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New altar completes remodeled St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Middleburg

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If President John F. Kennedy were to return to his weekend parish — St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Middleburg — he might not recognize it. From his refurbished pew, he would have seen a new Italian marble altar, ambo and baptismal font. He would notice a new altar rail.

He would have raised his eyes to the crucifix above the tabernacle — carved in walnut with a 300-year-old corpus from Germany. 

He would have seen a new confessional installed and noted the brightness of the energy-efficient lighting. He would have noticed the removal of carpeting and placement of Spanish tiles, that arrived by boat only days ago.

He would notice a newly restored tabernacle made from altar pieces that were part of the sanctuary at St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg. Those pieces originated from an old church in Newark, N.J.

Yet, perhaps Kennedy would recognize the spirit of the community that extends past the cosmetic “altar”-ations.

“I think this is going to enhance and support what has begun through the process of the (renovations),” said parishioner Martha Prokop.

President Kennedy and his family rented a home in nearby Glen Ora for weekend visits and attended Mass at St. Stephen in the early 1960s. He last attended Mass at the parish 12 days before his assassination in 1963. A gold plaque marks the pew where the family sat.

Father Christopher D. Murphy has been pastor of St. Stephen and St. Katharine Drexel Mission for the past four years, three of which he spent working on the renovations. “That’s helped bring the community together in ways that didn’t exist before,” said Prokop. “I think that’s going to continue because that is his spirit, to bring together the community and to have this be a place where we are joined together in the Body of Christ.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge dedicated the new altar Sept. 9. He walked the parishioners through the dedication liturgy and asked them to “please pause and reflect on God’s great love for you and how precious you are in his sight.”

The church hasn’t had a confessional for several years and Father Murphy wanted to make the sacrament of confession more available. It was in a closet-sized space used for several things. The new confessional is located near the front entrance.

Parishioner and parish council member Cindy Lee said she is happy that “we have a church now that reflects the beauty of God.”

Barbara Wilson has been a parishioner since 1973. “We have gone through several changes and renovations over the years, but this has been the most spectacular with the new altar,” she said. “We have wonderful parishioners and we all come together. The people care about one another and they care about the church.”

The new altar contains the relics of Sts. Stephen the Martyr, Agnes and Maximillian Kolbe. The previous wooden altar is being relocated to the Mission office of St. Katharine Drexel where Father Murphy hopes to have a chapel to reserve the Blessed Sacrament.

Father Murphy expressed his gratitude to Bishop Burbidge for permission to do the renovations and for blessing the altar. He also thanked Gardiner Hall Associates, ecclesiastical architects, and Miller Brothers, construction, for their work.

The renovation of the church comes on the heels of renovating the parish hall. During the church renovation, Masses were celebrated there. A reception followed after the dedication of the altar. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018