Vatican Names First Basilica in Northern Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 14, 2018

 

ARLINGTON, Va.  –The Vatican issued a decree granting St. Mary Catholic Church in Alexandria, the title ‘minor basilica,’ making it the first basilica in Northern Virginia, the first in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and the 84th in the United States.

The 223-year-old Roman Catholic Church will officially be named “The Basilica of Saint Mary.”

The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Arlington, and Fr. Edward C. Hathaway, Pastor of St. Mary Church, made the announcement during 8:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, January 14, 2018, at St. Mary Catholic Church, 310 S Royal Street, Alexandria.

Following the Mass, they were both available for interviews with the media.

History of St. Mary Catholic Church

Founded in 1795, the Church of St. Mary is the first Catholic parish in the Commonwealth of Virginia and State of West Virginia, which were one state until 1863. George Washington made the first financial contribution to the parish in the late 1700s, equivalent to $1,200 today. A chapel was built at the south end of Alexandra in 1795. In 1810, the parish moved to its present location in the heart of the city on South Royal Street.

More information about the basilica will be posted online at stmaryoldtown.org, catholicherald.com, Twitter and Facebook.

Follow @arlingtonchurch, @stmaryoldtown and #StMaryBasilica online to join the digital conversation.

 

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About
The Diocese of Arlington is home to an estimated population of more than 600,000 Catholics living in 21 counties and seven cities in central and northern Virginia. Parishioners live out their faith at 70 parishes and six missions, and more than 17,500 students attend 45 Catholic pre-schools, elementary and high schools.

Contact
Angela Pellerano, Director of Media Relations (703)841-2517 (o) (571)-215-8731 (c) a.pellerano@arlingtondiocese.org.

History of St. Mary Catholic Church

Founded in 1795, the Church of St. Mary, located in Alexandria, Virginia, is the first Catholic parish in the Commonwealth of Virginia and West Virginia, which were one state territory up until 1863. President George Washington made the first contribution for the creation of a Catholic parish in Virginia in the late 1700s, equivalent to approximately $1,200 today. A donation was made for a portion of land at the sound end of the city on Church and South Washington Streets. It was here that the first brick structure known as the Church of Saint Mary was built under the guidance of the Very Reverend Francis Ignatius Neale, S.J. in 1795. The land later became, and still remains today, the Church of Saint Mary’s cemetery, the first Catholic cemetery in Virginia.

In 1810, the parish moved to its present location in the heart of the city at 310 South Royal Street. By 1826, Pastor Fr. Joseph Fairclough erected the Sanctuary and the major portion of the present-day church, which was formally dedicated in 1827. Throughout the 1800s, the Church of St. Mary played a crucial role in the growth of Catholicism in Virginia. Many mission churches that the Church of St. Mary established have gone on to become independent parishes within the Diocese of Arlington.

Today, the Church of St. Mary continues to be a vibrant and lively parish community with 54 apostolate groups, 400 parishioners regularly volunteering throughout the community, 18 lay staff members and 3 full-time priests. In 2020, the Church of St. Mary will celebrate 225 years of parish life. St. Mary’s School (K-8) had a record enrollment of 712 students for this academic year (2017-2018), and will also celebrate a historic 150th anniversary in 2019.

Quick Facts

  • First financial donation made by President George Washington
  • Parish founded in 1795 by the Very Reverend Francis Ignatius Neale, S.J.
  • Current church formally dedicated in 1827
  • Significant exterior renovations were completed in 1856, including the new bell and belfry tower and significant interior renovations of the sanctuary were completed in 2010
  • 1891 – The Diocese of Richmond assumed jurisdiction over the Church of St. Mary
  • 1974 – The Diocese of Arlington assumed jurisdiction over the Church of St. Mary
  • 7,755 registered parishioners (as of September 2017)
  • 2,886 families (as of September 2017)
  • 273 new parishioners from July 2016 – June 2017

What is a Basilica?

The word Basilica comes from a Greek term meaning “Royal House,” which was a public building in which royal business was transacted. The term was adopted by the Romans, and after Christianity became the principal religion of the Roman Empire, the word was applied to large and important churches. Today, it can refer to a particular architectural style, but in the case of the Basilica of St. Mary it denotes a church that has been given special designation by the Pope. The reasons for bestowing this designation include architectural beauty, historical significance, liturgical renown, or any combination of these attributes. A Basilica shares a special relationship with the Vatican and with the Holy Father. Due to this unique relationship between the Holy Father and the designated church, a Basilica celebrates certain liturgical days with particular care.

