The elevation of the United States’ latest Minor Basilica was announced today by the Ordinary of Arlington, Bishop Michael Burbidge.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Alexandria was founded in 1795. One of the main sponsors of the original church building at the intersection of Church Street and the George Washington Parkway was Colonel John Fitzgerald, an aide during the Revolutionary War to General George Washington, who is said to have donated to the church’s construction. That site continues to function as the parish cemetery, and the parish school is nearby, while a new church building is closer to the city center on Royal Street.
St. Mary’s is an historic center in the region, the first Catholic church in Virginia and the “mother church” of a host of missions.
The sanctuary of the church was restored in 2010 with some of the original features that had been removed in the 20th century. A symposium featuring a discussion of the renovation was held at the Catholic University of America.
The music at the parish has recently been renewed as well. Today’s announcement, for example, followed the singing of the Alma Redemptoris Mater, the seasonal Marian antiphon for this time of year. The parish sponsors a host of learning opportunities and a large number of active groups.
At the same time, St. Mary’s is active in the corporal works of mercy. The parish partners intensively with a homeless shelter in the area called Christ House. Members of the parish serve weekly at a nearby Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen, and the parish, like other parishes in prosperous neighborhoods, is routinely (perhaps exhaustively) asked to support good causes in the Church.
One of the many lovely things about today’s elevation is that the effort was spearheaded by a lay woman, Mary Petrino, who saw the reasonableness of the project and, as is her custom, worked tirelessly to accomplish it. Arlington is a uniquely blessed with a strong, young, often conservative presbyterate, and the combination of supportive and innovative lay people whose cooperation is welcomed by the pastors promises well for the future, as does the large number of men and women from the diocese pursuing priestly and religious vocations.