Visit no. 3: Our Lady of Lourdes

Visit no. 3: Our Lady of Lourdes

Our next visit was to another nearby church, this one in the Aurora Hills neighborhood, which is tucked in just above Crystal City. At the church, one would never know that the airport and Pentagon are within walking distance. It’s a beautiful church, and has an amazing history, we were to discover, thanks to a welcoming parishioner.

Visit date: Saturday, July 15, 2023

Mass: 9:00 am Saturday

Address: 830 23rd St S, Arlington, Virginia 22202

Website: Our Lady of Lourdes (

Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, Lectionary: 388

Jesus said to his Apostles:
“No disciple is above his teacher,
no slave above his master.
It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher,
for the slave that he become like his master.
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul,
how much more those of his household!
“Therefore do not be afraid of them.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy
both soul and body in Gehenna.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.”


by Michael

I chose this week’s church because it’s near to where I met a fellow St. Thomas More parishioner for an early coffee. So Terry met me at the church. Arriving to a new church is always an experience. As we drove the day before over to St. Agnes’ Church in North Arlington (to visit the famed Perpetual Adoration Chapel), we discussed how surprising it can be to suddenly come upon a church amidst an industrial or residential area, such as we experienced the week before at Queen of Apostles, which resides along a wide, suburban lane. (Another church that surprised me was St. Charles in the urbanized Clarendon section of Arlington).

We discussed how marvelous it is that each new visit is an exploration, trying to figure out the secrets of each church building and the ways of the parish and priests. Terry notes, “The visits help to appreciate the grace each preist brings to the service, the little gestures each employs, such as the way they make the sign of the Cross over the Host and Chalice.”

For Our Lady of Lourdes, my parishioner friend had told me to expect a fairly modern church, but not “too modern.” I did not expect this:

Well, now, depends on what you mean by “modern”…!

That’s the Street View screen capture from 23rd St. I actually took the side street to the right there, and subsequently found a rather impressive and “modern” church:

Terry drove right past that 23rd Street view but didn’t notice. She was walking around already and did notice that I “zoomed,” apparently, into the parking lot from around back.

It’s a running joke for us about what, exactly, is the front of a church. Terry had gone around to what she assumed was the front, but the doors were locked, so we decided that back-looking entrance seen here is actually the front.

(The marvelous Father Westin at the Dioceses Office of Divine Worship once laughingly explained to me that the “alter is the front of the church, but the front doors are at the back.”)

We found our way in a good 10 minutes before nine, passing by a lovely stained glass window in the entranceway and into a rather stunning nave (the area of a church for parishioners, usually just the center isle and pews):

A bit like a tunnel, as my friend told me, but lovely, especially with the “Mary grotto” off to the left as one proceeds towards the alter.

The inset lighting is welcoming, and I really liked the Stations of the Cross, which Terry always notices from church to church. Attached to the stone wall, they’re more than a couple inches thick, so they literally stand out, grabbing your attention as you walk past.

Mass started most quietly, as Father ____ (we did not catch his name: from the Parish website Terry thinks it was Father Mode; I think Father Kenna) walked up to the alter, then starting a series of responsorial prayers, the first of which Terry and I did not know, but to which the parishioners were firm in reply. Terry and I happily joined the response to Father’s start to “Hail Mary”.

It was a beautiful Mass, with an excellent homily that I especially liked because Father explained the Old Testament’s connection to the Gospel reading. He spoke with a quiet voice that, even with the microphone, was a touch difficult to discern, but I actually liked it as it required me to focus on each word. His mannerisms were the same: gentle, yet firm, and I simply loved his preparation of the offerings — one can feel the prayers along with him. And his presentation of the Eucharist was spectacular: I have never seen a priest hold the consecrated offerings so long, a full minute, or even two, Terry thinks. I hope to partake in it more fully next time we attend one of his masses, as for this first time was almost tense as my focus wandered from worship to wondering how long he would hold it up. Nevertheless, it was marvelous.

Our Lady of Lourdes has a Communion rail, which people freely chose to use or not. (We look forward having a rail in the renovated Cathedral of Saint Thomas More.) Father had to go back and forth from the two lines, but it all worked comfortably. He provided us with a long silence for prayer with his fastidious cleansing of the Paten and Chalice. After closing Mass, he launched the Saint Michael prayer, in which all ardently participated.

We stepped out, both pointing to one another to the Grotto to Mary. There Terry recited the Salve Regina, which we were surprised not to have heard during Mass, as we’re imagining that Marian-named churches might tend to do. It’s beautiful in Latin, even with one’s stumbling over -iae‘s and Eia.

On our way out the front-to-the-back door, we met a wonderful soul, Eric, who, after I told him it was our first time, stopped and told us a bit about the church. It was great! Eric explained that there are two statues of Mary, one by the parking lot, which is dedicated to Monsignor Robert Avella, who was the first priest ordained in the Diocese of Arlington in 1974. The statue was shipped from the Vatican. (Father Avella was made Pastor in 2006 and served until his retirement in 2020.) Eric told us how Father Avella was made a Monsignor by the Pope and what a great honor it is for the parish.

Eric also pointed out that the tree is the oldest (or oldest of its kind?) in Arlington, and he kindly posed before it for the record. So welcoming and kindly of him to show us around.

By the back entrance is a cornerstone marker dated 1963, which, as the year of our birth, make us happy. So we joined the church in a little 60th anniversary celebration selfie:

We bade goodbye and God bless to our new friend, Eric, and went to see the Monsignor Avella’s statue of Mary:

We then moved back around to the other statue of Mary, which is in the “Pro-life Memorial Garden.” Really nice, and worth a contemplative visit, for which we leave indebted, yet heart-warmed to have seen. In addition to the Mary statue are the Stations of the Cross, which, if you think about abortion, is, sadly, more than fitting.

For the fuller history of the Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Pastor Father Frederic Edlefsen produced a thorough and fascinating The History of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church In Arlington, Virginia On the Occasion of its 75th Anniversary By Fr. Frederick Edlefsen. This “About” page is shorter, but do take the time for the longer story.

Finally, I leave you with the recommendation to read Our Lady of Lourde’s parish website’s brief story of St. Bernadette and Our Lady. Most Catholics are familiar with the details, but this little article servers as a nice reminder of the ways and experiences of the Saints.

– Michael

Here for the remaining photos from our lovely visit with Our Lady of Lourdes:


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