There are two types of Basilicas – Major and Minor. There are four Major Basilicas in the world (St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major), and several thousand Minor Basilicas in various countries and nations.

Three physical signs to indicate that a church is a Minor Basilica.

  1. The Ombrellino (umbrella)
  2. The Tintinnabulum (bells)
  3. The Papal Cross Keys

Quick Facts About Basilicas

  • The four Major Basilicas are in Rome – St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major
  • There are over a thousand Minor (or lesser) Basilicas throughout the world
  • Each Minor Basilica has a special connection to one of the four Major Basilicas in Rome. In the case of the Church of St. Mary, is St. Mary Major
  • There are currently 84 Minor Basilicas in the United States
  • Three physical signs: Ombrellino (small umbrella), Tintinnabulum (bell to alert Pope’s arrival) and display of the Papal Symbol (crossed keys) on banners, church furnishings, and the parish seal
  • A Basilica differs from a Cathedral, which is the central church containing the seat of the local Bishop. In the case of the Diocese of Arlington, this is the Cathedral of St. Thomas More
  • Once a church is named a Basilica, it becomes a special place of pilgrimage for Christians throughout the world

Requirements to be named a Basilica

  • Active pastoral liturgy through the celebration of the Sacraments (Eucharist/Mass and Penance/Confession)
  • An appropriate size with a sufficiently large sanctuary
  • Historical and local significance within the Diocese
  • A fitting number of priests assigned to celebrate the Sacraments
  • A sufficient number of ministers and an adequate Schola for sacred music

The Three Symbols of a Basilica

Three physical signs to indicate that a church is a Minor Basilica.

  1. The Ombrellino (umbrella)
  2. The Tintinnabulum (bells)
  3. The Papal Cross Keys

The Ombrellino (“little umbrella”) is a distinctive symbol used in basilicas throughout the world. Designed with stripes of yellow and red (traditional papal colors), the silk canopy is a symbol of the Pope’s authority. During the Middle Ages, the Ombrellino would be carried above the Holy Father during processions. Once placed, the Ombrellino remains partially open as a symbol of readiness to welcome the Holy Father.

The Tintinnabulum, like the Ombrellino, indicates that the Basilica of Saint Mary has a special relationship with the Holy Father. The Tintinnabulum, a bell mounted on a pole, is placed in a Roman Catholic Basilica to signify the church’s connection with the Pope. During the Middle Ages, the Tintinnabulum was used to alert the people of the approach of the Holy Father during papal processions.

The Papal Cross Keys are the symbol of the Papacy, and represent the keys refer to the promise of Christ to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19). The presence of the keys symbolizes the continuous relationship of the Basilica to the Holy Father in Rome.

Application process

  • January – March 2017 – Committee conducts research and begins to assemble necessary materials for application to send to Rome
  • April 2017 – Initial draft of application compiled and prepared
  • May 2017 – Second draft of application reviewed by committee
  • June 2017 – Final draft reviewed by committee and approved by the Pastor
  • June 24, 2017 – Application submitted to Bishop Michael Burbidge and approved by him
  • June 27, 2017 – Application submitted to United States Conference of Catholic Bishop (USCCB) Office of Congregation for Divine Worship
  • July 1, 2017 – Application approved by USCCB and sent to Vatican for approval
  • January 14, 2018 – Vatican names St. Mary’s a Minor Basilica

The Seal of the Basilica of Saint Mary

Motto: The motto Omnes Cum Petro ad Jesum per Mariam (All with Peter to Jesus through Mary) bespeaks the loyalty of the faithful to the Holy See and the Magisterial Teaching of the Church.  It professes reliance to Our Lady as the way to Her Divine Son. Presented on a white banner bordered in red, it represents the sacrifices of the parish faithful across the two hundred and twenty-three years of parish life.

Ombrellino: Surmounting the shield, the Ombrellino is an umbrella of red and gold, which are the traditional Papal colors. It is commonly opened whenever a Pope visits a Basilica. It represents a unique relationship between the Basilica and the Holy Father in Rome.

