May 18

Monday, May 18th

Good morning, Good morning,

One hundred years ago, today, was the birth of a future Pope.  His name was Karol Józef Wojtyła and he was from Poland.   None expected him to rise to the rank of the papacy and some were concerned when he did.  He threatened an empire that belonged to the Soviets and he threatened an empire that belonged to rising hierarchical boys club in the Catholic Church that thought it was being released from the theological shackles of Pope Paul VI.   But no one questioned the action of the Holy Spirit in bringing such a priest to guide the Church to a brave new world.  He was a true blessing.

In just over a year our humble little home in the hills of Loudoun County will celebrate one hundred years of formal life.  On May 29, 1921 the first church of St. Francis De Sales was dedicated.  Please mark your calendars… we are going to celebrate.  It is time to turn our eyes toward a celebration of the parish’s birthday.   I leave you with the early history of the parish and follow it with an interesting story of the first administrator, Fr. August Jospeph Ingelgem.

“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 Van Ingelgem would serve as architect.”

First church of St. Francis De Sales in Purcellville.  Designed by Fr. Van Ingelgem.

The church would be called St. Francis de Sales. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in 1920, and on May 29, 1921, the church was dedicated.

Please allow a comment on the character that helped form the early life of this parish.  Fr. Amadeus Joseph Van Ingelgem (1852-1935).  He hailed from Belgium and was a very bright student, recognized for his creative interests.  After attaining his Canon Law Degree, as Fr. Heisler has also done, he was assigned to Brussels.  He spent a good part of his time working with the poor.  He was also assigned the duty of the director of the mission society of St. Francis De Sales… which makes we wonder if that is how our parish attained its name.  Fr. Van Ingelgem resigned as mission director to go to the United States, as a missionary.  He wanted to enter the Josephite community, serving the Black families in Oklahoma but the Bishop of Richmond, Bishop Augustine Van de Vyver encouraged him to join him in Virginia.  The Belgian leadership of the Richmond Diocese was taking root.

I leave you with the history of St. Francis Parish in Staunton when it addressed Fr. Van Ingelgem’s service to the poor.

Reverend A. J. Van Ingelgem, whose idea was to engage in missionary work among the Negroes and who had been first assigned to aid in the formation of a colored parish in Lynchburg. But, due to the scarcity of priests, after a few weeks he was appointed to Staunton, where he remained for six years. He went into the mountains of Virginia and did missionary work among the inhabitants. Traveling by horse and buggy, Father “Van” would take several local boys to serve on the improvised altars through the mountains. Of note is the congregation that met in the Old John Cobb place on Crab Run until a wooden church was built near the Pine Grove school at Mustoe. Many of these Catholic families would also come to Staunton every year to make their Easter Duty, staying with the local families for a week or so while they combined their religious duties and social affairs. The congregation was never very large. However, services continued to be held until the 1950s. Margaret Hamilton, postmistress at Mustoe, and Mrs. Otis Chestnut, a Mustoe resident, remember attending services at the church when they were young. Mrs. A. R. Hull, of Staunton, recalls the reverence that she and others felt when near this church.

Father Van Ingelgem was endeared to the St. Francis parishioners by his many amusing stories of this mission work in the mountains. On one occasion, the people insisted that they take up a collection to show their appreciation to Father “Van,” and he had a good laugh when they presented him with the total collection of one dollar and fifty cents.”

Van Ingelgem would start St. James Parish in Falls Church.  The missions he started were in Annandale, Fairfax, Middleburg, Leesburg and a place beyond called Purcellville.  I cannot help but wonder if the name of the parish, St. Francis De Sales, came from Belgian mission society of which Fr. Van Ingelgem was director.  In his retirement he would become chaplain to the Visitation Sisters at Monte Maria, in Richmond.  As a point of trivia, the Visitation sisters were started by… St. Francis De Sales.


“Son of Peter John van Ingelgem of Lippelo, Belgium, Rev. Father Armand (or Amadeus) Joseph van Ingelgem was a Catholic priest and Pastor of St. James Parish in Church Falls, Virginia, for 21 years, from 1910-1931. He came to America in 1900, and after retiring as pastor of St. James, he served as a chaplain for the Visitation Sisters at Monte Maria Monastery, where he is buried. Father Van, as he was known, died in 1935, age 82.”


When we look at the incredible courage of our ancestors in the Faith, such as the story of Fr. Van Ingelgem, we have to ask, “Where do we find such extraordinary people?”  Let us pray for the future vocations that will follow from the pews of St. Francis De Sales Parish.  This letter is dedicated to them.  Let us pray for one another.

Fr. Jordan Willard. Parochial Vicar,  St. Raymond  Church, Springfield


Seminarian Andrew Lewandowski
Story of St. Francis De Sales
Roots of Purcellville


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