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St. Francis de Sales in Purcellville begins its 50th year with interior renovation

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Very few people have seen the interior of St. Francis de Sales Church in Purcellville since the church closed June 5 for a major renovation, including a new altar and pews, according to Father Ronald S. Escalante, pastor. Parishioners had glimpses through bulletin announcements during the past several months.

The big reveal will happen Sept. 17 when Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge dedicates the new altar at the noon Mass in honor of the parish’s 50th anniversary.

The Mass will be followed by a parish picnic and a magic show by Father Escalante. He regularly does a magic show at the picnics and said this year’s show will be the largest.

“The exciting part is for our 50th anniversary we get a new sanctuary that has the theme of St. Francis de Sales’ story in it,” said Father Escalante. “The spiritual goal of the renovation is to increase devotions to the Eucharist and the rosary.”

During the renovations, Masses were celebrated in the Catholic Education Center.

St. Francis de Sales began as a mission in 1921 with a church on 16th and Main Streets in Purcellville.

It was declared a parish by Richmond Bishop John J. Russell in 1967 and placed under the care of the Capuchin Franciscans of the Province of the Stigmata of St. Francis. The parish began with less than 100 families. There are now more than 1,600 families.

Thirty years later, the diocese took over the parish from the Capuchin Friars. Msgr. Thomas J. Cassidy served as the first diocesan pastor.

In 2013, the parish broke ground on the 26,465-square-foot Catholic Education Center, which includes 11 classrooms, a gym, kitchen, library and a multipurpose hall.

Jerry Miles and his wife attended their first Mass as parishioners on Easter Sunday 1988.

He said the dynamic leadership of the parish gets people involved in the church.

“I think the priests are trying to set up the church as a center of the community for Catholics,” Miles said.

The parish, which he describes as extraordinarily friendly and outgoing, means a great deal to his family. They joined when the parish was smaller, which allowed more involvement, including chairing the finance committee and being a lector.

“We were able to develop friendships and connections,” Miles said. “It really made us feel we were an important part of the parish.”

He has seen it grow from a country mission to a large parish. “It is growing every day, but it has retained the flavor of a small parish.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017