Cross-Keys:  The keys refer to the promise of Christ to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19). The gold key on the left alludes to the Church’s power in the kingdom of heaven. The silver key on the right indicates the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth. The mechanisms are turned up towards the heavens and the grips turned down into the hands of the Pope. The presence of the keys symbolizes the continuous connection of the Basilica to the Holy See.

Design of the Shield:  The central element of the seal is a shield divided into four distinct sections, which are symbolic of key aspects of the parish’s history.  The colors of the shield are blue and white and symbolize the mantle of piety (blue) and purity (white) of the Mother of God.  Similar colors appear in the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia and in the Seal of the Diocese of Arlington.

  • Upper Right: The monogram represents “Ave Maria” (Latin for “Hail Mary”) and symbols her patronage of the parish. This monogram pays tribute to the prayer of the faithful, echoing the “Hail Mary” prayed across the span of the two millennia in the Church.
  • Bottom Right: The English Frigate (circa 1650) symbolizes the City of Alexandria, the sailing vessel by which Catholics sailed to the New World, and the church sailing over the seas of time with Peter at the helm. The Ark and The Dove were the two famous ships, chartered by Cecil Calvert to transport 140 colonists to the shores of Maryland.  Similar ships brought the Jesuit founders of the parish, as well as many Irish and Scottish merchants, to the Port City of Alexandria.
  • Upper Left: The stars on a blue field are taken from the Seal of the Diocese of Arlington. The 10 smaller stars recall the historical significance of the Commonwealth of Virginia as the 10th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The star in the center represents the Blessed Virgin Mary’s patronage over the Diocese and the Basilica. In a more profound way, this signifies her Queenship over Heaven and Earth.
  • Bottom Left: The monogram “IHS” has been used historically to symbolize the Holy Name of Jesus Christ.  Taken from Greek, it is an abbreviation of the name IHΣΟΥΣ (Jesus). Central to the seal of the Jesuit order, it symbolizes their founding of the parish in 1795. It pays tribute to the founding pastors who came from the Society of Jesus.

 

About Bishop Michael F. Burbidge

Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge was born June 16, 1957, in Philadelphia, PA, the second son of Francis and Shirley Burbidge and brother of Francis Burbidge, Jr. He attended Catholic grade schools and graduated from Cardinal O’Hara High School, Springfield, PA, in 1975. From high school he went to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by John Cardinal Krol in 1984.

Bishop Burbidge holds a B.A. in Philosophy and an M.A. in Theology from St. Charles Borromeo, an M.A. in Education Administration from Villanova University, and a doctorate in Education from Immaculata College.

Fr. Michael Burbidge’s first priestly assignment was as Parochial Vicar of St. Bernard Church in Philadelphia, where he served for two years. From 1986-1992 he was on the faculties, successively, of Cardinal O’Hara High School, Archbishop Wood High School and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, where he also served as Dean of Students.

In 1992 Fr. Burbidge was named Administrative Secretary to Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia, and served in that capacity until 1999. In 1998 he was made Honorary Prelate to His Holiness Pope John Paul II, with the title of Monsignor.

Monsignor Burbidge was appointed Rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1999. In 2002 he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia. As auxiliary bishop, he oversaw the Office of the Vicar for Clergy and the Office of Communications.

On June 8, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI named Bishop Burbidge the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh; he was installed in Raleigh on August 4. On October 4, 2016, Bishop Burbidge was announced by Pope Francis as the fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington.

About Fr. Edward C. Hathaway, Pastor

Fr. Edward Hathaway was born January 5, 1961, to Charles and Marie Hathaway in Oakland, CA. One of seven children, he attended Oak View Elementary School and James W. Robinson High School in Fairfax, VA. He graduated from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1983 and studied at Cambridge University in England, 1983-84.

He worked as a technical recruiter for Essex Human Resources and Metier International, and as a mortgage bank recruiter with Hunter Search before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, PA.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 18, 1991, by Arlington Bishop John R. Keating. His first assignment was as parochial vicar of St. Michael Church in Annandale (1991-95). Fr. Hathaway also has served as parochial vicar of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton (1995-99) and the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington (1999-2000). He was pastor of St. John the Beloved Church in McLean (2000-05); St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal (2005-07); and St. Veronica Church in Chantilly (2007-2015). He has been pastor of St. Mary since July 2015.

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