Mission & History
Large numbers of people from widely diverse ethnic and national origins make their homes within our parish. The differences are not to be feared or rejected, but welcomed, respected, and utilized for the greater glory of God and for the promotion of justice and peace within our religious and civic communities.
This vast cultural, economic, educational, and social diversity is a profound expression of the many gifts of our Creator and becomes a great source of strength for expanding the Lord’s dominion in our lives.
As Christians, we share the mandate to worship God, to celebrate the liturgy, to teach Christ’s gospel message, to be in service to one another, and to build up the Community of Faith.
The mission was served originally by priests from St Mary’s in Alexandria. In the 1930’s, responsibilities were transferred to St Mary’s at Fairfax Station and, after World War II, to Blessed Sacrament in Fairlington.
The large influx of new Catholic families in the late 1940’s made the need for a new parish readily apparent. In 1950, the Diocese of Richmond bought the nine-acre property on which the church and the school now stand. Bishop Peter L. Ireton invited the Society of the Precious Blood to staff the parish, and in 1952, the Reverend Isidore A. McCarthy, C.PP.S., was appointed pastor.
By then, the little mission church could no longer hold the congregation, so the new parish rented a store in Culmore Shopping Center. Parishioners did the necessary renovations and painting to convert the space into a chapel, and the first Mass was offered there on Easter Sunday of 1952.
Construction of the school building began in February 1953. In January 1954, St Anthony’s School was completed. For many years, the school was administered and staffed by the Sisters of the Precious Blood. Its first principal was Sister M. Adria, C.PP.S., who laid a strong foundation for the school and its future growth.
The parish began holding Mass in what is now “Tony’s Place”. But by 1959, more than 5,000 persons were attending Sunday Mass, and the school enrollment had grown to 1,070. Additional construction was necessary to enlarge the temporary church and the cafeteria, where Sunday Masses were offered, and to add eight more classrooms and several meeting rooms.
In May 1962, the Rev Richard Baird, C.PP.S, succeeded Father McCarthy as pastor. Father Baird bought more property, to provide more space for parking and for recreation facilities for the school children, and began to plan for a permanent church, rectory, convent, and administration building.
An architect was hired in 1966, a successful Parish Development Fund drive was held in the fall of 1967, and finally, on March 21, 1970, Bishop John Russell dedicated the new church, the beautiful structure in which we now worship.
Priests of the Society of the Precious Blood served until 1989,when the parish was turned over to the Diocese or Arlington. At that time, Monsignor Thomas J Cassidy was appointed pastor. In July 1994, Monsignor Cassidy left St Anthony’s to serve the diocesan mission in the Dominican Republic, and Father Horace H. Grinnell succeeded him as pastor.
In recent years, the parish has reflected the increasingly diverse nature of the population of Northern Virginia. To respond to the needs of our Hispanic parishioners, St Anthony now offers Mass in Spanish daily, as well as two Sunday Masses and a Saturday Vigil in Spanish.
The little church built in 1921 (opposite Skyline) became our first home, originally as a mission of several diocesan parishes.
The Diocese of Richmond purchased the present land on which the church and school now stand. The Precious Blood Fathers were invited to serve the parish that was growing too large for the little mission church.
The first pastor, Father McCarthy saw to renting and renovating space in the Culmore shopping center with the help of parishioners so that the first Mass was celebrated there on Easter Sunday of 1952.
The Sisters of the Precious Blood came to administer and staff the school. At that time, classes were held in available neighborhood space.
Construction on the school began in February 1953 and was completed in January 1954. Mass was celebrated in the school and the congregation continued to grow. Enlargements of the building to accommodate the church and school populations were needed.
Father Baird, who succeeded Father McCarthy, began the planning for needed expansion, by the purchase of additional land for parking, recreation, and a permanent church building, rectory, convent, and administrative offices.
In 1966 an architect was hired and the Parish Development Fund Drive was held in the fall of 1967. Richmond Bishop John Russell dedicated our beautiful church on March 21, 1970.
Priests of the Society of the Precious Blood served the parish until 1989, when the care was turned over to the Diocese of Arlington. Msgr. Thomas Cassidy became our new pastor and served until July 1994 when he went to serve the diocesan mission in the Dominican Republic.
Father Horace H. Grinnell succeeded him as pastor. In recent years the parish has reflected the increasingly diverse nature of Northern Virginia and is a strong center of worship, education, and social needs concern over a wide area and range. Another Fund known as “Project 2000” was begun because of our continuing growth and need for facilities.
St. Anthony of Padua parish was listed among the “300 Excellent Parishes in the U.S.”
Work was completed on the renovation and expansion of the school and parking. In response to the needs of our Hispanic parishioners, we now offer two Masses in Spanish on Sundays and one on Thursday evening. Occasionally, Masses are also offered in other languages.
On September 11, 2005, we dedicated our Peace Garden with the full participation of the religious community. Members from many neighboring schools and churches (and the mosque) participated both in constructing the peace poles and dedicating the Peace Garden. It is open to all as a place of prayer.
*NOTE: On February 13, 2019, the Diocese of Arlington published a list of priests credibly accused of the sexual abuse of a minor. Rev. Richard Baird appears on this list. To view the complete list, please visit: https://www.arlingtondiocese.org/clergyabuselist/
The following appeared in The Herald of the Immaculate.
