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St. Aloysius Parish celebrates150th anniversary in nation's capital
Wednesday, October 21, 2009 1:37 AM
Archbishop Donald Wuerl celebrates a 150th anniversary Mass on Oct. 18 at St. Aloysius Parish in Washington, joined by Jesuit Father Thomas Clifford, the pastor, and by other Jesuits serving the parish and the adjoining Gonzaga College High School.
St. Aloysius Parish marks 150 years of faith and service
By Laura Wright
St. Aloysius Parish in Washington was founded in 1859, at a time when the United States moved toward Civil War, said Jesuit Father Thomas Clifford, the pastor.
"While the dignitaries busied themselves with the festivities (of opening the new parish) in D.C., John Brown completed final preparations for his raid on Harper's Ferry. At 10 a.m. the president (James Buchanan) observed spectacular Catholic rituals (at the new St. Aloysius Church). Twelve hours later, Brown positioned his men to seize the arsenal, setting the stage for one of the most divisive and decisive elections in U.S. history," Father Clifford wrote in a history of the parish.
Soon afterward, the Army built several hospitals for wounded soldiers near the church. The Army also informed the parish that they would need to use the church as a temporary hospital. But Church officials asked if they could build a separate hospital just outside the parish instead, and the Army agreed.
During the century and a half since it began, the parish has hosted some of the nation's presidents - including James Buchanan and William Howard Taft. The parish has also hosted Blessed Mother Teresa, and many other dignitaries.
The church's architecture is "clearly American with a Jesuit influence," Father Clifford said. The church's marble work dates from the 1930s.
Below the Church is the McKenna Center - a drop in center for the homeless. The outreach began as a tribute to Father Horace McKenna, a pastor of the parish beginning in the 1950's. Parishioners decided to honor the late priest with the homeless outreach because Father McKenna dedicated his life to serving the less fortunate.
The same spirit of service lives on in parishioners today, the pastor noted.
"There is a sense of community and a shared social justice vision," he said. "We also have a sick and homebound ministry."
Father Clifford said the 150 year mark is "a potential turning point ... I hope that as the neighborhood rebuilds ... we can draw in many of the new residents and show them a lively and meaningful Catholic experience."
Hanging above the altar at St. Aloysius Parish in Northwest Washington is a painting of St. Aloysius Gonzaga receiving his First Holy Communion from St. Charles Borromeo, painted by artist Constantino Brumidi, who is famous for painting the frescoes in the Capitol rotunda. On Oct. 18, Jesuits and members of the St. Aloysius community came together to celebrate that legacy of faith that has endured for a century and a half at the third oldest Catholic church in the nation's capital. Archbishop Donald Wuerl celebrated the 150th anniversary Mass.
Operated by the Jesuits, St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish has a long history that reflects the history of Washington, D.C. Jesuit Father Thomas Clifford, pastor of St. Aloysius Parish, said the parish has "survived and changed with the city..." He said the parish serves the surrounding Washington, D.C., business community, the poor, students from the adjoining Gonzaga College High School, and people from elsewhere.
During his homily, Archbishop Wuerl said St. Aloysius Parish reflects the larger context of the Church in the District and Maryland. A Jesuit priest, Father Andrew White, landed with settlers on the Ark and Dove in 1634 in Southern Maryland and celebrated the first Mass in the English-speaking colonies, thus beginning the "Catholic presence" in the United States, the archbishop said.
"For 150 years, St. Aloysius Parish [has] carried on that great tradition," the archbishop said. He added, "We're grateful to the Society of Jesus who brought the faith [here, and] sustained the faith." Archbishop Wuerl said since its beginning in 1859, the purpose of St. Aloysius Parish has been to proclaim the Gospel.
St. Aloysius Parish is known for its outreach to those in need, the archbishop said. Below the church is the McKenna Center, a drop-in center for the homeless named for Jesuit Father Horace McKenna, a former priest at the parish who worked for racial justice in Southern Maryland and later dedicated his life to serving poor people in Washington, D.C.
Among those attending the anniversary Mass was Dylan Cunningham, a junior at Gonzaga, who is also a parishioner at St. Aloysius. Gonzaga traditionally holds its graduation ceremonies at the historic church, and students serve the poor in the neighborhood, as Father McKenna once did.
Mimi McKindley-Ward, a parishioner of St. Aloysius for about 20 years, said, "St. Al's has a place for everybody." She added that St. Aloysius is a community that believes in social justice. McKindley-Ward said the St. Aloysius community has a "deep prayerfulness...that spills out to people...[who serve the] poor and needy in our community."
On the parish's 150th anniversary, the St. Aloysius parishioner said she is reminded of the fidelity of the Jesuits and the fidelity of generations of people who "kept [the] parish alive" through various challenges over the years.
Sylvester Judd, who has been a parishioner at St. Aloysius for about 50 years, served as a pallbearer at the late Father McKenna's funeral. Judd said Father McKenna would take off his shirt and coat and give it to the poor. He was a "good Samaritan," Judd said.
St. Aloysius Parish is located right off North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., near Union Station and within view of the U.S. Capitol. For the parish's dedication 150 years ago, thousands of people from every part of the District and the surrounding area attended the festivities.
Congratulations St. Aloysius !
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10/25/2009 2:28:00 PM
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