Visit no. 4b: Saint Mary of Sorrows – the Historic Church

Visit no. 4b: Saint Mary of Sorrows – the Historic Church

Michael the historian was excited about this visit, having read through the extensive histories of the old, historical church. No let downs, other than we were unable to peak inside, as there was a service in progress when we arrived. Fun visit, nevertheless, and beautiful grounds.

Visit date: Saturday, July 22, 2023

Mass: after 9:15 am Saturday at the new church

Address: 5222 Sideburn Road Fairfax, VA 22032

Website: Saint Mary of Sorrows (


by Michael

Our hosts at Saint Mary of Sorrows didn’t have to insist that we also visit the historical church, as we were super excited to see it and had read up on it on the parish website before our visit.

Getting there was easy, as it can be seen from the road, but the entrance isn’t so obvious, as it’s from Fairfax Station Road, not Ox Road, and you will pass Fairfax Station Road before you see the church grounds:

View of the church grounds from Ox Road, just past Fairfax Station Road.

If you, just take the next right into a little shopping center and wind your way to the back exist, which takes you onto the one-way Voqu Road, which then drops onto Fairfax Station Road right by the church entrance. One there, you can’t miss it:

We were told that the old church is popular for weddings and funerals, which one can see why, right away (and likely for these for distinct reasons). The grounds are wonderful — magnolias, oaks, and whatevers trees, grass and gravestones (which we love — Terry prays for the dead regularly).

There are two historical markers by the parking lot, which I won’t explain but let you read yourself:

We were also told that the church is used by a Greek Orthodox church, which was the case when we visited, so we did not go inside. (I’d love to sit on the pews that President Grant bought!).

We were not told about, however, the beautiful Mary grotto:

Fairfax Station, as the name implies, is a crossroads, and was an important one in the region during the 19th century, so there was much activity by the armies of both sides of the Civil War. In the historical markers and on the church website, there are fantastic stories about church during the Civil War. I encourage you to read up on them — I love the story about the local family whose son’s grave was to be moved to Arlington Cemetary, but the family asked the parish priest to remove his grave marker so that it would not be moved.

On a side note, I wrote a biography of President William Howard Taft and his use of automobiles. Reading through the Taft papers, one of my favorite stories was of a crazed automobile adventure President Taft took across the Virginia countryside in 1911. The destination was a reunion of the Battle of Manassas, which in 1911 was yet within the living generation of the Civil War. Taft’s contribution to the event was a renewed sense of union between North and South — and a love for automobiles, which he had importantly introduced to the American politic when he became the first President to have one in 1909. The trip from the White House to Manassas took Taft through Fairfax City.

His Aide de Camp, Captain Archibald Butt, who also served under Teddy Roosevelt, wrote of the trip, “Ridiculous as it all sounds I fear it is not exaggerated, for a more novel day I have never had in all my varied experiences with Presidents.” Anyone familiar with Virginia countryside knows the ups and downs of the hills and streams that define its geography, especially between DC and Fairfax City. And, as any good Virginia resident knows, sudden July thunderstorms will divert best laid plans, even those of a President. On their way to Manassas, the Presidential party and its following stream of cars with Congressmen, Senators and the press, met more than a few obstacles. Capt. Butt recollected,

“The President was in fine feather and did say and do many things which were far better than were artributed to him in the press. I did forge two streams one time up to my armpits … and three times I did get out of the motor bare legged to lead frightened horses by the automobiles.”

The Presidential party made it through the storms and surging streams to Fairfax City, stopping at the courthouse to view the town’s proudest possession, George Washington’s will. I don’t find in the Taft papers any mention of the Old Church, but he surely passed by it.

After Terry sang the Salve, Regina by the grotto, we headed out happy — and hungry, me especially, since I was fasting through Friday and the morning. Now the little mistake of missing Fairfax Station Rd. turned happy, as we had seen a coffee shop in the shopping center. Turned out to be a a locally-owned shop with a very kindly owner and clerk who served us coffee and delicious pastries, making our morning complete.

– Michael

Additional photos from the historic church


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