St. Anthony was born in the year 1195 A.D. at Lisbon (Portugal) where his father was a captain in the royal army. Already at the age of fifteen years, he had entered the Congregation of Canons Regular of St. Augustine and devoted himself with great earnestness both to study and to the practice of piety in the Monastery at Coimbra (Portugal).
About that time some of the first members of the Order of Friars Minor, which St. Francis has founded in 1206 A.D. cameto Coimbra. They begged from the Canons Regular a small and very poor place, from which by their evangelical poverty and simplicity they edified everyone in the region. Then in 1219 A.D. some of these friars, moved by divine inspiration, went as missionaries to preach the Gospel of Christ to the inhabitants of Morocco. There they were brutally martyred for the Faith. Some Christian merchants succeeded in recovering their remains; and so brought their relics in triumph back to Coimbra.
The relics of St. Berard and companions, the first martyrs of the Franciscan Order, seized St. Anthony with an intense desire to suffer martyrdom in a like manner. So moved by their heroic example he repeatedly begged and petitioned his superiors to be given leave to join the Franciscan Order. In the quiet little Franciscan convent at Coimbra he received a friendly reception, and in the same year, his earnest wish to be sent to the missions in Africa was fulfilled.
But God had decreed otherwise. And so, St. Anthony scarcely set foot on African soil when he was seized with a grievous illness. Even after recovering from it, he was so weak that, resigning himself to the will of God, he boarded a boat back to Portugal. Unexpectedly a storm came upon them and drove the ship to the east where it found refuge on the coast of Sicily. St. Anthony was greeted and given shelter by the Franciscans of that island, and thus came to be sent to Assisi, where the general chapter of the Order was held in May 1221 A.D.
Since he still looked weak and sickly and gave no evidence of his scholarship, no one paid any attention to the stranger until Father Gratian, the Provincial of friars living in the region of Romagna (Italy), had compassion on him and sent him to the quiet little convent near Forli (also in Italy). There St. Anthony remained nine months as chaplain to the hermits, occupied in the lowliest duties of the kitchen and convent, and to his heart’s content, he practiced interior as well as exterior mortification.
But the hidden jewel was soon to appear in all its brilliance. For the occasion of a ceremony of ordination, some of the hermits along with St. Anthony were sent to the town of Forli. Before the ceremony was to begin, however, it was announced that the priest who was to give the sermon had fallen sick. The local superior, to avert the embarrassment of the moment, quickly asked the friars in attendance to volunteer. Each excused himself, saying that he was not prepared until finally, St. Anthony was asked to give it. When he too, excused himself in a most humble manner, his superior ordered him by virtue of the vow of obedience to give the sermon. St. Anthony began to speak in a very reserved manner; but soon holy animation seized him, and he spoke with such eloquence, learning and unction that everybody was fairly amazed.
When St. Francis was informed of the event, he gave St. Anthony the mission to preach throughout Italy. At the request of the brethren, St. Anthony was later commissioned also to teach theology, “but in such a manner,” St. Francis distinctly wrote, “that the spirit of prayer be not extinguished either in yourself or in the other brethren. ” St. Anthony himself placed greater value in the salvation of souls than on learning. For that reason he never ceased to exercise his office as preacher despite his work of teaching.
The number of those who came to hear him was sometimes so great that no church was large enough to accommodate and so he had to preach in the open air. Frequently St. Anthony wrought veritable miracles of conversion. Deadly enemies were reconciled. Thieves and usurers made restitution. Calumniators and detractors recanted and apologized. He was so energetic in defending the truths of the Catholic Faith that many heretics returned to the Church. This occasioned the epitaph given him by Pope Gregory IX “the ark of the covenant.”
In all his labors he never forgot the admonition of his spiritual father, St. Francis, that the spirit of prayer must not be extinguished. If he spent the day in teaching and heard the confession of sinners till late in the evening, then many hours of the night were spent in intimate union with God.
Once a man, at whose home St. Anthony was spending the night, came upon the saint and found him holding in his arms the Child Jesus, unspeakably beautiful and surrounded with heavenly light. For this reason St. Anthony is often depicted holding the Child Jesus.
In 1227 A.D., St. Anthony was elected Minister Provincial of the friars living in northern Italy. Thus he resumed the work of preaching. Due to his taxing labors and his austere penance, he soon felt his strength so spent that he prepared himself for death. After receiving the last sacraments he kept looking upward with a smile on his countenance. When he was asked what he saw there, he answered: “I see my Lord.” He breathed forth his soul on June 13, 1231 A.D., being only thirty six years old. Soon the children in the streets of the city of Padua were crying: “The saint is dead, Anthony is dead.”
Pope Gregory IX enrolled him among the saints in the very next year. At Padua, a magnificent basilica was built in his honor, his holy relics were entombed there in 1263 A.D. From the time of his death up to the present day, countless miracles have occurred through St. Anthony’s intercession, so that he is known as the Wonder-Worker. He is also sometimes known as the Patron of the oppressed, Finder of lost objects, Patron of American Indians, Patron of the mail and he fought corruption in government, In 1946 A.D. St. Anthony was declared a Doctor of the Church.