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Sacred Heart in Winchester celebrates past and future at Mass for 150th anniversary

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An anniversary is “not primarily about the past, it’s about the future,” said Msgr. Stanley J. Krempa July 28 in his homily for the Mass celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Winchester.

“But as the past six months have taught us, we can’t predict the future,” he said, pointing to how quickly and drastically the coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives and our world. Yet no matter how much we might wish it to, history does not flow backward, and “we can’t relive the past,” he said.

Msgr. Krempa, who served as Sacred Heart’s pastor from 1999 to 2017 and is now retired, returned to  concelebrate the anniversary Mass Tuesday night with Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and a number of other priests, past and present, who have served at Sacred Heart, including Father Bjorn C. Lundberg, the current pastor. 

Bishop Burbidge greeted the socially distanced assembly of about 250 people, and pointed out that they were gathered “with pride in the past and faith in the future, to rejoice, remember and renew.”

In his brief but wide-ranging homily, Msgr. Krempa recapped the history of Catholics in the Shenandoah Valley, from the Irish immigrants of the 1700s to the Civil War years, when Winchester saw six battles and changed hands more than 70 times. He said that even during the war, Catholics on different sides still worshipped together. After the war, local Catholics met in private homes until the parish built its first church downtown on Loudoun Street, with many donations from non-Catholics, a sign of the town’s regard for the people of Sacred Heart. The parish had its first Mass there in 1870 and remained in the building for 120 years, until the current church was built, about 30 years ago. 

Msgr. Krempa noted that Winchester has been part of three different dioceses in its long history — first Baltimore, then Richmond, and now Arlington.  Much of that time, it’s been in the far reaches of its territory, he added, “like being assigned to the Falkland Islands.”  

Yet the parish has continued to grow and thrive, he said, and the story of Sacred Heart “is a story of generosity — the people’s generosity to the parish, and God’s generosity to us.” 

Just as the new high-tech medical center down the street from the church brings healing to the body, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy by the people of the parish bring healing to the soul, he said. “Mercy and forgiveness and hope are things you cannot buy in a store.” 

Even though we cannot know the future, he said, “the God who was with us is the God who is still with us and will be with us.” 

And in the growing city of Winchester, where “a couple thousand people a day” drive past the Sacred Heart of Jesus campus, they will know that “here the fire of faith still burns, Jesus is still Lord, and the people of the parish are a sign to our world that the Kingdom of God is always waiting and ready to be born.” 

After the Mass concluded, Father Lundberg thanked parishioners who joined via livestream and invited those attending in person to stop outside to greet Bishop Burbidge and Msgr. Krempa, who will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination later this year. 

Parishioner Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, said he and his wife have been parishioners at Sacred Heart since coming to the area in 1988, and “it has been one of the greatest joys of our life.” He noted that “the Catholic population has just exploded in recent decades, and we’re out in the hinterlands,” but at Sacred Heart, “you always felt like you were being fed, by the Word and the homily and the Eucharist. It is such a beautiful experience. We are blessed here.” 

Parishioner Mariah McCarthy remembers sitting outside on blankets before the groundbreaking of the new church, dedicated in 1989, and said that even though it was much larger than the old church on Loudoun Street, she always found it “a very close parish, maybe because I attended the little church first.” 

McCarthy said her late husband was a Catholic and after they married in 1974, she attended church with him every Sunday. 

When Bishop John R. Keating visited in 1983, soon after being named Bishop of Arlington, McCarthy was there, and said it was a day she’ll never forget — she still gets a little choked up talking about it.

As Bishop Keating walked up the aisle, she noticed his eyes were “sea blue and so clear,” and a feeling came over her that she can only describe as the Holy Spirit. 

“I felt like it was Christ,” she said. “Shortly after that I converted,” and she’s attended Sacred Heart ever since. 

Buy photos from the Mass at catholicherald.smugmug.com.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020