When the Rev. David T. Ray came to Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in the fall of 1958, it was a small black mission in South Arlington. Today it is a lively, growing, fully integrated parish that attracts members from throughout the Northern Virginia area; a change, parishioners say, caused by Father Ray's magnetism.
It is a church that fits the old mold of truly meeting the needs of the community through service provided by Father Ray, members of his congregation say. It was because of him, they say, that the large multipurpose Family Activity Center was built and a day care center was started, that 300 acres of land near Fredericksburg called "Our Acres" was saved and allowed by the diocese to be used by parishioners as garden plots and a summer camp for youths, and that a thrift shop was set up behind the church to serve the poor in the community. Yet much of the praise for Father Ray also comes for his unending service to individuals, ranging from finding housing for drug addicts and paroled convicts to visiting the sick in area hospitals. It's a ministry that one woman says centers on "relevance rather than reverence."
"He's been a community activist by being interested in the needs of the people of the parish," parishioner Eugene Kelly said. "He's the yeast that makes the breed in the parish."
On Sunday, about 250 members of the parish and community gathered at the Family Activity Center to mark Father Ray's 25th year in the parish and his 40th anniversary year as a priest in the Order of the Holy Ghost. Some talked of when they had been sick or hurt and needed a friend and Father Ray was there. Others talked about how he had guided the parish into a new era where blacks and whites could worship together. But most just talked about the way Father Ray served the entire community by being where he was needed and giving spiritual, financial and emotional help.
"He's a very dynamic individual," Dan Morrisey, a parishioner from Falls Church, said. "I don't know how you separate Father Ray from the things that go on here."
"He's one of a kind, you'll never be able to clone him," the Rev. Phillip Haggerty, provincial of the Order of the Holy Ghost, told the crowd. "He's a man of God and a man of the people . . . Because he puts the stamp of his personality on the parish, it's a very unique parish."
Haggerty told the crowd that the parish is always full of activity, much of it occurring in the center, which has been one of Father Ray's major projects. Father Ray makes the center available to groups ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to migrant farmworkers to youths, even clubs visiting Washington.
Althouth building the activity center was a major financial strain for the parish, those who know Father Ray say one of his strongest points is his ability to find money and volunteers.
"You can't get blood from a stone, but Father can," Jerry Avveake said.
"When he needs something done, he just looks at you and you finally say, 'Okay, okay, I'll do it,'" another parishioner said.
Arthur P. Roehrl, who joined the parish 14 years ago and stayed with it, when he moved to Annandale five years ago, said Father Ray's success comes from his "eternal optimism."
Many of those who gathered to honor Father Ray were not Catholic, but they said much of his work is done for non-Catholics.
"He's been very important to this community," Bertha Fox said. "I'm Baptist, but I come here sometimes. He doesn't mind mixing blacks and whites together. If we're going to be together in heaven we should be together down here."
But Father Ray told those gathered to honor him that his accomplishments would have been impossible without their help. With his typically big smile and outstretched arms he said, "I have to join with everyone of you . . . We're all in this together. We're [WORD ILLEGIBLE] being honored, all of us, today."