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St. Francis de Sales in Purcellville begins its 50th year as a parish with dedication, picnic

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The identities of the Philothea Guild members — the four people chosen by Father Ronald S. Escalante, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in Purcellville, to help with the interior renovation of the church — were revealed Sept. 17 when Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass to dedicate the new altar and celebrate the parish’s 50th anniversary.

Throughout the renovations, Father Escalante kept their names secret to “make our building committee one of the most unique and exciting ever, as construction meetings can be tedious and mundane,” he wrote in the Mass program.

“All of the gifts we were able to bring really meshed well together so we became close not just spiritually but also as friends." Diane Waller

Guild members Diane Waller, identified as “Serva Dei,” painted all the paintings in the sanctuary pro bono; James Blankenship, “Doctus,” is the director of religious education and helped with designing the sanctuary; Andrew Lewandowski, “Jasna Gora,” traveled to Poland to obtain the relic of St. Faustina for the altar; Maria Keim, “Hosanna,” oversaw the design of the alternating pew ends and medallions, which read “IHS, M+ and V+J.
“Philothea,” which means Lover of God in Greek, is a reference to whom the letters of St. Francis de Sales were addressed in his book, Introduction to the Devout Life.

Father Escalante, wanting to build suspense throughout the renovations, released few details in the weekly parish bulletins. All was revealed at the anniversary Mass concelebrated by Father Escalante; Father Mark Mullaney, parochial vicar; Father Patrick L. Posey, pastor of St. James Church in Falls Church and former pastor of St. Francis de Sales, 2003-06; Father Jordan M. Willard, parochial vicar of St. Theresa Church in Ashburn and former altar boy at the parish; and Father Gary T. Villanueva, pastor of St. Columba in Oxon Hill, Md.

Father Escalante began his homily by wishing everyone a happy golden anniversary.

“We are blessed to be here for the wonderful dedication of the altar,” he said. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the parish.”

Bishop Burbidge spoke at the end of the Mass. “I know it took a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifices and a great deal of prayer,” he said. “Of course, we know you cannot do such a project without a great leader so give thanks to Father Escalante.”

Keim said it was an honor to do the work for the church. “I hope that all the parishioners love it and it helps them learn about and grow in their faith,” she said.

“All of the gifts we were able to bring really meshed well together so we became close not just spiritually but also as friends,” said Waller.

The Philothea Guild worked with designer and supplier Gardiner Hall to obtain the marble altar from Carrara, Italy. On the front of the altar are symbols of Jesus from the Book of Revelation and the alpha and omega. The relics of Sts. Leo the Great, Faustina, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Agnes of Rome, were sealed inside. The former wooden main altar was relocated to the chapel.

The European beechwood pews were made by New Holland Church Furniture in Pennsylvania. The former pews were donated to the University of Maryland Catholic Campus Ministry in College Park, Md., for the Chapel of Christ the Divine Teacher.

There is a new Sonata Digital Electronic Carillon System that provides another option for bell ringing. The parish Junior Altar Women Society members are trained to ring the five-minute Mass warning bell and the bell during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Confessionals, Stations of the Cross and altar rails will be installed once additional funding is raised.

Parishioner Loretta Farley said it was special to see the renovated church. “To see it knowing how much effort Father Escalante had put in and all the parishioners worked so hard together as a community to make this happen is exciting,” she said.

Parishioner Beth Gallegos said Father Escalante does things quietly and with gentle encouragement.

“I think it is very spiritually uplifting for all of us,” she said. “The things he has done are bringing us closer together and creating a greater sense of community. It is really exciting.”

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017