Where ‘Christ’s peace reigns’

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If you pass through Madison County and stop for Mass at Our Lady of the Blue Ridge Church on a Sunday morning, your arm likely will be caught by Virginia Serroka, fondly referred to as the parish's unofficial greeter.

A parishioner since 1976 and a native of the county, Serroka easily can recognize an unfamiliar face in the parish that is home to only 349 parishioners. And she makes it her mission to extend a welcome and encourage the visitor to come back.

That's the kind of place Our Lady of the Blue Ridge is, the parishioners say - a welcoming parish with a rich community that cares about others. Located in a rural setting where locals have no trouble spotting vivid constellations at night and where they can witness the majesty of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains on a daily basis, Our Lady of the Blue Ridge offers a quiet alternative to life within the Capital Beltway.

Click here to read about a pro-life sculptor at the parish. 

One of Serroka's success stories is Jesse Hodges, who first attended Mass at Our Lady of the Blue Ridge in 1992. After Mass, Hodges was stopped by Serroka who wanted to know two things: Who was he and was he coming back? Nineteen years later Hodges, who soon after meeting Serroka moved his family from Washington, D.C., to Madison County, is part of the backbone of the parish.

"It was so warm," Hodges said of his first experience at Our Lady of the Blue Ridge. "I think the church is a family."

Another member of this family is Priscilla Dugas. A parishioner since 1979, Dugas watched the community expand from its first location in the hall of the Madison County Volunteer Fire Department to the basement of a new rectory in 1979 to the current church in 1992.

"It's my extended family," said Dugas. "These people mean an awful lot to me. They've made my life more fulfilled and more beautiful."

Dugas is a regular volunteer at Our Lady of the Blue Ridge, doing everything from teaching Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes to serving as president of the pastoral council to pulling weeds.

"When you're in a little parish, everybody wears 10 hats," she said. "It's a real family kind of thing."

With its close-knit, loving community, Our Lady of the Blue Ridge provided an example of "the beauty of living a good Catholic life" to her two daughters as they grew up, Dugas said.

"My children have been nurtured here," she said. "It's given them that foundation and support and love that they needed."

Located on Route 29 just northeast of the Madison town center and 15 miles southwest of Culpeper - where some parishioners send their children to Epiphany School - Our Lady of the Blue Ridge was established in 1974 as a mission of the former St. John Parish in Orange (now St. Isidore the Farmer). Three years later it became an independent parish. Dedicated in 1992, the current church is traditional in its architecture, with a steepled roof, white walls and wooden pews.

In the choir loft, a Ronald Dixon-created stained-glass window depicts Mary - the infant Jesus in her arms - gazing at the purple hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with a stream and wildflowers at her sandaled feet.

"(The window) reminds me of what we're supposed to be doing - bringing Christ to the world," said Father Michael T. Orlowsky, who has led the parish since 2002.

For much of its history the parish was staffed by Missionhurst priests, including Father John Morel, who retired in 2002 after 13 years at the parish.

Click here to read about Father Morel celebrating 70 years as a priest.

In his nearly 10 years at Our Lady of the Blue Ridge, Father Orlowsky, a diocesan priest, said he has witnessed parishioners' generosity with their time, talent and treasure - especially with their willingness to volunteer. Sixty-five percent of parishioners are involved in some way, shape or form with parish life, he said.

Many are part of an active senior group that often goes out to eat and cares for one another by distributing Communion at nursing homes, Hodges added.

"It's something rather amazing to see," Father Orlowsky said. "That again and again, the people are wanting to do an awful lot. It gives me hope."

The parish also takes community outreach seriously. According to 2009 U.S. Census data, 10.8 percent of people in Madison County live below the poverty line. To help combat this, parishioners regularly collect food for the local Madison Emergency Services Association. In October, in conjunction with Catholic Charities' Fall Harvest campaign, they collected 895 pounds of food.

"We've got to take care of their physical needs," Father Orlowsky said of reaching out to the local poor. "We can preach all we want, but if we don't take care of them in their needs … we're not living the Gospel. That really is something important to us."

The need in Madison County is often seasonal. Families need help feeding children out of school in the summers, or a household may need a hand with a high electric or gas bill.

"Our outreach program specifically is targeted at the people who fall through the cracks," Father Orlowsky said.

The Madison community is assisted by St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, which helps provide food to needy families in the county. And it pairs with St. Raymond of Peñafort Parish in Springfield to purchase gifts for families listed on a Christmas angel tree.

In addition to its constant care for others, the parish also is Eucharist-centered, Dugas said, adding that "the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament is a big part of everyone's life here."

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place every Wednesday, a time of prayer some parishioners said they can't live without.
Father Orlowsky said he often hears from parishioners how peaceful they find the parish to be.

"Christ's peace reigns," he said. "I think that's the most important thing."

Quick facts
Our Lady of the Blue Ridge Church
Intersection of Routes 29 and 629
Madison, Va. 22727

Pastor: Fr. Michael T. Orlowsky
Rectory mailing address:
692 Lonnie Burke Rd.
Madison, Va. 22727

Mass Schedule:
Sat.: 5 p.m. vigil
Sun.: 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m.
Weekdays: 8 a.m.

Parishioners: 349

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011