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Bishop Burbidge dedicates a new, larger church for St. Patrick in Fredericksburg

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During the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, military chaplain Father William Corby celebrated Mass for the Union soldiers of Meagher’s Brigade, a band of Irish Americans. More than a century later in 1983, St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg was established. The community worshipped in a daycare facility until the church building was dedicated in 1985, near the site where that Civil Wartime Mass was celebrated. 

The Fredericksburg Catholic community marked another milestone June 13 when Bishop Michael F. Burbidge dedicated a new church for the parish. It seats 550 people — twice the capacity of the old one, built on top of the school’s newest classrooms.. The old church will become the parish hall.

St. Patrick has nearly 5,000 parishioners and some 200 students. The area’s growing Catholic population necessitated the construction project. Sometimes pastors have to make the difficult decision whether to prioritize the needs of the school or the church, said Father John A. Ziegler, pastor. “With the pressing needs that we had here, I really didn't have any option. We had to do both.” 

The new church is larger, taller and grander than its predecessor. The building was designed by McCrery Architects and built by Wack Construction. The brick exterior is topped with a Celtic cross. The pale green interior is adorned with several statues, including one of St. Patrick driving out serpents and holding a three-leaf clover, his well-known catechetical symbol of the Trinity. In the choir loft, light shines through a rose window that depicts the Holy Spirit as a dove. Two shrines on either side of the church feature dozens of reliquaries.

 The Mass for the dedication of the new church began with Bishop Burbidge accepting the key to the church and then processing into the building with the priests and deacons. During Mass, Bishop Burbidge sprinkled the walls of the church with holy water and said the prayer of dedication. Father Ziegler and Father William B. Schierer, parochial vicar, used sacred chrism to anoint the walls and light candles mounted around the church. 

A bowl of incense burned on the altar as a sign of prayers rising to heaven. Bishop Burbidge then anointed the altar with sacred chrism, and women of the parish cleaned the altar and dressed it with linen. 

During his homily, Bishop Burbidge congratulated the parish and asked the members to follow the example of their patron saint. “Like St. Patrick, as individuals and as a parish community, more than ever the church needs you to have that missionary zeal, that spirit of evangelization, so that you’re willing to go out to those who have lost their faith,” he said. “I am sure St. Patrick is looking down upon all of you today with great joy.”

At the end of Mass, Father Ziegler thanked all those who made the new church possible. “Our goal here was to build not just a larger and more accommodating church, but one which would be truly edifying, one which would help elevate people’s minds and hearts toward the majesty and the holiness of God, as well as to enhance their appreciation of and deepen their faith in the sacred mysteries that we're celebrating,” he said. “It was through your prayers, dedication and generosity that we did it. We now have a new and beautiful church and middle school under the patronage of St. Patrick built for you and your families as a lasting legacy for generations to come.” 

While many were able to attend the Mass in-person, other parishioners watched the livestream at home or next door in the old church, which still is filled with pews, a crucifix and other church furnishings.

The Donlons won four tickets to attend the in-person Mass in the parish lottery, so Monique Donlon and her daughters Sophie, Ana and Olivia attended the Mass while her husband, Kevin, and son, James, watched from the old church. Kevin appreciated the beautiful new church and his children, students at St. Patrick, were excited about the new school building. “It's good — there’s bigger rooms and the teachers don’t have to share rooms with other teachers and (there’s) cabinets to hold things,” said Sophie, 10.

Rose Flynn, a parishioner for 33 years, loved being at the Mass. “It was just beautiful, it took your breath away,” she said. “I was crying the whole time.”

Parishioner John Grabfelder, a member of the parish’s lay Carmelite community, is grateful for more space in the new church. “We were stuffed in the (old) church. Now we have a church that can have the capacity of the parish community,” he said. “Even though I've been in the (new) building looking at the gorgeous statues and the relics, today you could tell the Holy Spirit entered it.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021