‘A parish I don’t want to leave’

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Asked to give one-word descriptors of St. Michael Parish in Annandale, a roomful of parishioners, fresh out of a parish town hall meeting, answered efficiently: welcoming, traditional, caring, ready to serve.

Most of all, they agreed, the parish is devout, with priests always available for confession and guidance, a 30-year-old perpetual adoration chapel and strong adult faith formation.

"It's an orthodox, reverent, devotional parish," said Father Jerry J. Pokorsky, pastor since 2008. "Our mission statement is 'Repent and believe in the Gospel.'"

Father Pokorsky is only the fifth pastor in St. Michael's 58-year history. Founded in 1952 as a mission by Msgr. Thomas P. Scannell, the parish is settled on 45 acres, which includes a church, two school buildings, a rectory, a convent and, most recently, the St. Rose of Lima Priests Retirement Villa. Parish offices are located on the ground floor of the rectory. Three statues, one of St. Michael the Archangel (just above the main entrance), one of Mary, and one of Joseph and Jesus in a tender embrace, dot the area surrounding the church.

St. Michael's first Mass was celebrated at Annandale Elementary School, and the parish was officially established by Richmond Bishop Peter Ireton in June 1953. Msgr. Scannell invited the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to staff an accompanying school, where they continue to be active.

The round church, with an altar at its center, was dedicated Sept. 20, 1960. Six Masses currently are celebrated at St. Michael on the weekends - not including the monthly Vietnamese Mass Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. - and three are offered each weekday at 6:15 a.m., 8:30 a.m. and noon. Father Pokorsky estimated that about 200 people attend Mass daily at the parish. In addition, the small perpetual adoration chapel just off of the sanctuary welcomes a constant stream of adorers.

Assisting Father Pokorsky at the parish are parochial vicars Fathers Kevin J. Beres and Kevin J. Fimian. Father Joseph J. Clark is in residence. Two permanent deacons are present to serve the parish, as well: David S. McCaffrey, who serves as the director of religious education, and Roger (Ted) Ostrom. Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Therese Elizabeth Bauer is school principal.

"I can't imagine what this church would be like without the school. It so enriches the parish," Father Pokorsky said. "Evangelization doesn't come with great celebrity; it comes with the hard work of running a school (and) teaching the Faith."

( See story on flags planted by St. Michael students on St. Patrick's Day marking lives lost because of abortion.)

A plethora of activities keep the parish humming, including active groups for men, women and the elderly; a Lazarus Group, which ministers to the bereaved; Boy and Cub Scouts; frequent blood drives; and a parish picnic. Throughout the years, St. Michael has developed a more "cosmopolitan" flavor, Father Pokorsky said, with Vietnamese, Filipinos, Hispanics and even Lebanese Catholics coming to worship.

Built on the foundation of Msgr. Scannell's vision, the late priest's influence continues to live within the parishioners he so influenced. The St. Joseph with the Boy Jesus statue stands in his honor.

"His famous saying - 'child of God' - still resonates here," Father Pokorsky said. "His footprint is still here. His influence can be felt throughout the parish."

Part of the reason that Msgr. Scannell is remembered so well is that the parish has retained its parishioners, many of whom have watched generations attend St. Michael School.

"It would be a parish that I don't want to leave," said Jermaine Perkins, who moved to the area from Hawaii in 1987. "You feel very connected here with our faith, very strong. If you need a helping hand, you know you can find it."

"You're actually getting to a point where you (have) generations (involved at the parish)," added Jermaine's husband, Jim. "The community … feels like it's getting closer."

Their children have roots here, Jermaine said, and "they don't know anything different."

Joe and Delores Nosera moved to St. Michael in 1967 and sent their seven children to St. Michael School. Two are now school teachers, using what they learned at St. Michael in their current classrooms.

For Patricia Stinson, a parishioner who was born into the parish, moved away and has now returned, St. Michael remains what it always has been.

( See "Journey in Faith" on St. Michael permanent deacon Ted Ostrom.)

"It's traditional, it's consistent," said Stinson, the daughter of founding parishioners Sam and Ruth. "You always know where you stand."

Simply put, she said, "It feels like home."

Quick facts
St. Michael Church
7401 St. Michael's Ln.
Annandale, Va. 22003

Pastor: Fr. Jerry J. Pokorsky
Parochial vicars: Fr. Kevin J. Beres, Fr. Kevin J. Fimian
In residence: Fr. Joseph J. Clark
Permanent deacons: David S. McCaffrey, Roger (Ted) Ostrom
DRE: Deacon David S. McCaffrey

St. Michael School
7401 St. Michael's Ln.
Annandale, Va. 22003
Principal: Sr. Therese Elizabeth Bauer, I.H.M.
Students: 230

Mass Schedule:
Sat.: 5 p.m. vigil, 7:30 p.m. (Vietnamese, first Saturday of the month)
Sun.: 6:15 a.m. (extraordinary form of the roman rite), 7:45 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon
Weekdays: 6:15 a.m., 8:30 a.m., noon

Parishioners: 5,841

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011