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Now the pastor at St. Patrick’s downtown, Father Lewis’s vocation was inspired by ‘Christ in the City’ program there

When Father Patrick Lewis was assigned to St. Patrick Parish in Washington, D.C., in July 2023, he became the 20th pastor to lead the oldest Catholic parish in the federal city, established nearly 230 years ago in 1794.

And he became the first priest named Patrick to serve as pastor of the downtown parish named for St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland who famously brought the Catholic faith to that island.

“I really see it as a grace. I always loved St. Patrick. With him, there is a sense of being sent, and I think he played a part in interceding for me, to give me the opportunity to serve in this wonderful parish,” Father Lewis said.

The priest noted that St. Patrick had been sent by God to Ireland “to bring Christ and the sacraments to people. That’s what I hope to do. I see him as an inspiration to evangelize and bring people the sacraments.”

Father Lewis had a special connection to St. Patrick’s. “When I was a young professional, I would come here for Christ in the City” spiritual and social activities for Catholic young adults. “That was instrumental in my vocation,” he said.

His biography on the parish website notes that when he had his first conversation with the vocations director about possibly entering the seminary, that took place in St. Patrick’s rectory, where he now lives.

Christ in the City was a popular program that the parish is reviving, and now young Catholic professionals are once again being invited to participate in the program’s monthly Holy Hour at St. Patrick Church, with Adoration of the Eucharist followed by a happy hour fellowship nearby. The Christ in the City gatherings there are held every second Tuesday of the month starting at 7 p.m., with the next one planned for Nov. 14.

The priest noted that St. Patrick’s has also started a monthly Women’s Evening of Recollection, and in January, the parish will launch monthly Men’s Mornings of Recollection.

Father Patrick Lewis, the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Washington, prays before the Eucharist while leading a Women’s Evening of Recollection held Nov. 7 at the downtown church. (Photo by Anya Plana-Hutt, courtesy of St. Patrick in the City)

Interviewed at the St. Patrick’s rectory during the Nov. 5-11 National Vocation Awareness Week, Father Lewis reflected on the roots of his own vocation.

A 41-year-old native of Silver Spring, Maryland, he grew up in St. Bernadette Parish there, where the faithful example of his parents and his parish priest then, Father Bernard Martin, inspired him. His father, Steven Lewis, who worked in high-tech sales, and his mother, Patricia Lewis, who was a homemaker and teacher, had two sons and two daughters. The family faithfully attended Sunday Mass together, and the couple encouraged their children to study Catholic teaching on challenging issues.

Patrick Lewis graduated from St. Bernadette School and Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, which was then in Wheaton. While attending the University of Maryland, the future priest said his sense of a vocation was fostered by example of the chaplain at the Catholic Student Center there, Father Bill Byrne, who is now the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts. After graduating from the university with a business degree, Patrick Lewis worked as an account manager for a start-up software company in Tysons Corner, and later at the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2006, he entered the seminary, first studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg and then at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

When Patrick Lewis was a 5-year-old kindergarten student at St. Bernadette School, his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said he wanted to be a priest.

In 2012, that dream came true, when Father Patrick Lewis was ordained as a priest for The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

Before his ordination, he said in an interview that “God has always had this plan in mind for me. Every step of my life – parents, school, parish, work – has been a preparation to serve the Lord and his people as a priest.”

St. John Paul II is one of his role models in the faith, he said, adding that his favorite saints include St. John the Evangelist because “his apostolate was so rooted in his friendship with Jesus and his experience of God’s love. He was close to Our Lady, always relying on her protection and motherly guidance.”

After his ordination 11 years ago, Father Lewis celebrated his first Mass at his home parish, St. Bernadette’s, and he was assigned as a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Parish in Bowie. Then he served in that role at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda before being named in 2019 as the pastor of St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Camp Springs, which he led for four years before being appointed as pastor of St. Patrick Parish. During his years at St. Philip, the parish established a food pantry to serve that area’s poor people, and the parish celebrated the 60th anniversary of its school and established a religious education program for children taught by the Missionaries of Charity.

Father Patrick Lewis, who became the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Washington in July 2023, is shown giving Communion to a woman during a Mass earlier that year at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Camp Springs, Maryland, where he served as pastor from 2019 until being appointed to St. Patrick’s. (Catholic Standard photo/Mihoko Owada)

The examples of his own family and the families he has served have enriched his priesthood, Father Lewis said. His father died in 2016 and his mother died three years later. “The way they modeled faith through suffering, sickness and death has made me a better priest,” he said. 

The priest’s brother Michael Lewis and his wife have four children and their sister Mary and her husband have two children. “As I see them walking the vocation of marriage, and I walk the vocation of priesthood, they’re definitely complementary… My witness to the sacrifices that go into married life and family life make me aware and put into context what ministerial priesthood should be,” he said.

Father Lewis said he is mindful of the special history of his parish, which is also known as St. Patrick in the City.

“Two days ago, I went to Mount Olivet Cemetery (in Washington) and saw the burial sites of some of the pastors. What these men were able to do to build up the Church of Washington and the city of Washington is something I find it very special to be a part of,” he said.

A history of St. Patrick Parish on its website notes that it was established in 1794 “primarily to meet the needs of Irish immigrants at work on the White House and the Capitol building.”

The first American to be ordained a priest in the United States, Father William Matthews, was named pastor there in 1804 and served in that role for 50 years, and over those years, he also served as president of Georgetown University and was a co-founder of the D.C. Public Library. James Hoban, the architect of the White House, was a member of St. Patrick Parish in its early years.

