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Parish blends past with future

The Church in Leesburg truly spans the centuries. From the small, 134-year-old chapel on King Street to the new church-in-progress on the hill opposite, St. John the Apostle blends the quaint and the modern in a growing, yet still small-town, atmosphere.

When Father John P. Mosimann, pastor, arrived in 2004, he expected to find a "small country parish where I could improve my golf game," he said, laughing, in a recent interview.

Instead, what he found was a fast-growing community in desperate need of a new worship space. The community that long since outgrew the "little church" on King Street has been worshipping in the parish center, which also houses classrooms for the parish preschool and parish offices, since 1992.

According to Joseph Ange, parish business manager and a parishioner since 1973, the property belonging to St. John the Apostle comprises 20 acres, including the parish center, a cemetery, a carriage house used for storage and an old mansion that now serves as the rectory. Just across the parking lot from the parish center is the site of the new church - now fully "under roof" - expected to be completed sometime this summer.

For parishioners, building a new church has been a priority for many years. When Father Mosimann arrived in Leesburg, "I found people who were longing to build something beautiful," he said.

Prior to the opening of the parish center, the small church - known throughout the years by several names, including Immaculate Conception, Mary of the Immaculate Conception, St. Mary and Our Lady of Lourdes - first operated as a mission of St. Peter Church in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. It was later transferred to a mission of St. James Church in Falls Church.

In 1926, the Leesburg church was named St. John the Apostle and was established as an independent parish. Since that time, the community has grown in proportion with fast-growing Loudoun County.

Even though weekend Masses have relocated to the parish center, daily Mass and Thursday eucharistic adoration still are held at the small chapel - a place Father Mosimann called "a treasure."

"You go in there and it's clearly a sacred place that has a warmth and intimacy to it," Father Mosimann said, adding that they had tried to maintain that feeling in the new worship space.

Ground was broken for that $15 million church in the fall of 2010 in the presence of Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. Father Mosimann dedicated the construction to the Blessed Mother, and, as a result, parishioners have been "raising prayers" as well as raising funds. As of mid-January, the congregation had tallied more than 3.75 million Hail Marys for the new church.

"To me that was an important way to concretize how important prayer is, and letting everybody know that everyone is helping to build this church - even if they can't help financially," Father Mosimann said. "It's encouraging to me to see how generous people are with their time, talent and treasure. They are really stewards of the things God has given to them. They get that, and they live it."

"To watch the Hail Marys come in is as much a testament to the spirituality of the parish as anything," said Cathy Odom, a parishioner for seven years. "So many people believe that prayer does matter as much as the money that you put in the envelope. The fact that we're imploring Mary to help raise the money and make (the church) a reality is very exciting."

Through a continuously scrolling PowerPoint presentation in the parish center, emails, bulletin boards and bulletin inserts, Father Mosimann has tried to make the process of church-building transparent.

"If the people of Leesburg are building this church, then keeping them informed is the right thing to do," he said. "It keeps them involved, engaged and excited."

The congregation of St. John the Apostle consists of a mix of people who, Father Mosimann said, "grew up where they knew their neighbors and wanted to live in an area where they can feel safe."

With lots of young families and children, and lots of sports and activities, St. John the Apostle has very much of a "suburban feel," he added.

The parish addresses the needs of all ages, Odom said. "There's a lot of vitality and lots of things going on," and the priests tie everything together.

The two priests - Father Francis J. Peffley was assigned as parochial vicar last fall- celebrate six Sunday Masses and a Saturday night vigil. Parish activities include an active Knights of Columbus and Ladies Auxiliary. Jane Taylor directs a preschool, and the parish religious education program welcomes more than 1,000 students.

A giving tree in the narthex is up year-round, encouraging parishioners to support crisis pregnancy centers and food pantries at all times. And a monthly food drive for a local food bank is "part of the fabric" of the parish, Father Mosimann said.

"People respond very generously (to this) concrete way to help," he said.

Though St. John the Apostle has grown considerably in the 40 years Ange has been a parishioner, it remains close-knit, he said.

"When we first arrived … everybody knew each other, and I think we operated as a holy family," he said. "That's continued on through the years even through we've grown to 2,600 families."

For Odom, St. John the Apostle is a place she can call home.

"It's a big church, but it doesn't feel big," Odom said. "Both the priests really make it feel like an intimate, small church."

Quick facts
St. John the Apostle Church
231 North King St., N.W.
Leesburg, Va. 20176

Pastor: Fr. John P. Mosimann
Parochial vicar: Fr. Francis J. Peffley
DRE: Edward V. Spinelli
YM: Sarah Ginther

St. John the Apostle Preschool (parish center)
101 Oakcrest Manor Dr., N.E.
Leesburg, Va. 20176

Director: Jane Taylor

Mass Schedule: 

All Masses are at the parish center unless otherwise noted.

Sat.: 9 a.m. (church), 5:30 p.m. vigil

Sun.: 7 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. (Spanish); first and third Sunday of the month: 10:30 a.m. extraordinary form of the Roman rite (church)
Weekdays: 8:30 a.m., noon (church)

Parishioners: 6,732

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012