History of St. Francis de Sales
The turn of the 18th century found Loudoun County, Virginia, with few Catholics, and even fewer Catholic Churches. Only one existed, that being the Immaculate Conception, founded in 1878, in Leesburg (Later to be renamed St. John’s). Even this was only a mission church, with no priest in residence. The assigned priest, Father A.J. Van Ingelgem, would take the train from West Falls Church, Virginia, on the first Sunday of each month to say Mass for the few county Catholics.
Traveling to Leesburg from the extreme ends of the county was no easy task in those times, and attending the Sunday Mass often required an all-day or even overnight trip. For this reason, in 1918, Henry and Philomena Schneider, of Round Hill, made an arrangement with Father Van Ingelgem which brought the first Catholic services to the county west of Leesburg. On the Monday following his monthly Mass, Father Ingelgem would travel to Round Hill, where the Schneider’s had opened their home to area Catholics for morning Mass, Rosary, and Benediction. Thus, residents and vacationing Catholics were much more easily able to attend services.
Services at the Schneider home continued until 1919, when a family illness made use of their residence for further services impossible. Since attendance at these services had been continually increasing, Father Van Ingelgem began searching for another location. The Lord once again provided, as Mr. And Mrs. Notley Ball of Purcellville, offered their home (the old rectory on Main Street) for services. Even this location, however, was quickly outgrown, and the need for a church became more and more apparent. The solution was provided through an agreement between the Ball family and Father Van Ingelgem. A new church would be built on the Ball Property at 16th and Main Streets. The Balls would provide the funding, and Father Ingelgem would serve as architect.
The church would be called St. Francis de Sales. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in 1920, and on May 29, 1921, the church was dedicated.
Shortly after the death of Mrs. Notley Ball in 1956, the church was donated to the Diocese of Richmond by her estate.
From its dedication in 1921 to 1967, St. Francis de Sales was only a mission parish, with no priest in residence. On September 1, 1967, an agreement was signed between the Capuchin Franciscan Friars, New Jersey Province, and the Diocese of Richmond. The Capuchins’ offer to serve at St. Francis upgraded the status of the church from mission to full parish. The “new” parish of St. Francis de Sales began with 99 families. In 1974, the Diocese of Arlington was established and St. Francis de Sales became a parish in this new diocese.
As Loudoun County began to grow and become one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, the parish needed to grow as well and serve the large number of Catholics moving into the area. The number of Masses was increased to three each Sunday and additional Masses were said at the Blue Ridge Middle School Auditorium and the Loudoun Valley High School Auditorium. Some marriages were celebrated by the parish priest in local, larger Protestant churches. Church dinners and other events also were held in the facilities provided by these churches. Religion classes were conducted at local schools at substantial cost to the parish.
Needing a larger church and church facilities, the Capuchin Friars and the parishioners began to plan for a new facility. The planning process would require time and money. Land needed to be acquired, permits were needed to be obtained, architect’s drawings made and approved, sufficient capital was raised and, permission from the diocese obtained.
Since the Church was being administered by the Capuchin Friars, a Friary was built instead of a rectory. Finally, in 1992, the church was completed and with joy and exaltation was dedicated on June 28, 1992. At that time, the parish served 250 families, and the new church could comfortably accommodate 500 worshipers.
Before church construction was begun, noted sculptor Thomas Fernandez, a member of the parish, began to discuss building a giant cross on the church grounds overlooking Route 7. With the approval of the parish and private donations to cover its cost, work began. The sculpture is 33 feet tall, 22 feet wide and weighs 17,000 pounds. The interior is lit by halogen bulbs and when lit give the appearance of Christ’s body on the cross. It stands as a beacon of hope to all Christians who pass by on Route 7.
In January 1997 an old era ended and a new era began as parishioners said a sad farewell to our Capuchin Friars and welcomed our first Diocesan pastor. The Friars had served the parish nobly for many years. But, the fundamental role of their Order was to serve as missionaries, converting others by their lifestyle of poverty, simplicity and austerity and through prayer and fasting. Their pastors declined to use the pulpit to raise money and petitioned laymen to handle this work. They asked the parishioners to build a walking path through the woods for them to use for solitude and contemplation. As the church grew and became more urban it was time to bring in a diocesan priest.
The original plans for the facility contained additional space for meeting and kitchen space and several classrooms for religious education. At that time, the parish could not afford these additions but the need remained. Classes for religious education were held at Loudoun Valley High School, and then Woodgrove High School. The community room and kitchen weren’t adequate for the size of the parish, large events such as weddings and large scale parish events could not be held in the limited space available, youth activities and recreation for all members of the parish were minimal. To meet these needs the Men’s Club built a pavilion on the church grounds with a large grill for preparing food for picnics and other events. For Vacation Bible School, tents were rented and used. Obviously, the parish needed to go forward with a revised version of it’s original plans.
Early in 2001, the concept of a new parish center was introduced by Monsignor Cassidy. Work on the project continued with his successor, Father Patrick Posey, who completed much of the preliminary legal work. The project stalled briefly when Father Michael Kelly was assigned to the parish. He used the first few months to reassess the parish’s needs and its ability to meet the financial obligations which already existed and the cost of new commitments. Father Kelly had just announced that it was time to restart the project when he died in a tragic accident while on his way to the funeral of a fellow priest. Even though he served for only a short time as pastor of the parish he made a huge impact. A set of his sermons was published and a statue of St. Michael the Archangel was commissioned and set near the front entrance of the church.
His successor, Father Escalante, immediately recognized the need for the new Catholic Education Center where young people and adults could learn and practice their faith together. He reinstated the project on his second day at St. Francis de Sales by forming a building committee to design and construct our new center. After several fund drives, countless meetings and prayers, construction began in 2013. A grateful parish celebrated with Bishop Paul S. Loverde as he dedicated our new Catholic Center on September 21, 2014.
But even more has been done. In 2017, the interior of our church was remodeled. New pews were installed to replace those which had broken down, new carpets put in, a new tabernacle, altar, organ, ambo and a carillon added grace and dignity to our services.