‘A dream come true’
By Gretchen R. Crowe
Day turned into night as parishioners of St. Theresa Parish in Ashburn celebrated the dedication of their new spiritual home last week.
Gathered around the shiny bronze doors of the brick and stone structure, hundreds of parishioners – hoods up and umbrellas out – watched as Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde presented Father Richard M. Guest, pastor, with the keys to the new church. Once inside, pastor, bishop, about 20 concelebrating priests and more than 50 altar boys led the opening procession down the long cathedral0style main aisle.
“Dear parishioners, this is your new home,” Bishop Loverde said after the faithful had filed into the wooden pews for the first time. “We are gathered here in such a special and solemn way to dedicate this building to God’s glory and service.”
The Mass officially had begun across the street in St. Theresa School, a fitting location as liturgies had been celebrated in the school gym since 1994 – three years after the parish had been founded and placed under the direction of the late Msgr. James W. McMurtrie. At the time, it was a step up from celebrating Masses at public high schools, Protestant churches, conference centers and the basement of the rectory.
“We used to call (St. Theresa) St. Broad Run,” said Peggy Sullivan, parish secretary, referring to the local high school where the first St. Theresa parishioners attended weekly liturgy.
About 100 parishioners made up the community in those early days – a far cry from the more than 10,000 currently registered. Two capital campaigns, $13 million dollars and 18 years later, these parishioners, old and new, finally have a permanent home in which to worship.
During the three-hour dedication Mass, Bishop Loverde, Father Guest and Father Daniel Spychala, parochial vicar, anointed the altar and the walls of the new building with the oil of chrism and filled the sanctuary with incense and candlelights. Concelebrants included Fathers Frank Ready, vicar general; Thomas Ferguson, episcopal vicar; William Saunders, dean; David Meng, former parochial vicar; and Mark Mullaney, former parochial vicar.
Bishop Loverde told parishioners they will be born again, formed and strengthened as member s of God’s family.
“No wonder we all rejoice and are glad this day,” he said. “Here we shall all more and more be transformed into God’s family, so that, in turn, through us, the world may be transformed to the glory of our triune God.”
The church has what Father Guest called an “updated traditional” feel, built in cathedral style with stone floors, brick walls and exposed beams. The building’s capacity is 1,350, including an upstairs choir loft. The parish purchased the relief-style Stations of the Cross, believed to date back to the 1920s, from an antique dealer in Atlanta. Stained-glass windows in the upper portion of the structure portray the role angles – to whom St. Theresa had a great devotion – played in the history of the Church. A statue in of the parish’s namesake, transferred from the worship space in the gym, stands in the main niche above the tabernacle in the reredos, the decorative structure behind the altar.
St. Therese of Lisieux’s words, “All for the Love of the Good God,” are inscribed on the cornerstone as “a sign of our devotion to the Little Flower who showed us how to love God in little ways every day,” Father Guest said.
These touches make St. Theresa a “more noble space in which to worship,” the priest said, adding that he hopes the new church helps deepen the faith of the parishioners, all while giving glory and honor to God. Parishioners will be able to stop by the church to pray at any time without having to worry about whether or not the school has a gym class scheduled. They’ll be able to spend time with the Blessed Sacrament, light votive candles and pause in small shrines devoted to Mary and Joseph.
Father Guest is particularly fond of these shrines, as well as the arched aisles along the sides of the church. These additions, he said, provide “more intimate spaces for prayer.
“It’s a big structure, but it gives you a feeling of intimacy when you’re walking the Stations,” he said. “There’s a sense of privacy within the larger church.”
Stephanie Walsh, a parishioner for seven years, walked through those spaces after the dedication Mass. With children in first and third grades at the school, Walsh said that the new church building will help “solidify the importance of the Mass” for them and other parish youths.
“It gives it a formality that will help them learn – something they were missing before,” she said.
The new building “exceeds my expectations,” said Linda McKay, parishioner. “It’s been so long in the making and to see it come to fruition in phenomenal.”
”It’s a dream come true,” added Stephanie Morrison, parishioner.
For Sullivan, who ash been with the parish since the beginning, the new church is a world away from the old days of St. Broad Run and the more recent days in the school.
“The gym, that’s where the Blessed Sacrament was and it was church, but to physically have something so beautiful, it’s just wonderful feeling,” she said. “It’s ours now.”