How's Catholic life in VA?


A reader in Massachusetts sent a note the other day looking for some advice. She's thinking of moving to Virginia, together with her husband and their several little kids, and she'd like to know if she can find strong and sound church life there. Can our Virginia readers and writers recommend places to live or schools to attend (Catholic or public)? How the Commonwealth is doing in regard to Catholic issues? (Probably better than Massachusetts.)



The Vienna/Oakton area has St. Mark's. We have a K-8 school, a good liturigcal life, many devotional programs and lots of small children. We have a few fruits and nuts, but there's enough faithful Catholics to go around that people who want to be faithful do fine.

I live in North Carolina, but my sister lives in the Richmond Diocese, my son attended college there, and I know a lot of Richmond Diocese alums.

The Richmond Diocese covers all of the southern half of the state, including Richmond, Charlottesville, the Virginia Beach/Chesapeake area, and Roanoke/Blacksburg.

I understand that Richmond has a good bishop now, but unfortunately it had 20-some years under a very poor one, so the new bishop has just begun the large task of cleaning things up. As an orthodox Catholic, I would be concerned about moving to that area for a few more years. The Masses I have attended when visiting up there have been atrocious, and the Catholics I know from there are very poorly catechized.

So, if you're moving to the Arlington Diocese, you should be in great shape, but beware of Richmond! (At least until the new bishop has a chance to whip it back into shape.)

St Catherine of Sienna in Falls Church has a good reputation. Never been there for Mass myself, but two of my kids attended the Catechism of the Good Shepard there, which I can highly recommend.

I don't pretend to know what's going on in every parish, but I reported for the Arlington diocesan paper a few years ago, and traveled to many of the parishes. Most of the parishes are good, some are mediocre, and the few that have had problems in the past (Good Shepherd and Blessed Sacrament, I'm looking in your direction) are getting cleaned up. For instance, at Blessed Sacrament, the pastor is a retired Marine and Vietnam combat veteran. That's right: the parish was so messed up they had to send in the Marines. But it's a lot better now.

I know a lot less about the schools, though I've never heard any of them are bad. The two primary schools on our side of the county (St. Louis and St. Mary) are both excellent.

It is not my parish, but St. Andrew's in Clifton is home to the almost-legendary Arlington priest Fr. Jerome Fasano. He has a weekly Wednesday night Mass in Latin (Novus Ordo, but he wears fiddleback, maniple, has back towards the people - it's hard to tell the difference!). The choir at the Sunday High Mass always sings Gregorian chant. He also has a K-8 Catholic school at his parish!

Live in/near Woodbrige go to Aquinas School-- NAshville Dominicans!! WOO HOO!!!

Parish is OLA Our Lady of the Angels..

The school is OUTSTANDING!!!!

Also Seton in Manassas.. DR Clark is also fabulous and exceptional staff!!!

My daughter is at Christendom College in Front Royal which is also the home of Seton Home School. St. John's is the parish. I felt an amazing sense of authentic Catholic life there and imagine there would be tremendous resource and joy for your family.

My daughter is at Christendom College in Front Royal which is also the home of Seton Home School. St. John's is the parish. I felt an amazing sense of authentic Catholic life there and imagine there would be tremendous resource and joy for your family.

I don't know what I could add to this, but I'll try anyway. I'll avoid naming names and stick to the big picture.

As dioceses go, Arlington is better off than most. There isn't a vocations shortage to speak of, although they do manage to keep the priests busy enough anyway. Morale among them is good, and one gets the impression that they are well-treated by those in charge of them, and loved by those whom they serve.

In most parishes, you can be assured of a reverent liturgy (although a few of them are a bit stodgy about it), and certainty in the Catholicity of preaching. There are a few exceptions; little pockets of iconoclasm, mostly run by priests just passing middle-age, who never got over the 60s. There are plenty of younger priests coming up the ranks though, and the 60s will come to an end soon enough.

Some priests are almost too good at what they do, and a parish ends up becoming a "personality cult." You can always tell; they're the ones who take people with them (either by accident or by design) when they transfer. You find a few (JUST a few) who take themselves a little too seriously. Part of that is youth and inexperience; the other part is just the lack of, shall we say, "fraternal correction," by someone unafraid of a Roman collar.

If a parish is run by a religious order, there's a greater risk of foolishness. That's not a hard and fast rule, just the odds.

Most of the parish schools are quite good, and recent years are seeing a wave of new ones being built, even high schools. There are also a number of independent Catholic schools being organized by groups of parents. And homeschooling gets quite a bit of support at the parish level.

Arlington is also one of two dioceses in the USA (the other being Lincoln, Nebraska) that limits the role of acolyte to boys and men. That's right, no "altar girls."

In the thirty year history of the diocese, no parishes have ever been closed, except for two in the mission territory which merged into one. Nary a year goes by where there isn't a new parish erected in the growing outer suburbs. And the newest church buildings haven't looked like barns lately.

That's all I've got for now. Look me up when you get here; I'm in the book.

We just moved here last month (Fairfax, VA, husband works in Arlington) from the north of Boston area. That area was faithful-- this area is incredible for its Catholicity. We are VERY blessed, and here's one way we know it: there are huge lines for confession, and other parishoners (who don't know us) volunteer to keep track of our children while we're in the Confessional. They are faithful to the Magisterium here, and not shy about it. Try it, you'll love it! I highly recommend our parish, St. Leo the Great (the local high school is St. Paul VI-- so you KNOW it's probably faithful with a name like that!). Fairfax City is a small town within a metro area-- friendly, low crime, good parks, decent schools-- and within easy and cheap metro to almost anywhere. We love it.

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On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

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This page contains a single entry by Richard Chonak published on November 19, 2004 1:22 AM.

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