Working together for the greater good

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Established in 1965 by Richmond Bishop John Russell, St. Mark Parish in Vienna started out with Father Robert J. Walsh as pastor and 400 families. In its earliest days, parishioners celebrated Mass at James Madison High School in Vienna for three years before the original church was built in 1968.

As the years went by, the number of parishioners grew and so did the church. A 1984 addition brought a new sanctuary for the parish and transformed the original church into the Msgr. Tom Cassidy activity center. Years later, in 2003, another addition brought the St. Mark Christian Formation Center, which houses St. Mark School and all the parish religious education and formation classes. Today, the parish is home to 2,500 families.

Father Pat Holroyd has been pastor since 2001. He is known for his kindness and supportive attitude.

"He's kind, never critical, always building us up, always thanking us and always thanking all the parishioners for the work they do," said Nancy Novelly, parish minister of music and worship.

Msgr. Cassidy served as pastor for 16 years and came back in retirement for another eight before passing away earlier this month. More than 1,000 people and 70 musicians came to his funeral. His ashes will be laid to rest in the St. Mark memorial garden Nov. 2.

(Read more about Msgr. Cassidy here.)

"He lived a full, active life and was a wonderful example to us," Novelly said. "Just about everything we are is a legacy to Msgr. Cassidy: his rootedness in the concepts of Vatican II, his belief in the laity's right to active involvement, his love of the children and his belief that they should be fully included in the liturgy."

St. Mark School has 400 students. Roberta Etzel has been principal for the past three years. Her mission is to provide a solid education focused on the whole child - both academic and spiritual.

(See photos from the first day of school.)

The formation center also is used for parish religious education classes. The parish has two directors of religious education, Mickey Edwards and Isaac Garcia, and approximately 600 children enrolled. There are 100 students in twice-weekly English as a Second Language classes and approximately 60 people a week who come to Little Rock Scripture Study, a formation classes aimed toward parents.

In addition to sharing the same classrooms and resources, parish staff and school staff join together twice a year for overnight retreats. The result is a community that knows each other well and can work together to spread the Faith through education and outreach.

"That attempt to build a total staff eliminates a lot of problems," Etzel said. "There's this sense of working together - a sense that we are not working in isolation, but that we are doing something for the greater good, we are a part of something that is much bigger."

According to Novelly, St. Mark is special because of the large amount of parishioner involvement.

"(Parishioners) really take the ball and run with it if there's anything that needs to be done," she said.

Clare Fountaine joined the parish when it was only a year old and was bookkeeper and office manager for 33 years. She estimates there are more than 800 volunteers involved in parish life at any given time.

 "I think the parish community involvement is what makes it special," Fountaine said. "I hear of some parishes where the priest does everything, but here it's very parishioner-oriented."

This can be seen through the vast number of organizations and ministries at the parish.

The parish's music ministry consists of nine choirs, including a children's choir and a hand-bell choir. More than 70 musicians are involved and there are six different choir directors.

The parish also is home to an active youth ministry with two full-time youth ministers, Angie Pometto and Kevin Flores. According to Pometto, 40 high school students and 70 junior high school students came to the youth ministry kick-off events this year. The youths participate in weekly Catholic Leadership Club meetings, a monthly youth Mass and yearly traditions like WorkCamp and a summer musical program.

The parish also has social opportunities for young adults, families and senior citizens, and volunteer opportunities to accommodate almost any skill set, from sewing to photography.

(Read about the parish's senior ministry.)

"Things happen from the ground up here," Edwards said. "People in the parish feel an ownership in the faith community."

According to Edwards, the parish continually gives 5 percent of all weekly collections to various charities, both local and overseas - more than $100,000 every year.

"Our first vocation is the vocation of our baptism and this just reinforces that they are the Church in the world and the work of Christ is done with our hands and our feet," Edwards said. "That really comes through in this parish."

Quick facts
St. Mark Church
9970 Vale Rd.
Vienna, Va. 22181

Pastor: Fr. Patrick Holroyd
DREs: Mickey Edwards and Issac Garcia

St. Mark School
9972 Vale Rd.
Vienna, Va. 22181
Principal: Roberta Etzel
Students: 400

Mass schedule:
Sat.: 8 a.m., 5:30 p.m. vigil
Sun.: 8:15 a.m., 10 a.m., 11:45 a.m.
Weekdays: 9:15 a.m.
Monday: 7:30 p.m.
Friday: 6:15 a.m.

Parishioners: 10,264

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011