‘Beautiful in its simplicity’

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Lisa and Bernie Cieplak considered moving to Washington, Va., with their two children six years ago so the kids could attend a school they all liked. During one weekend visit to the country, the Cieplaks made sure to scout out Mass at St. Peter Parish, just off of Route 211 and surrounded by green grass.

"We didn't want to (move) unless we could find a good fit all the way around, the church being equally as important as the right school for the kids," Lisa said.

They didn't have to worry. After the first Mass at St. Peter, they knew they had found what they were looking for.

"We loved the fact that it was a very small church and that it was very traditional in its worship," she said. "We sensed a reverence there and a commitment to the Faith that was appealing to us, but yet at the same time a warmth and a friendliness."

Father Paul L. Dudzinski, pastor of St. Peter since July 2008, said he thinks it's the quiet atmosphere of Little Washington - only 13 miles east of the Blue Ridge Parkway's Skyline Drive - that attracts its residents, which include government workers, contractors, professors and retired professionals.

"It shows that people want the quiet, they want this pace," he said. "West Virginia talks about being wild and wonderful, and the western part of Virginia is also wild and wonderful in a very beautiful way."

With 474 registered parishioners, St. Peter offers three Masses a weekend and a daily 8:30 a.m. Mass (every day but Tuesday). It remains, as it did when it was first formed a little more than 30 years ago, the only Catholic church in Virginia's Rappahannock County.

In August 1979, a group of Catholics began celebrating Mass at an annex of an old school building at the edge of Washington. In 1981, the late Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh established St. Peter Mission under the wing of Precious Blood Parish in Culpeper.

After more than 10 years of school-building Masses, ground was broken for the mission church in June 1991, under the leadership of then-pastor Missionhurst Father Albert Verbeke. The church was dedicated March 22, 1992, by the late Arlington Bishop John R. Keating. St. Peter was elevated to a parish by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde in 2005.

"We've come a long way," said Renate Chapman, a parishioner since 1983. Renate and her husband, Ted, donated 25 acres of land for the site of the current church, to which she is able to walk from her home. Renate also grows the flowers that decorate the sanctuary, then brings them to the church to arrange and care for them.

"It's been a blessing for us," she said. "I think we have gained more than what we have given."

In 2006, St. Peter opened a cemetery in a field adjacent to the church with 320 plots. Another cemetery, this one a "Cemetery of Innocents," was formed earlier this year on the edge of church property near Route 211 by a pro-life committee. Each flag in the grouping represents one of the approximately 3,300 lives lost to abortion every day in the United States.

Father Dudzinski said he is proud of this type of outreach and awareness efforts of parishioners. An assistance fund is available for those who need temporary help paying mortgages or utility bills. A Knights of Columbus council, recently formed by Father Dudzinski, helps stock the food pantry in the small town and also brings food items up to the newly opened Loaves and Fishes food pantry in Front Royal. The parish recently formed a Legion of Mary group, hoping to reach out to lapsed Catholics in the area.

The small parish does have some challenges, Father Dudzinski said. Catholics are outnumbered in the Baptist-centric county; physical space for youth activities is limited; parishioners often are deterred from attending parish events because of the distance from their homes; and Father Dudzinski said he'd like the people that attend different liturgies to get to know one another outside of "their" particular liturgy.

But despite the struggles, Father Dudzinski said he sees the parish as "the little train that could," with the Eucharist always as the heart and soul.

"The Eucharist (is) the center of our faith," he said.

Jeff and Regina Knight joined St. Peter in 1996 - back when it was still a mission - after moving from Alexandria. As long as you "buy into" the fact that living in Little Washington means a 50-mile round-trip outing to the grocery store, life in the country is good, Jeff said.

"It's a beautiful area (with) a lot of nice people," he said. "We were attracted to the quiet nature of the area."

This quietness is "mirrored" in St. Peter, Jeff said. "It's a very understated, simple church, but we love it. It's beautiful in its simplicity."

He especially appreciates that it's home to people who are strong in their faith, he said.

"It is a place where serious orthodox Catholics will feel very comfortable," he said. "I think it's very welcoming, but very serious about its adherence to Catholic principles."

Quick facts

St. Peter Church

12762 Lee Hwy. (Rts. 211/522)

Washington, Va. 22747


Pastor: Fr. Paul L. Dudzinski

Deacon: Charles A. Coutu

DRE: Bob Benyo

Mass Schedule:

Sat: 8:30 a.m.; 5:30 p.m. vigil

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

Mon., Wed., Thur., Fri.: 8:30 a.m.

Parishioners: 474

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011