Father Lewis smiled and noted that Teddy Roosevelt once gave a speech from the balcony of St. Patrick’s rectory, and the parish was also visited by several other presidents, including Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft. The parish is known for hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Mass in March, and an annual Blue Mass in May for police officers, firefighters and other first responders and law enforcement personnel.

Pope Francis came to St. Patrick Church during his 2015 papal visit to Washington and spoke to and prayed with Catholic Charities clients, staff members and volunteers there, and then walked to the James Cardinal Hickey Center, the headquarters of that agency next door to the church.

St. Patrick’s new pastor noted that volunteers from his parish help serve food once a month at Catholic Charities’ St. Maria’s Meals program. Father Lewis said that he and his dog Sadie – a rescue dog from Mississippi who may be a “boingle,” a beagle and pointer mix – also stop by to say hello to the people there.

“She’s the best evangelizer. Everyone wants to meet her,” said Father Lewis. In the staff listing on St. Patrick’s website, Sadie is included, and her ministry is labeled as “neighborhood outreach.”

Father Lewis said a typical day will start with morning prayer, exercise, walking with Sadie in the neighborhood, and then checking in with St. Patrick’s office manager, Marie Valcourt. Then he has appointments in the morning, including individual spiritual direction. At 11:30 a.m. on weekdays, priests there hear Confessions in St. Patrick’s Church.

“There’s a steady stream every day. It’s a wonderful opportunity and very humbling to see the faith of the people of God and to experience the peace that people receive after they receive absolution,” he said.

Then St. Patrick’s hosts a 12:10 p.m. Mass on weekdays, where the congregation includes people who work in nearby law firms and businesses and at government agencies in the neighborhood, such as the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The priest’s afternoons are typically filled with more appointments, and his days sometimes include preparing couples for marriage. St. Patrick’s evening activities include hosting RCIA sessions for people seeking to become members of the Catholic Church.

Father Lewis noted that in addition to the workers in the neighborhood who attend Confession and Mass offered there on weekdays, some people drive to St. Patrick’s for Mass on weekends, and the historic church also draws tourists visiting Washington.

“I would say the greatest blessing of my priesthood is an increased awareness of the Father’s love, first and foremost in the celebration of Mass and the peace that comes through that, and an increased confidence that all things when united to Christ can be sources of grace,” he said.

Father Patrick Lewis, the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Washington, gives the homily during an October 2023 Mass at the church. (Photo by Anya Plana-Hutt, courtesy of St. Patrick in the City)

St. Patrick’s pastor said it is a privilege to bring Christ and the sacraments to people at all stages of life, from baptizing babies to anointing people as they are dying. “My goal is to help a person know the mercy and love of God,” said the priest, who added that he has been inspired to witness how people draw on their faith as they face challenges in life.

His priestly mentors over the years have included Bishop Byrne, who he said has “modeled a joyful priesthood and a joyful Christian life. His faith and confidence in all the teachings of the Church was refreshing, and helped me grow more confident in my own faith, as well as have a heart open to priesthood.” When he served as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, then-Father Byrne was also known for sometimes being accompanied by his friendly pet dog as he made his rounds.

Another mentor has been Msgr. Peter Vaghi, a former pastor of St. Patrick’s who then became the pastor of the Church of the Little Flower, where Father Lewis served as a parochial vicar. “His affection for this parish and memories as pastor are helpful,” Father Lewis said.

Msgr. Salvatore Criscuolo, a former pastor at St. Patrick’s who is in residence there, is also a mentor to the parish’s new pastor.

“His witness of longevity in the priesthood and his continued love of the priesthood is an encouragement,” Father Lewis said of St. Patrick’s pastor emeritus, who has been a longtime chaplain to law enforcement personnel and first responders in the nation’s capital. “He has seen so much in his work that it can help put things in perspective,” he added, praising Msgr. Criscuolo’s advice on the nuts and bolts of managing the parish, and his everyday sense of humor.

Also living in St. Patrick’s rectory are Father Mark Ivany, the archdiocese’s director of priest vocations, and Maryknoll Father Richard Bauer, who provides clinical chaplaincy services at the George Washington University Hospital and at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington.

Father Lewis said that once a week he gets together with three other priests for an hour of Eucharistic Adoration, then they share a meal together and talk about their priestly experiences. He said he enjoys hosting other priests and cooking for them.

“One of the greatest joys of priesthood is the priestly fraternity,” he said.

In his free time, he likes visiting nearby museums, and one of his favorite places to go is the National Gallery of Art, where he enjoys the religious artwork. He is a movie buff, and noted that his favorites include classics that he first enjoyed with his family, like Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense films, Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and movies portraying the priesthood, including Bing Crosby in “Going My Way” and “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”

Father Patrick Lewis, who grew up attending St. Bernadette Parish in Silver Spring, was ordained as a priest of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington in 2012. Since July 2023, he has served as the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Washington, D.C., which was founded in 1794 and is the oldest Catholic parish in the federal city. (Photo by Anya Plana-Hutt, courtesy of St. Patrick in the City)

Asked about his advice for how people can find God’s plan for their lives, Father Lewis said,” The first thing to do is to try to grow in your prayer life.” He added that can include setting aside a block of time each day to pray, doing spiritual reading, and seeking a spiritual director.

St. Patrick’s pastor said one of his favorite quotes is by St. Teresa of Avila, who said, “Prayer is a conversation between friends.”

Father Lewis recommended that people have that prayerful relationship with God, “and be a disciple of Jesus. From there, he calls some of his disciples to follow him into the priesthood, or into religious life.”

(The website of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has more information on the vocations of priesthood, religious life and the diaconate at .)