A small-town parish with a view

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A few hours outside the crowds and suburbs surrounding Washington, D.C., is the Northern Neck, an area flanked by the Potomac and Rappahanock rivers. Made up of Lancaster, Westmoreland, Northumberland, Richmond and King George counties, the area's known history dates back to Colonial times.

St. Elizabeth Parish in Colonial Beach

was founded in 1905, only the second Catholic church to be opened in the Northern Neck. The original church was built in 1906 and in the early years, the parish covered a territory of more than 1,000 square miles. Diocesan priests would take turns coming from Fredericksburg to visit local families and celebrate Masses.

Since those early days, the parish became the mother church for five Catholic churches - St. Anthony in King George, St. Francis de Sales in Kilmarnock, St. Paul in Hague, St. Timothy in Tappahanock and the Naval Chapel in Dahlgren. Today, St. Francis de Sales in Kilmarnock is its own parish, with St. Paul as a mission. St. Timothy is a part of the Richmond Diocese and the Naval Chapel is part of the Military Archdiocese. St. Anthony has been a mission of St. Elizabeth since 1940.

Father Francis M. de Rosa has served as parochial administrator of St. Elizabeth since 2010. He has enjoyed learning about the history of the parish and the local area.

"Within the boundaries of this parish are the birthplaces of four great Americans: George Washington, Robert E. Lee, James Monroe and James Madison," he said. "This is the Northern Neck - the cradle of the nation."

From his office window, which looks over a public beach, he can point out St. Clement's Island on the other side of the Potomac River, the site where the country's first Catholics arrived in the Colonies back in 1634.

Father de Rosa has spent much time overseeing repairs and renovations for the historic buildings, starting with the parish office, which dates back to the 1890s. He hopes to put a new façade on the church, built in 1967, by next year.

For him, one of the best things about St. Elizabeth is the tight-knit atmosphere.

"This is a very small town. There are only 3,400 year-round inhabitants," he said. "I like the small-town parish feel. I have an opportunity to know people better and I think that's a really big important thing."

Though the local community is predominantly Baptist, Father de Rosa says people are welcoming.

"This is really mission territory for the Catholic Church. This is a heavily Baptist section of the state, but the people down here are very respectful to the Catholic Church by and large," he said. "If I go to the grocery store, there's a pretty good chance someone is going to talk to me about Jesus."

The church sponsors a float in the July Fourth parade each year, holds a rummage sale and bazaar, and provides music for the locals watching fireworks on the beach.

(To read about Father Jerome Magat's time at St. Elizabeth, click here.)

The parish helps the community with social needs as well.

"In Colonial Beach, we have a great outreach to the poor," Father de Rosa said. "We give away about $10,000 a year to the poor. We also give away food on Wednesdays and Saturdays."

The parish is home to the Guadalupe Free Clinic that provides services for anyone in need of health care in the local area. Though the clinic is independent of the parish, the building is owned by the church and many parishioners are involved with operations.

(Click here to read more about the Guadalupe Free Clinic.)

According to Father de Rosa, the parish community is small, but devout.

He estimates that 200 people attend Sunday Mass at St. Elizabeth. At St. Anthony, which has a younger population and more families, another 500 usually attend. The daily Mass attendance numbers at St. Elizabeth are usually 10 percent of the Sunday congregation and sometimes double that.

This year, the attendance during Holy Week increased by 25 percent from the previous year. During the Easter Vigil, the community welcomed five converts to the Faith.

The parish organizations include choirs, a youth group, a Legion of Mary, a St. Joseph Covenant Keepers discussion group for men and a Bible study group for women, as well as the Knights of Columbus, an Altar and Rosary Society, and a religious education program.

"We're a humble parish with humble means, but I'd say that the spiritual life is strong," Father de Rosa said. "We can't manage as many activities as the bigger parishes, but that's not what it's about. The activities are supposed to get people to Mass, not the other way around."

Quick Facts

St. Elizabeth Church

12 Lossing Ave.

Colonial Beach, Va. 22443


Parochial administrator: Fr. Francis M. de Rosa

Parochial vicar: Fr. Vincent P. Bork

DRE: Sally Cullin

Mass Schedule:

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

Sun.: 9 a.m., 11 a.m. (Spanish)

Weekdays: 8 a.m.

St. Anthony Mission

10299 Millbank Rd.

King George, Va. 22485


Mass Schedule:

Sat.: 9 a.m., 7 p.m. vigil

Sun.: 8:15 a.m, 10:30 a.m., 12:45 p.m. (Tridentine)

Mon., Tues.: 7 a.m.

Wed.: 7 p.m.

Thurs., Fri.: 9 a.m.

Parishioners: 2,338


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011