Visit no. 8: Our Lady Queen of Peace

Visit no. 8: Our Lady Queen of Peace

This week we finally visited the Mary-named parish that is closet to our home, but one that is the furthest from our experiences in our Mary church visits. Fascinating and illuminating visit, so glad we made the short trip!

Visit date: Saturday, September 16, 2023

Mass: 5:30 Saturday Vigil Mass

Address: 2700 South 19th Street, Arlington, Virginia, 22204

Website: Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church – Arlington, VA

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Lectionary: 130

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”


by Michael

We overlooked Our Lady Queen of Peace because it was so close to us. When we started our pilgrimage, in selecting our first church, I insisted on a “church-looking church”, which made the Basilica of Saint Mary the obvious choice: made of stone, bell tower, huge doors with statue of Mary above. But as I browsed the other churches, Our Lady Queen of Peace struck me as a kind of opposite, yet classic type: simple, plain, wooden church structure that is very much “church-y”.

The church is within a residential area, likely farmland when it was built, that is adjacent to Nauck Park and the Army-Navy Club golf course. The entrance follows a “dead-end” sign, so I had to loop around a long block again to find the church:

The dead-end sign fooled me, despite objections from my Waze GPS app, which took me back out to Glebe and up 19th St. again.

Just had to go past S. Edgwood and the entrance is just past the church. Pretty church it is!

Terry knew nothing about this parish before we left, although I did. I knew the history of its neighborhood, and I also had a strange but illuminating encounter with a parishioner from there a couple months ago.

To the history: Arlington County, Virginia, has a deeply racist history that yet manifests in interesting ways, most significantly in the County’s “At-large” Council representation. In the 1930s, as the black community grew in population and income, it demanded and exercised more political power, especially regarding equality in the public schools. (Brown v. Board of Education wasn’t until 1954, but the agitation for equality behind it was generations old.) To block integration and equal funding of schools, the county changed its Council representation scheme from local to “at-large”. That is, each Council member would be elected by the entire county as opposed to a geographic district. The new system negated local representation for isolated black areas, ensuring white-control of the Council — and segregated schools, which was the purpose all along. The system persists out of convenience to the dominant party that runs the county today, perhaps not for the purposes of segregation and racism, but effectively blocking direct local representation and minority dissent.

Our Lady Queen of Peace lies on top of a large hill that rises from the traditional African-American area of Arlington, Geen Valley, which was the site of a freedman’s village started in the 1840s. Baptist and AME churches long served the community, but it wasn’t until just after World War II that this Catholic church dedicated to serving African-Americans was built:

In 1945, Bishop Peter Ireton granted the request of sixteen Black Catholics to establish their own church in Arlington County where they could worship in dignity.  

Here for more on the inspiring story from Our History – Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church.

The Church prides itself on this heritage, stating,

During the 75 years of the history of OLQP, a commitment to social justice and racial equality has been its hallmark. The dedication of parishioners is embedded in Matthew 25:35, “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink; a stranger and you welcomed me.”  

Matthew 25:35 is the mission of the church, exhibited in such things as the parish thrift or charitable shop named, “Matthew 25:35”.

Earlier this summer I had an odd encounter with a man, about my age, who approached me as I wrapped up a round of tennis practice with my ball machine on the public courts by our house. People are sometimes intrigued by the machine and ask me about it. It was late, lights-out time, 11:00 pm, but this man was lively and chatty, and we had a fun conversation about tennis, music — and church. He’s Catholic, so I told him about our Jubilee Journey, which at the time was about four churches in. I mentioned our visit to Our Lady of Lourdes and how the priest had held up the host for at least a minute or two (see post here). Before I could say anything further, he scoffed, saying how he had heard about that and it was ridiculous. I shrugged it off while he continued on that I should go his parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace, which is more vibrant and diverse.

The message was well understood, and by the time of our visit I had figured out that Our Lady Queen of Peace is the “activist” Catholic parish in Arlington. Having taught for eight years at Archbishop Caroll High School in Washington, DC, a wonderful institution that has a rather left-leaning political bent, I got to know the code words and cultural memes of the Catholic left. I knew what to expect as we prepared for our next Mary-named church visit this third Saturday of September.

