Still a ‘country parish’ — sort of

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Though it almost always falls during Lent, March 17 is celebrated as a solemnity in one special diocesan parish: St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg. Founded on St. Patrick's Day in 1983 and built two years later, the church named after the patron saint of Ireland is located on the western outskirts of Fredericksburg on the site of the Civil War battle of Chancellorsville. Msgr. R. Roy Cosby served as the founding pastor and the church was dedicated Dec. 14, 1985, by Arlington Bishop John R. Keating.

Part of the appeal of St. Patrick, situated on sloping land off of Elys Ford Road in Spotsylvania County, is its "country parish" feel, said Father John A. Ziegler, pastor since January 2010.

"There's a real strong sense of camaraderie here and solidarity," he said. "People are really drawn to practicing their faith; not just worshipping on Sundays, but far beyond."

Assisting Father Ziegler at the parish is Father Ronald J. Gripshover Jr., parochial vicar, and Deacons David E. Conroy Sr. and William D. Pivarnik.

Eva Radel, parish secretary for the last three years and parishioner for the last seven, said people are attracted by St. Patrick's small-town feel, as well as the affordability of the area.

"We know each other better," she said. "Everybody's here for a reason, (and) the reason's the same: faith and family."

But for a "country parish," St. Patrick sure has a lot going on. A glance through the bulletin shows multiple prayer and outreach opportunities, a speaker series and, during this season of Lent, regular soup suppers.

The Knights of Columbus Battlefield Council 10246 and Ladies Auxiliary group have a large presence at the parish, and Bill McCarthy, the Knights' state deputy, is from the council. A St. Vincent de Paul chapter organizes monthly food drives and helps stock local food banks. Parishioners assist women in crisis pregnancy situations through the nearby Paul Stefan Home of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

For a small, busy parish, keeping pace with the growing community is a continuous challenge. Seven weekend Masses still aren't enough to accommodate the 5,114 registered parishioners.

"We started as a little country church 25 years ago and now we have 1,900 families and we're still a little country church," Father Ziegler said.

St. Patrick School, led by Principal George Elliott, opened in 1990 with an enrollment of seven kindergarteners. In 1998, the first class of eighth-graders graduated. But the days of small class sizes are gone and space is limited. Despite some classes being held in trailers and money being tight, the children "bring a great joy to the parish," Father Ziegler said.

"This has been a parish where we've always taken great pride in ensuring our children have a great foundation in the Faith and opportunities to grow in the Faith," he said.

(See this story on St. Patrick's participaton in a sports alliance.)

Father Ziegler visits the school once a week, speaking to three different classes on the liturgical season, the saint of the day or the catechism. In turn, children visit the Blessed Sacrament during eucharistic adoration on First Fridays.

This encouragement of children adoring the Blessed Sacrament is one example of how Father Ziegler works continuously to raise the Catholicity of the parish by increasing the devotion to Jesus and to Mary. The parish recently formed a Legion of Mary regia and eucharistic adoration was expanded into the afternoons of the first Fridays of the months.

The Knights of Columbus are leaders in outreach at the parish, a leadership that stems from "a desire to serve," said Deacon Pivarnik.

According to Grand Knight Joe McEuen, of the Battlefield council, the nearly 400-man council contributed a total of 20,000 volunteer hours to the parish last year. In addition to attending WorkCamp with the youths and hosting fundraisers to donate to local charities, the Knights put in straight manpower. They recently refurbished the parish hall and will soon begin restoring each church kneeler.

"Our goal is to be as active in our community (as possible)," McEuen said. "Whatever the needs are, we step forward and will help as much as possible."

Good thing, too - because as the little country parish continues to expand its ever-growing community, those needs are likely only to increase.

Quick facts

St. Patrick Church

9149 Elys Ford Rd.

Fredericksburg, Va. 22407


Pastor: Fr. John A. Ziegler

Parochial vicar: Fr. Ronald J. Gripshover Jr.

Deacons: David E. Conroy Sr.

William D. Pivarnik


St. Patrick School

9151 Elys Ford Rd.

Fredericksburg, Va. 22407


Principal: George Elliott

Students: 274

Mass Schedule:

Sat.: 9 a.m., 6 p.m. vigil

Sun.: 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m. (extraordinary form of the Roman rite), 5 p.m.

Weekdays: 9 a.m.

Parishioners: 5,114

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011