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Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish’s 75th anniversary prayer breakfast honors seniors 75 and older

People attending the 75th anniversary prayer breakfast on June 10 at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Washington pose for a photo. The event honored parishioners who are 75 years old or older. (Catholic Standard photo by Patrick Ryan)

When you’ve lived on this Earth for 75 years or more, you've seen a lot of things change. And, perhaps even more remarkable, you recognize what has stayed constant over three-quarters of a century.

For some of the most senior members of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Southeast Washington, D.C., they’ve seen their share of change. Prior to the parish's 75th anniversary prayer breakfast on June 10 where parishioners 75 years old and older were honored, they spoke about what they’ve seen over the course of their long lives.

Doris Sullivan (at left) and Ruth Thomas (at right), who are both 92, share a laugh at the 75th anniversary prayer breakfast on June 10 at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Washington, where seniors 75 years old and older were honored. (Catholic Standard photo by Patrick Ryan)

Deacon Joe Curtis, 84, has been at the parish nearly 60 years. He remembered being at the church in the mid-1960s, when Mass was celebrated in English there for the first time instead of in Latin during the years when the Second Vatican Council was underway in Rome.

Another change at the parish was when it went from “predominantly white to Black,” Deacon Curtis said.

The coronavirus pandemic wrought its own change, as “quite a few” parishioners died from COVID-19, Deacon Turner said.

Noting how longtime Our Lady Queen of Peace members have generously supported the parish over the years, he said, “I’m on the (parish’s) finance council, and we find the seniors give quite a bit.”

Father John Mudd, for whom Queen of Peace was his first assignment in 1969 after priestly ordination, told the 110 or so gathered at the 75th anniversary breakfast that he remembers his Nativity Grade School football team playing Queen of Peace in 1957. “It was all white” then, said Father Mudd, but by the time of his arrival, the racial change had already set in.

Still, “the pews were packed every Sunday,” recalled Father Mudd, who turns 80 in July, and he gave effusive thanks to parish members who taught him that “love, wisdom and compassion” were three essential elements to being an effective priest.

“I was awakened to compassion,” he added. “I was being ‘woked.’”

Father John Mudd, a veteran priest of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, speaks at a 75th anniversary prayer breakfast on June 10 at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Washington, where he was assigned after his 1969 ordination. (Catholic Standard photo by Patrick Ryan)

Joseph Ashton, a 75-year parishioner at Queen of Peace, can remember going to old Griffith Stadium -- now the site of Howard University Hospital -- to watch the original Washington Senators play baseball.

Ashton also followed the expansion Senators after the original franchise packed its bags and moved to Minnesota, where they became the Twins. One of the regulars of those mid-‘60s Senators teams was outfielder Fred Valentine, a Black Catholic who died shortly after Christmas last year.

Now, Ashton follows the Washington Nationals, who beat the Houston Astros – “and in the nick of time,” he noted – in a comeback World Series championship in 2019. Ten years ago, the Nationals opened their Youth Baseball Academy virtually across the street from Our Lady Queen of Peace. Ashton sees it as a positive development.

“It’s a plus,” he said. “The neighborhood needed something of that magnitude.” As part of its ongoing diamond jubilee celebrations, Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish is having a family reunion celebration on June 17 at the Nats’ Youth Baseball Academy. 

Jeanette Brown, a 50-year member, has fond memories of the parish grade school. “We went to school here,” she said. “It was a good school. It was a very good school.”

Brown was one of several parishioners who lauded the presence and stewardship of the Cornerstone School, a religious academy that now rents the onetime Our Lady Queen of Peace School building. The revenue from the lease helps fund parish initiatives, and the school has been a good neighbor during its five years next door.

Ellen Key, 78, has been an Our Lady Queen of Peace parishioner for 20 years. She accompanied her mother to Mass at her mother's parish, and after her mother died, she registered at Queen of Peace. 

Several women attending the 75th anniversary prayer breakfast on June 10 at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish wore stylish hats, including Evelyn Brown, above, who celebrated her 81st birthday that day, and Barbara McClennon, below, who is 85. The 75th anniversary event honored seniors who are 75 years old or older. (Catholic Standard photos by Patrick Ryan)

Juanita Wilkinson, a parishioner since 1966, said she received her introduction to the parish thanks to a priest from Louisiana who was living in the same apartment complex as her. He invited her to Mass at the church. She liked it. And even though that priest is no longer at Our Lady Queen of Peace, the friendliness and fellowship Key encountered that first time still remains.

Wilkinson said she liked the parish grade school, too, but she noted that the Daughters of Charity who ran it were sticklers for punctuality. By the time she had school-age children, Wilkinson said, she was living in Silver Spring, quite a haul by car. “We were at least two minutes late every day,” she recalled, “and they would be penalized” for tardiness.

She can remember her two daughters beseeching her, “We can't be late! We can't be late!” And on some days when being on time seemed like an impossible task – Wilkinson raised 20 foster children, and usually eight at a time – she would announce, “Well, today you’re going to be absent.” 

Brenda Walker, who is 80, moved from Philadelphia to Washington as a teenager, and a D.C.-based aunt welcomed the former resident of “the City of Brotherly Love” into her home. Walker worked in the banking business and, like virtually all of her confreres at the breakfast, is now retired. “I’m very comfortable here,” she said of Our Lady Queen of Peace.

Mary Johnson, who is 73, went to CCD classes at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church as a youth, and has remained a parishioner there over the years. “My mom was involved in the Sodality. I try to get involved myself,” Johnson said.

Deacon Curtis echoed Johnson’s thoughts. “I was not here for most of my (diaconal) ministry,” he said, “but home is here.”

(Mark Pattison, a freelance writer, formerly was a longtime reporter for the Catholic News Service.)