A ‘country parish’ growing up

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Feed the hungry. Instruct the uninformed. Visit the sick. Pray for the living and the dead.

At Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Winchester, these and all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy are a permanent part of the church atmosphere. They are inscribed on the stained glass windows.

More than that, though, the works are present in the very center of parish life, thanks to the community that values reaching out to its neighbors in service and love.

Father Stanley J. Krempa has been pastor of Sacred Heart for 12 years. He describes the parish as "vibrant, but traditional" with a strong sense of community, which he attributes to its location in the Shenandoah Valley - an area rich with American history and a small-town feel.

The fourth-oldest parish in the diocese, Sacred Heart dates back to 1805, when it began as a mission of St. Peter Church in Harper's Ferry. In 1870, Sacred Heart was established as a parish. The current church was built 23 years ago, replacing one that had been in use for more than a century. Today the parish is home to 6,806 parishioners - more than 2,100 families. (See video profile on the parish here.)

Since its formation, the parish has spawned multiple missions that have turned into parishes, including St. John the Baptist in Front Royal and St. John Bosco in Woodstock. Currently, Sacred Heart maintains the St. Bridget of Ireland Mission in Winchester, home to 915 Catholics.

Education is a high priority. Sacred Heart Academy was founded in 1957 and has an enrollment of 190 students. In addition, the parish religious education program has more than 600 students, with 100 more from St. Bridget. The parish youth disciples program for high school students has an average of 40 students attending regularly. Julia Carty has been working at Sacred Heart for more than four years. For the last three months, she has been the director of religious education. She credits the large religious education program to the work of more than 50 volunteers.

"Without those people, we couldn't be as big and successful as we are," she said. "God bless them."

(See photos from last year's Race for Education here.)

That kind of can-do spirit is common at Sacred Heart, according to Father Krempa. Service is a priority, with parishioners working regularly with the Congregational Community Action Project, an interdenominational ministry that provides food and assistance to the poor, as well as the Knights of Columbus soup kitchen. The church also has a ministry that visits the sick at local nursing homes and the neighboring Winchester Medical Center, located across the street from the church.

(See this story about parishioner Pete Buchbauer's life of service)

The parish is home to organizations like the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Ancient Sons and Daughters of Italy, the Legion of Mary, and the Knights of Columbus.

"It's a vibrant community because of the organizations," said Sacred Heart Academy Principal Rebecca McTavish. "There are so many things you could get involved with if you really wanted to."

(Read about the school's house system)

"The people here are so friendly," Carty said. "At first you don't know anybody and it's so easy to get to know everybody. It's a very warm community."

Spiritually, the parish benefits greatly from its perpetual adoration chapel, which has been open for the last 15 years.

"It's a wonderful strength for our parish," Father Krempa said.

Father Krempa believes that warmth and quiet spirituality makes the parish "very peaceful and a very sacred place." He hopes the parish can maintain those qualities as it grows.

"When the roots are so deep in a parish, people get along better," he said. "There's a basic, healthy unity among the people (in terms of) where we're supposed to be at the parish and the direction in which we're going.

"We're trying to be a country parish in a growing city," he said. "As parishes get bigger, they can become very beaurocratic. We are trying to keep Sacred Heart the way it is."

Quick facts

Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish

120 Keating Dr.

Winchester, Va. 22601


Pastor: Fr. Stanley J. Krempa

Parochial vicar: Fr. Michael J. Dobbins

Deacon: Edward L. Christianson

DRE: Julia Carty


Sacred Heart Academy

110 Keating Dr.

Winchester, Va. 22601


Principal: Rebecca McTavish

Students: 190

Mass schedule:

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

Sun.: 7:30 a.m., 9:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 2:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m

Weekdays: 7 a.m., 8:30 a.m.

First Fridays: 7 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 5:30 p.m.

Tues.: Miraculous Medal novena, 7:30 p.m.

Parishioners: 6,806

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011