Terry and I arrived separately, her in the wagon and me in the truck. I was actually a touch self-conscious about bringing the truck there, as I half expected a lecture on climate change —

— and we got one during the Universal Prayer, about how we must change our lifestyles to save the planet.

The Mass was sprinkled with such messages, so if that’s your thing, you’d love it. It wasn’t overwhelming, although there were a couple moments that left Terry and me wondering. For her it was when Father Tim said, “The Lord is already with you”, and for me it was when, during the Greeting he mentioned “nonviolent direct action.” Another flag was the Universal Prayer’s call to pray for the Synod. We have not heard about the Synod at any of the other churches we have visited, nor at our home parish, and I’m not sure . Here for the 2021-2023 Synod Regional Syntheses | USCCB (FYI, if you go there, the Diocese of Arlington is in the Region IV document).

The most significantly different aspect of this parish from the other Mary-named churches we have visited was, on this visit, the absence of Mary herself. We saw no statues or shrines to her in or outside of the church (there is a statue of her along the interior wall, as well as a Black Madonna and Child painting), there was no recitation of the Salve Regina or other Mary-devotion, and no mention of her in the homily. Given the origin of the church in the activism of sixteen brave African-American men and women, mothers therein, I might assume the selection of the title, “Our Queen of Peace” was purposeful. If so, that significance has been lost.

Update: as I wrote this blog post Sunday evening the day after our visit, I wondered that there truly was no shrine or grotto to Mary at the “Our Lady Queen of Peace” church. So today, Monday, I hopped back over to take a better look. I parked by the large garden at corner of the grounds, and sure enough, no statues of Mary, not there and not in front of the church itself. To be sure, I drove through the parking lot which winds around the back of the complex, past the Conference Center and around the other side of the church. Just before turning out the exit, I noticed at the far back of the parking lot a grotto to Mary, and it’s quite lovely — but easy to miss. I enjoyed a soothing visit and prayer, then, heading back out, thus from a different angle, I also discovered in a corner of the Rectory a small garden and statue of Mary and children, I think, praying. The garden was a bit overgrown, but I can imagine that given Father Tim’s health it’s not a priority. Also, Terry tells me that the Rectory is currently empty for renovations.

The grotto is well-groomed, and clearly beloved, and I am relieved to find it there.

The parish is lively, happy, and enthusiastic, and deeply focused on the music. And there are some amazing voices in the pews! Having come off three masses in a row at similarly-minded church in Winthrop, Maine with guitar, violins and informal choir, I wasn’t surprised to find it here. I prefer more sacred music (big J.S. Bach fan here) — although I loved this man’s 12-string guitar:

I didn’t catch his name, but he kindly showed off his prized guitar after Mass. It’s gorgeous! He has had it for 40 years — his parents bought it for him when he was young because he was “being a good Catholic.” I told him I had to work for months at the local drug store to earn enough to buy my first guitar, an Aria, which my daughter now has down in New Orleans.

The Mass itself was a bit different from what we’re used to, likely reaching towards Vatican II’s furthest reaches. A parishioner or lay minister (if a Deacon he did not participate as a celebrant) opened the celebration with a talk on the Gospel. Then Father Tim asked for visitors to present themselves, which was quite a few of us. Before starting the Introductory Rites, he asked us to greet one another as we would giving the sign of peace after praying the Our Father — which we did again at that point, as well. We noticed that the faithful largely gave each other the actual “peace sign” sign of peace (as do a couple of our fellow parishioners at St. Thomas More, but more generally here).

The Confiteor was in the short form, and Father Tim led us in the Apostle’s instead of the Nicene Creed, both of which are fine (I much prefer the long forms.) Father Tim’s homily appropriately focused on forgiveness and the need for transformation of the heart in order to forgive. He did make the interesting claim that “We live in a society that often confuses justice with revenge,” explaining that “an eye for an eye” is not justice. Indeed, although it left me wondering just whom he was talking about. Anyway, his message was up to the task and right for his parish whose focus is concern for equity. I was pleased to hear him mention the first Reading, from Sirach, as well as the Gospel. The text of his homily is on the parish website here, with a full body of prior messages.

