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St. Lawrence Parish celebrates golden anniversary

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“What can we do to help?”

That saying epitomizes what St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria is all about, said Msgr. Frank E. Mahler, the founding pastor of the parish.

“If there’s one legacy for this parish, it’s the care of the needy poor,” he said.

Msgr. Mahler was the homilist for the parish’s golden anniversary Mass May 20, which was celebrated by Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge.

Msgr. Mahler was joined by two other former pastors — Father Franklyn M. McAfee and Father Christopher J. Mould — as well as the current pastor, Father Ronald J. Gripshover, and parochial vicar, Father Daniel S. Spychala. Deacon Michael Waters assisted at the altar.

“It is a great joy for me to be with all of you this evening,” Bishop Burbidge said. “We give thanks to God for the many blessings bestowed upon this parish over the past 50 years.”

At the end of Mass, the bishop presented Father Gripshover with a papal blessing in honor of the anniversary.

Father Gripshover said that that in a meaningful nod to the history of St. Lawrence, the chalice used by Bishop Burbidge at the anniversary Mass once belonged  to Father Austin Ryder, the parish’s second pastor. Bishop John R. Keating gave the chalice to Father Spychala when he was ordained to the priesthood as Father Ryder left it to the diocese when he died.

Msgr. Mahler, who served as pastor at St. Lawrence from 1967 to 1972, recalled how he purchased the land for the new church for $50,000 and a house that was used as a temporary rectory for $27,500.

He celebrated Mass at nearby Thomas Edison High School until the church was dedicated in December 1970 by Richmond Bishop John J. Russell. Bill Curley was the lector for the first reading at the anniversary Mass and he also was the lector for the church dedication in 1970.

Oblate priests from Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria assisted with Sunday Masses and Msgr. Mahler’s first assistant pastor was Father Paschal Balkan, a Trappist monk who he said had a penchant for ice cream.

“The generosity of the people has made this a beautiful church,” he said.

Msgr. Mahler noted the great legacy of religious vocations that has blessed the parish. Three former parishioners currently serve as diocesan priests: Father Robert J. Wagner, Bishop Burbidge’s secretary; Father Anthony J. Killian, parochial vicar of St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg; and Father Ramon A. Baez, parochial vicar of Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria. 

In addition, Father Stanley Bosch, the son of the late Deacon Joseph Bosch, is a member of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, a religious community working with the poor and abandoned in Los Angeles.

Bishop Burbidge is scheduled to ordain another former parishioner, Deacon Steven Oetjen, to the priesthood June 10 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

“We’re all in this vocation work together,” Msgr. Mahler said.

 See and buy photos from the 50th anniversary celebration at catholicherald.smugmug.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017