Nestled near the intersection often blocked by a network of Alexandria’s three major thoroughfares – King Street, Quaker Lane and Braddock Road – Blessed Sacrament Church is a peaceful respite for spiritual renewal and fortification for countless Catholics. As they reflect on its creation 75 years ago, longtime parishioners say don’t be fooled by its peaceful interior: parish life here is filled with a bustling array of vibrant ministries and ways of doing things. involve.
This heritage dates back to its earliest days, said Mgr. John C. Cregan, who was a pastor for 19 years. He returned to give the homily at a Mass on December 19 celebrated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge to mark the parish’s jubilee year on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
âYou are the living Blessed Sacrament. You are good and faithful people who come every day, who come every week, who support us, (and) pray together to receive the holy sacraments. So we thank you for all you do to make our parish the wonderful place it is. Father John D. Kelly, Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church
When the first church was built, its basement was converted into a homeless shelter, accommodating up to 60 people on cold winter nights, and ultimately paved the way for the establishment of the Carpenter’s Shelter in Alexandria.
âIt has become an integral part of this parish: reaching out in so many ways to help others in need. Be aware of what is happening and get involved in social justice issues, âsaid Mgr. CrÃ©gan. âAt the heart of this ward from the beginning was a desire to share the blessings they had received with many other people. “
For 10 years during its early days, the Blessed Sacrament adopted a parish in West Virginia. Once this ward became self-sufficient, church leaders entered into a new partnership with a parish in Honduras. As the parishioners returned from visiting their friends in Central America, Mgr. Cregan said many wonder who has benefited the most from the exchange. “So many lives have been touched and we have been enriched by this relationship.”
âIt has always been an extremely active parish,â said Ginger Harrington, who joined the ward as a young child when her parents helped found it in 1946.
The Blessed Sacrament’s zeal for awareness and commitment, she said, was fueled in part by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, the school’s original faculty members. Sister M. Laurentia Boyle created a social group which attracted people as well as a visiting committee which looked after those confined to the house.
âThat same spirit has always existed,â said Harrington. “I hope it never goes away.”
Longtime parishioner Pat McArtor agreed that the Blessed Sacrament is very active in the community. For 60 years, she volunteered to work at the polling station where the church hosted every election. Thinking of the 75th birthday, she recalled her sister’s wedding and other family milestones. “I can still see my parents at midnight mass.”
Father John D. Kelly, pastor since 2015, said the jubilee was âa great blessing to our parish,â which has grown and prospered. He noted that parishioners support many ministries and a wide range of charities, including efforts to address food insecurity, such as Catholic Charities’ St. Lucy Food Project, ALIVE! and the Mother Light Center. The school of the Blessed Sacrament has obtained national recognition. During Sunday Mass, he thanked Bishop Burbidge, Bishop. Cregan and the parishioners.
âYou are the living Blessed Sacrament. You are good and faithful people who come every day, who come every week, who support us, (and) pray together to receive the holy sacraments. So, we thank you for all you do to make our parish the wonderful place it is.
Parishioners say the feeling is mutual. Father Kelly “is very accessible, like the Bishop,” said Kevin Harr, a member of the Knights of Columbus.
The history of the parish began during World War II, which drew many people to the Washington area, either as part of military service or as part of the federal civilian workforce. The federal government subsidized the construction of the North and South Fairlington and Park Fairfax housing projects. Of the thousands of families who moved here, hundreds were Catholic. This prompted the Bishop of Richmond Peter L. Ireton to take action which culminated in the installation on January 20, 1946, of Fr. Martin T. Quinn as the first pastor of the Blessed Sacrament.
For a time, the parish gathered for mass at the since demolished Center Theater on Quaker Lane. While they came to worship, they sometimes lingered for entertainment and air conditioning, especially during the summer months.
âWe were going to midday mass,â Harrington said. “After that, they would demonstrate the altar and we would stay for a movie, maybe even a double feature.”
âWhat a beautiful name for a parishâ, Mgr. Cregan said in his homily. He recalled cases he witnessed of the Blessed Sacrament supporting people suffering from serious illnesses, inspiring young people in their faith and bringing less practicing Catholics to rediscover theirs. âTo see the hope in the eyes of the people, when you bring them the Eucharist,â he noted.
He shared the words of Saint John Paul II at the conclusion of World Youth Day in 2000, in which millions of people participated, including the Blessed Sacrament Youth Group: Love the Eucharist. Cherish the Eucharist. Center your life on the Eucharist.
“And so here, we discover more and more clearly that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches”, declared Mgr. Cregan said. âWithout him, we can’t do anything. But with him, great things will continue to happen for this parish, for our church and for our country. “
Schweers can be contacted at Ã©[email protected]