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Stafford parish celebrates 50 years

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When Mary and Denny Fallon moved from New York to Virginia, they wanted to join a vibrant Catholic church. They believe God led them to St. William of York Church in Stafford. “It’s an authentic Catholic parish full of good people. We love it,” said Mary Fallon. She and her husband both came to celebrate the parish’s 50th anniversary at a Sunday Mass with Bishop Michael F. Burbidge Dec. 5. “We’ve only been here for 14 years out of the 50 years, but we’re sold on the place,” she said.

Catholic roots in Stafford County go back to the 1600s, when the Catholic Brent family moved to the area. In 1897, what is now known as the Brent Family Cemetery was discovered. During the 1920s, Richmond Bishop Denis J. O'Connell bought the land and later an altar was erected in the cemetery so that Masses can be celebrated on the hallowed ground.

In 1958, St. William of York — named after a 12th-century archbishop of York, England — became a mission of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg. In 1971, it became a parish and Father John S. Wysocki was its first pastor. A parish school was established in 1992. Last year, a renovation to the church added a new narthex and a bell tower. Today, the parish has more than 5,000 parishioners and the school has 200 students. Father Robert J. DeMartino, pastor, Father Henry E. Rivera, parochial vicar, and Deacon James J. Benisek currently serve the parish.

Mary Fallon is involved in the parish’s bereavement ministry and the volunteer-run thrift store. The profits from the store provide financial assistance to Stafford County residents in danger of being evicted or having their utilities cut off. The parish also maintains a pantry that distributes food each week.

The wonderful preaching heard at St. William over the years sets the parish apart, said Fallon. “We would walk out of church on a Sunday in the summertime and people would stop us in the parking lot and say, ‘Do you hear this kind of thing here every Sunday?’ And we would smile because we knew what they meant. We know how blessed we are,” she said.

Stafford County, and by extension St. William of York, attracts commuting government workers, people stationed at the nearby Marine Corps Base Quantico, and a growing number of immigrants, especially Hispanics, said Fallon. “Our church is changing all the time because it has to address all those different communities,” she said. “It’s always changing to accommodate whoever comes to the door.”

Like the Fallons, Tom Faha and his wife, Mimi, were looking for a strong Catholic community, in particular a school for their boys, when they found St. William of York. “Our third son was born and we needed a bigger house and we couldn't afford to stay in Fairfax. We found out that St. William of York was just starting a school,” he said. “We were there right from the get-go.”

Now, 27 years later, all four of their children have graduated from St. William of York School. “We were in the school for 16 years and we estimated how many trips Mimi made back and forth — it was well over 10,000 times,” said Faha. “(We did) everything parents of school-age kids do, from secret Santa to painting to helping mow the grass. Whatever we gave we always got more back in return.”

Faha is proud of the parish’s facilities, including the gymnasium and new school wing the community built during his time there, but also of the church's strong spiritual foundation. “It's a joy to go to Mass or to stop in on the way home as a respite from everyday life,” he said. “I'm very proud to be part of it.”

Ridelphine Katabesha and her three children, newcomers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have been at the parish for only a year, but it was important to her to witness the parish milestone. “We are learning a new language and this parish is helping us be integrated into the community and learn the word of God in a language that is not our primary language,” she said. “This parish received us as neighbors and we wanted to join our community here to celebrate this event.”

Father DeMartino, who has spent 14 years at the parish, said he is most proud of his parishioners' love for the Blessed Sacrament and their tender devotion to the Virgin Mary. “These have been some of the best years of my life,” he said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021