Dedication of "New" St. John's Church
A dream comes true as Bishop Loverde dedicates St. John the Evangelist "new" church.
By: Norma Francis and Anne Tinsdale
Psalm 84: "How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord God of Hosts" appropriately described the realization of a dream that began almost ten years ago in Warrenton , Virginia . The dream came true on Friday, August 8, 2008, when Bishop Paul S. Loverde consecrated the altar and dedicated the newly renovated St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. As the bells pealed the four o'clock hour, the Knights of Columbus Color Corps, followed by a contingent of 25 altar servers, led the procession into the church. The "new" church, the capacity of which doubled with the renovation, was filled, and tears of joy could be seen on many parishioners' faces. His Excellency, Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, served as the principle celebrant of the dedication Mass, which Fr. John H. Melmer, Pastor, and Fr. Phillip M. Cozzi, Parochial Vicar, concelebrated, along with many visiting priests, including Fr. Philip Majka and Fr. Michael Bazan, former pastors. A large contingent of deacons also attended, with Deacon Bernie Ragan, permanent deacon, assisting Bishop Loverde.
Music was a large part of the ceremonies. As Jane Orban played the "new" 1924 Opus 465 pipe organ, the strains of the prelude, Suite Gothique, Op. 25, filled the church. The 40-member choir, made up of St. John's choir members, former parishioners, and other singers from around the Diocese, under Director of Music, Deborah Fancher and conductor Patricia Whitney, sang to the accompaniment of piano, organ, violins, guitar, flute and trumpet.
Bishop Loverde spoke of the parish as a "symphony", the parts of which have all come together under the leadership of its pastor, Fr. Melmer. Fr. Melmer, in turn, acknowledged the efforts of parish volunteers and committee members, notably Dave McNichol, chairman of the Building Committee, Rod Beran, chairman of the Interior Design Committee, and Steve Wolfe, who in addition to his regular job as Director of Facilities and Maintenance, spent hundreds of volunteer hours coordinating a myriad of details.
St. John's has a long and notable history dating back before the Civil War. The original church, located on Lee Street was dedicated in 1861. With the growth in the Warrenton area, a school was opened in 1960; in 1964 construction started on a new church on Winchester Street, which was dedicated in 1965. Then, in the late 1990s, as it became obvious that the existing church would soon cease to accommodate the growing Catholic population of Fauquier County, plans for expansion were formulated and a campaign to raise the needed funds got underway. Fundraising and building plan development continued for the next several years until 2004, when the diocese declared a moratorium on all new building projects. As the parish waited to restart the project, costs were rising rapidly and it became obvious that the original plan had become too expensive. In 2005 however, planning for the current, simplified design began, and on July 8, 2007, the last Mass was celebrated in the "old" church. The groundbreaking for the ‘new' church took place the following week on July 14, 2007. The Parish Activities Center (PAC) was renamed Mercy Hall and served as the place of worship until July 26, 2008, when the first Mass was celebrated, on schedule, in the new church.
The Gothic style, as in the original church, has been retained and encourages a "historic country church" atmosphere through the stained glass windows, architecture, artwork and furniture. The native stone wall behind the sanctuary, the crucifix rising above the wall, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus stained glass window, now in an alcove to the right of the altar, were retained as treasured bonds of the previous two churches. The stone wall however, was reshaped to correspond to the curvature of the new pews, creating a feeling of a family bonded together in worship.
The new, custom designed statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John are beautifully recessed into the stone wall at the foot of the cross, offering a dramatic crucifixion scene. The original Sacred Heart of Jesus stained glass window is complemented by two new circular stained glass windows, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Fifth Luminous Mystery, the Institution of the Eucharist. The Immaculate Heart of Mary window, donated by the Knights of Columbus, depicting Mary offering a rosary to her people, is in an alcove to the left of the altar. The window depicting Jesus in the "Institution of the Eucharist", is directly above the altar. The four remaining Luminous Mystery stained glass windows are scheduled to be installed in the Gothic arch windows flanking the altar.
The parishioners of St. John's are more than enthusiastic about their "new" church, which bears testimony to their love and reverence for the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament. As a "family" they look forward to the many liturgical celebrations that will take place here. Many expressed relief and joy that the dream, which at times seemed to be in jeopardy, had finally been realized. As long time parishioner Pat Sanders commented, "our church family has grown, and our church has finally grown with it".