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St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria will mark 50 years

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Christine Socko, a parishioner of St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria since 1972, has been part of the life of the church for nearly its entire history. In her role on the welcome committee, she has introduced many to the parish where she finds comfort.

Though she has welcomed many, she has also had to say goodbye to some, including a member of the women’s group.

“When she died I went up to the church and cried, but felt at peace,” she said. “We have a crucifix in the center of our sanctuary and it comforted me to see that Jesus suffered, too, and suffered for me.”

Though May 20 is not a holiday, it is especially meaningful for Socko and the church’s 4,194 parishioners who will mark five decades of prayer and commitment that day. Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge will celebrate Mass at 5 p.m. Msgr. Frank E. Mahler, founding pastor of St. Lawrence, will be the homilist. Former clergy and pastors assigned to the parish will concelebrate, along with priests whose vocations were fostered in the parish.  

Socko joined St. Lawrence initially because of its close proximity to her home, but that’s not why she stayed.

“It's a traditional church,” she said. “I want intimacy with the Lord and with the people. You get to know more people when the church is smaller.”

Socko loves the interior space that seats parishioners in a semicircle around the Eucharist.

She uses her experience in the church as a way to encourage newcomers. 

“I introduce them to the parish family so they feel like they have a friend at church,” she said. “It’s a community.”

Herman Rollandini, a founding parishioner and parish finance manager since 1989, said the parishioners are diverse and generous.

“I can never remember a time when there was a need that they didn't respond with help,” he said.

When Richmond Bishop John J. Russell established St. Lawrence in 1967, Mass was celebrated at Edison High School, less than 2 miles from the church’s current location. The church was built in 1970. In 1992, Father Franklyn M. McAfee, pastor, oversaw renovations. In 1998, a Communion rail and tabernacle altar were added by Father William J. Erbacher, pastor. Rollandini said the parish became one of the first to celebrate the 1962 Latin Mass in 2006. It is celebrated every Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

The church, rectory and parish hall are set on 12 acres. The parish hall eventually was named after Father Henry E. Hammond, the third pastor. In honor of Father Hammond’s 50th jubilee as a priest, Father McAfee planted a rose garden featuring Stations of the Cross and statues of Mary and the Pietà. There is also a small statue of St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners.

Father Ronald J. Gripshover, current pastor, dedicated a children’s prayer area in 2016. It was designed by Maria Horner, a senior at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries. She was assisted by volunteers helping with her American Heritage Girls Stars and Stripes project.

Rollandini appreciates the spirituality of the parishioners at St. Lawrence. There are several devotions at the church, including a novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Mondays, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on Wednesday and First Saturday devotions.

Socko finds comfort knowing the church is open during the day. “It is a place of refuge.” 

Anniversary celebration

The 50th anniversary Mass will be celebrated May 20 at 5 p.m. by Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. Msgr. Msgr. Frank E. Mahler, founding pastor of St. Lawrence, will be the homilist.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017