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Manassas Deacon John Eberlein dies

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A veritable institution of the Catholic community in Manassas was lost May 10 with the passing of Deacon John W. Eberlein, 88, whose service to the permanent diaconate predates the establishment of the Arlington diocese nearly 50 years ago.

Deacon Eberlein was ordained to the diaconate March 10, 1974, almost exactly five months before the founding of the diocese and installation of its first bishop, Bishop Thomas J. Welsh. Richmond Bishop Walter F. Sullivan celebrated the ordination in what is now the All Saints Catholic School gymnasium to accommodate a larger crowd. 

Deacon Eberlein’s entire ministry was dedicated to supporting the rapidly growing parish at All Saints Catholic Church — now one of the largest in the diocese. He bore witness to the three major phases of the parish’s history, as it required larger and larger buildings: the old, yellow structure, which is now a Presbyterian church; the second iteration, which is now the parish activity center and the current, 1,500-seat church completed in 2010.  

He was a steady presence, according to parish staff, from assisting at Masses and preaching, to running marriage prep and nuptials. He served as a catechist in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and helped coordinate visitation to both hospital patients and the incarcerated. In the broader community, he was a staff member at the AAA Women for Choice pregnancy center in Manassas, which closed in 2017 after 28 years supporting pregnant women to choose life.

"It is with deep sorrow and faith in the resurrection that we announce the death of Deacon John W. Eberlein," Father Lee R. Roos, pastor of All Saints, wrote on the parish Facebook page, where he offered a prayer from the Order of Christian Funerals. 

"His life among us and his dedication to his ministry has greatly enriched our parish," he added, urging all to pray for the repose of the deacon’s soul and his family’s consolation.

The deacon was 40 years into his service when Fr. Roos joined All Saints.

"John was a very humble man," he told the Catholic Herald, remembering Deacon Eberlein wearing a smile on top of his trademark Washington football team scarf and Washington Capitals team jacket. He loved sports, history and classic cinema and would regale Fr. Roos and the All Saints parish staff with stories of "good, clean movies" from the 1950s and 1960s.

He founded and was instrumental to the jail ministry and would see to it that those in prison had the opportunity to receive the sacraments and become Catholic, Father Roos said. At a time when Manassas was smaller and not especially welcoming to Catholics, he was important to the parish’s religious education. Deacon Eberlein officiated at the marriage of parish staff member Linda Gaynord, with whose family he shared Washington football tickets, and her husband 24 years ago, connecting to those in attendance through another shared affinity for hockey. 

"So many people came to know the Catholic faith through him," reflected Father Roos. 

Deacon Eberlein was preceded in death by his wife of 51 years, Shirley Ann Eberlein, who passed away in 2007. The couple is survived by their five children, Marcella Altizer of Chesapeake; Paul, Vincent and Gerald Eberlein, all of Manassas; and Valerie Corliss of St. Cloud, Fla.;  seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A Mass of Christian Burial open to the public will be offered May 20 at 11 a.m. at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021