg, oversaw the suppression of the two parishes and the subsequent formation of St. Isidore, aptly named after the patron saint of farmers and rural communities.

(See story on the dedication of St. Isidore.)

The church's quiet, peaceful setting - located off of Route 15 on St. Isidore Way - is a reflection of the parish's community and culture.

"There's a love of nature and love of simplicity," Father Staples said. "It's a simpler way of life in general compared to Northern Virginia."

Tom Fursman, originally a parishioner of St. Mark and now office manager, musician, sacristan and permanent deacon-in-formation at St. Isidore, said the parish's small size means each parishioner has a "uniqueness."

"You're a name, not a number," he said. "You have a real community here because everybody knows everybody. You have a much closer personal relationship than if you're going to Mass and there are 2,000 people there."

The people of St. Isidore live out the call in St. John's Gospel to serve one another, Fursman said.

"People know each other very familiarly and fraternally," he said. "It's very difficult to have somebody slip under the cracks."

If someone misses Mass for one week, people wonder why; two weeks and they're taking action.

"Since that bond is so tight … there is a tremendous outreach to help those in need," he said. "It's a family."

Inside the church, walls of windows looking out on the surrounding vistas let in abundant light. The Stations of the Cross and tabernacle are originals from St. John and the statues of Mary and St. Joseph are from St. Mark. The 19 rows of pews are centered in front of a vibrant triangle stained-glass window depicting the life of St. Isidore, and 16 phrases in praise of the patron saint hang on the wall in the back of the church.

St. Isidore is the perfect patron saint for the small parish in which, as Father Staples said, everyone grows something. Even Father Staples has a garden, tilled for him behind the rectory by a handful of parishioners.

Father Staples, whose previous assignment was at St. Louis Parish in Alexandria, said he's developed a deeper connection with nature since moving to Orange.

"I'm so much more tuned into the weather and all the different moods of the climates," he said. "I wake up and look out the window and it's like a postcard."

Quick facts

St. Isidore the Farmer Parish

14414 St. Isidore Way

Orange, Va. 22960


Pastor: Fr. Terrence R. Staples

Mass Schedule:

Sat.: 5 p.m.

Sun.: 8, 10:30 a.m.

Mon., Tues., Wed., Fri.: 12:15 p.m.

Parishioners: 330

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010