Congregation's Prayers Are Answered

After the dedication service at Our Lady of Hope, Bishop Paul S. Loverde, center, leads the recession, followed by the Rev. Bryan W. Belli.
After the dedication service at Our Lady of Hope, Bishop Paul S. Loverde, center, leads the recession, followed by the Rev. Bryan W. Belli. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bishop Paul S. Loverde stood at the front door of Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church on Tuesday afternoon and uttered a long-awaited request:

"Father, would you unlock the door?" the Bishop of Arlington said as he handed the keys of the new Potomac Falls church to the Rev. William P. Saunders.

Saunders, the parish priest, turned the key, and inside, the airy sanctuary began to come to life. The first sounds came from the choir loft in the balcony, where members took their seats. Next came the swoosh of capes worn by the Knights of Columbus, who filed down the center aisle in their feathered hats and with their swords created a tunnel through which the altar boys and ministers, in long white robes, proceeded.

As the organist began to play, hundreds of people streamed in, some wearing their Sunday coats and felt hats with velvet bows, others in jeans and hockey jerseys. They came directly from school or left work early to attend the dedication service of their new church.

"We finally have a home," said Brigid McWeeney of Cascades, who stood outside with her two daughters, admiring the yellow brick building with its cross-topped steeple, before stepping inside.

McWeeney said she began lobbying the Diocese of Arlington for a parish in her neighborhood 13 years ago, when she moved to Loudoun County. Her family attended the nearest Catholic church, in Sterling, but she said it felt like a long-established part of another community. She said she wanted one for her own community.

The diocese established Our Lady of Hope, Loudoun's sixth parish, in 2000. Within the first year, it grew from 300 families to nearly 800. Today more than 1,300 families are members.

While raising money for its own building, the congregation attended Sunday Mass at Potomac Falls High School, meeting at Community Lutheran Church on other days. In 2003, the parish broke ground at Cascades and Algonkian parkways for the church and adjoining elementary school, a $17.5 million project.

Saunders, the parish priest, described Our Lady of Hope's architecture as contemporary Gothic, in keeping with the traditional aesthetic of the congregation. The building features 22 stained-glass windows, pulled from closed churches, set in silvery frames, as well as a mix of light from candles and electric chandeliers.

Unlike the building, the dedication service was all traditional. Loverde circled the congregation, sprinkling holy water on the walls and on visitors, and the altar boys deposited relics -- chips of bone from Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Teresa of Avila and other saints -- into the altar. Later the bishop anointed the altar with oil.

Loverde filled a golden urn with incense that sent smoke high into the air, and as the smell of burning wood filled the church, he offered a prayer:

"Lord, may our prayer ascend as incense in your sight. As this building is filled with fragrance, so may your church fill the world with the fragrance of Christ."

A little boy in the pews, tired of trying to follow the proceedings, flipped through the pages of his picture book. Behind him, two women closed their eyes and, clutching their rosaries, nodded along with the cadence of Loverde's voice.

All of them looked perfectly at home.

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