St. Anthony Mission in King George celebrates 100 years as ‘lights of Christ’

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In 1917, Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three shepherd children, President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany and St. Anthony Mission in King George was established.

A mission of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Colonial Beach, St. Anthony marked its centenary June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, with Mass celebrated by Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. More than 200 people attended the Mass and dinner.

Father John C. Cregan, who served as the first diocesan pastor in Colonial Beach after the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity priests assigned to the mission left in 1993, was the homilist. Concelebrants included Father Mark Mullaney, Father John A. Ziegler, Father Jerome A. Magat and Father John H. Mellmer, former pastors or parochial vicars. Also concelebrating were Father Ronald J. Gripshover Jr., a former parishioner; Father Francis M. de Rosa, pastor of St. Anthony and St. Elizabeth; and Father Joseph R. Kenna, parochial vicar of St. Anthony and St. Elizabeth.

Images of St. Anthony adorned the church for the celebration, including a small statue as old as the church building itself. Red and white roses with baby’s breath were placed near the altar.

Father Cregan told the congregation they are each a part of the story of the mission.

“On this hundredth anniversary of St. Anthony’s, really try to be a light here in King George,” he said. “Be a light to your friends, in your schools. Get up and consciously desire to bring the light of Christ.”

He said his years at St. Anthony’s were a special time in his priesthood as he learned the message of family there. People reached out and families were determined to raise their children in the faith, he said.

He told the parishioners to believe that the simple acts of faith and devotion over the past 100 years of this parish have made a deep impression on the community.

Father de Rosa presented the history of the mission, introduced distinguished guests and spoke about his hopes for the future before dinner was served outside under a large white tent.

“Our little country church is firmly maintaining its Catholic presence,” he said. “In our second centenary, we intend to beautify the sanctuary and we are going to rebuild the parish hall to have a more fitting parish center.”

Bishop Burbidge, who turns 60 June 16, was surprised with a birthday cake and spiritual bouquet at the dinner, where he congratulated the parishioners on all they have achieved.

“We know it is only with God’s grace that we can do it, and it is always for God’s glory that we do do it. So continue that great work and enjoy your time together as a parish family,” the bishop said.  

A smaller celebration of the centennial of the church consecration will be held June 24, and they will mark the start of the second centenary with solemn vespers, adoration and the Divine Mercy Chaplet June 25.

Dorothy Halpin, a parishioner for 45 years, has served as the sacristan for 40 years. She said she feels this is her church. “Everything that has been sewn in the church I have made,” she said. Halpin, who taught religious education, said her favorite memory, among many, was witnessing her grandchildren make their first Communion.

Kevin Sofa, a parishioner for only a year, appreciates the mission’s longevity. “There is something special about being in a church this old,” he said, adding that it feels homey and comfortable. “Father de Rosa is building a good base here,” he said. “There are a lot of young, Catholic families.”

The size of the parish has grown from 30 a century ago to 500 Sunday churchgoers now.

Mary Hannick, a parishioner since 1971, said the parish tries to let the community know they are present in a predominately Baptist area. “We have been blessed through the years with many awesome priests,” she said.

Father de Rosa encourages parishioners to go out and witness to their faith. They visit nursing homes and shut-ins. They volunteer at the Guadalupe Free Clinic in Colonial Beach, which provides services for anyone in need of health care in the area. There are 50 members in three Legion of Mary praesidia who commit one to two hours per week to apostolic works. The Knights of Columbus reach out to the community.

“Every one of our efforts, no matter how humble, is caught up in the great mystery of the church and is directed to the salvation of souls and the greater glory of God,” said Father de Rosa.

History of mission

St. Anthony Church, built in 1917, began as a mission of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg. The first pastor was Father Thomas B. Martin. Masses were celebrated on the second Sunday of each month from May to October. The numbers were small, with only five to 15 parishioners in the beginning. Wood stoves were installed a few years later, which allowed Mass to be celebrated all year. The founding family descended from Fielding Lewis and Betty Washington Lewis of Fredericksburg. Betty was George Washington’s sister.

St. Anthony became a mission of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Colonial Beach in 1940.

 

A parish hall was built in 1972. The church was expanded in 1986. Mass was celebrated in the parish hall while construction was completed on the church.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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