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Precious Blood Church in Culpeper celebrates ‘so much grace’ at 75th anniversary

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Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated a festive bilingual Mass for the 75th anniversary of Precious Blood Church in Culpeper Nov. 7.  “All of the Diocese of Arlington is united in prayer with you,” as “this vibrant, faith-filled parish continues to build up the body of Christ,” he said. 

“How can you sum up 75 years?” asked Father Kevin B. Walsh, pastor. “There has been so much living, so much grace and so much to be thankful for,” he said in his homily. 

Alternating between English and Spanish, he spoke of the life of the parish, “in many ways our second home.” He pointed to the poor widow in the first reading, who served Elijah. “She had so little, yet gave generously. What a beautiful description of a community. There is more than enough love to go around for everyone,” he said.

“The externals are not the most important thing in our faith. In our own parish, how many have given and served in so many unseen ways?” he asked. But those who serve are not really unseen, he added. Like the poor widow in the Gospel reading, whom Jesus recognized for giving two small coins that were all she had, those who give “are seen by the one who is most important,” Father Walsh said.

He thanked all those who have sacrificed to support the parish and Epiphany Catholic School over the years, as well as the large bilingual choir and musicians who provided music for the Mass and led songs including the “Precious Blood Parish Song,” with a new verse written for the anniversary. He thanked the large team of volunteers who spent months planning the reception after the Mass. He also thanked the priests of Missionhurst-CICM, the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which served Precious Blood from its founding in 1946 until Father Walsh’s arrival five years ago. 

A LONG HISTORY

Historical artifacts and displays at the reception recalled the parish’s history, dating back much longer than 75 years. The first Catholic services in Culpeper were held in 1868. A church site was purchased in 1879 and the cornerstone was laid in 1880. From 1880 to 1946, Precious Blood was a mission of churches in Warrenton, Manassas and Charlottesville.

Mass was celebrated once or twice a month until Nov. 15, 1946, when Precious Blood became an independent parish serving Culpeper, Madison and Rappahannock counties.

A timeline showing high points of the parish’s history was displayed on a wall at the reception; parishioners were asked to write in their names and the dates they started attending. Parishioner Kathy Godfrey arrived in July 1983; Claudia and Richard Vento in 1984. Bobbie Terry, the founding principal of Epiphany School, came in 1977. Carole Minor has been a parishioner since 1957, when she was 12 years old. 

Missionhurst Father Maurice du Castillon was the parish’s founding pastor in 1946. He left for several years, but returned to serve from 1955 to1979, retiring after 25 years of service. 

In 1979, Missionhurst Father Leo Zonneveld became pastor. He helped the parish begin a building program that included the parish hall/education center, completed in 1981, and the new church in 1983. The huge, vibrantly colored stained-glass window in the shape of a cross, set into an arched alcove, is the backdrop of the altar. The stained-glass images depict Jesus’ precious blood — red droplets falling into a golden chalice from a heart surrounded by a crown of thorns, on a field of blue. The church building was dedicated Aug. 5, 1983, by Bishop John R. Keating. Bishop Burbidge noted that this was the first church Bishop Keating dedicated after being installed as the Arlington diocese’s second bishop the previous June. 

The parish, with 30 families at the time, purchased a site next to the church, where an adjoining rectory and office were completed in 1991. 

GROWING HISPANIC POPULATION

Precious Blood Preschool opened in 1981 in the new parish hall. In 1997, Epiphany Catholic School opened, to serve Culpeper, Orange, Madison and Rappahannock counties. It was the first Catholic school in the four-county area. The school is now located on 22 acres about a mile from the church, with a preschool-8th grade facility, gym, library, playgrounds and athletic fields. 

In 2000, with a growing Hispanic population, a Spanish Mass was added at 4 p.m. on Sundays. Longtime parishioner Manuel Casillas, who brought his taco truck out of retirement to cater food for the reception, remembers collecting hundreds of signatures on a petition he presented to Father Zonneveld, to document the need for a Mass in Spanish. 

Father Zonneveld retired to Missionhurst in Arlington in 2012 after serving for 33 years as pastor, and he died in 2015 at age 81. Missionhurst Father Anselme Malonda then served for four years and was the last Missionhurst priest to serve at Precious Blood.

Father Walsh was installed as pastor in 2016. A linguist and Biblical scholar, he has been instrumental in expanding services to Hispanic families and has fostered the growth of the multicultural parish. He established St. Joseph's Table food pantry during the COVID-19 crisis. Father Walsh, Deacon Ramon Tirado and Deacon Michael Watts regularly visit the imprisoned at Coffeewood Correctional Center. Additionally, the Respect Life Committee hosts collections for mothers and the needs of their babies, such as clothing, diapers and formula.

Julia Scalzo, who chaired the 75th anniversary planning committee, summed up the celebration by saying it was planned “to recognize both the older parishioners who built our parish up, and our younger parishioners who are keeping it going and revitalizing it.” 

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021