Before ending the Universal Prayer (and its call for lifestyle changes to stop global warming), Father Tim asked for any petitions or prayers from the faithful, several of whom made prayer requests for recently deceased family or friends, including the lady in front of us who spoke movingly of the loss of her friend. After Mass, Father asked for birthdays or anniversaries, and two mothers announced the respective upcoming birthdays of their present children, one three and the other six. Very sweet.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist was “by the book,” including the presentation of the gifts by parishioners, which I have discovered is common in churches that seek the furthest possible laity participation (such as the church we attended in Maine). Father Tim was noticeably suffering some handicap or illness, to the degree that he wore a mask the entire Mass and needed some help walking, so he did not distribute the Eucharist. Beforehand, I had noticed a prominent placement of large Purell bottles on pedestals to the sides of the altar, and, just prior to the Rite of Communion, the Eucharistic ministers moved them to the center. We discovered their purpose after Terry received the Host by mouth, and, as I approached and knelt before him, the minister turned to wash his hands in a great dose of hand sanitizer, before turning back to me and rather delicately placing it on my tongue. Poor thing had to scrub down like a surgeon after both of us.

The hand-sanitizer thing struck me as a bit of a show, even for a parish that’s all in on COVID concerns, as if saying, “We don’t do that around here.” As it was, neither Terry nor I noticed that anyone else received the Host by mouth. Note that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops not that long ago changed the “norms” of receiving the Eucharist to allow for greater acceptance of the traditional oral form, which, I understand, had been deprecated for some time. (Here for the current Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America | USCCB)

With the Black Madonna and Child painting, the church itself speaks appropriately to its history, while the general setup speaks to its agenda for “social justice.” The Crucifix is Christ on the Cross, but in abstract, to the point that I could barely make out the figure of Jesus, which left me thinking that it was a bare Cross instead. The Stations of the Cross were of a black Jesus with the Romans as 20th century, conspicuously American white soldiers. I’ve seen those before, so they are or were current in like-minded parishes. Then, as now, I find it patronizing.

Update Nov 4: Just back from a visit to the National Shrine and the Our Mother of Africa Chapel there that portrays “the African-American story from slavery to today, which reminds me of these Stations of the Cross at Our Lady Queen of Peace. In the Chapel at the Basilica, the Crucified Christ, carved from ebony, was created by a Tanzanian sculptor, and shows a distinctly African Christ. All good, as Christ is all to all. On the walls, though, are relief sculptures of the Four Evangelists in African-American features. Seems unnecessary, as they are historical creatures and not divine. That is, they were who they were, so revisionist depictions are ill fitting. Anyway, I add this note merely to affirm the importance of such depictions to the Church and its communities, although I do object when it tends falls into obsequiousness, such as the American solders as Romans and the use of Kwanza “pillars” in the Basilica (see – from Wayback Machine, as the original page is no longer published).

The entire experience reminded me, by counter-example, of precisely why, two years ago, after my baptism I was attracted to the Catholic Church. With my vaguely Episcopalian background, I could hardly find a protestant church that didn’t have a BLM or Ukraine flag out front, and when I did, the Mass was all about how the people feel and what they want and need — and little about what God wants of us. I needed to hear from God, and not from me or someone else in the pews. Had I not found the reverential Mass celebrations at St. Thomas More, I would not today be a Catholic.

Nevertheless, for those for whom greater laity participation and “social justice” is important, Our Lady Queen of Peace delivers. There’s a place for it, and I’m very certain that the parish does wonderful work for the homeless and the poor. Our visit reminded me of a remarkable program at Gonzaga High School, run by a former colleague of mine from Archbishop Carroll: With a homeless center on campus, students have an unusual chance to serve (Washington Post). Such are the good works that activist parishes may engage.

Our Lady Queen of Peace is there for those who seek that type of affirmation and community. There’s great joy there, and we’re very happy to have visited and experienced it.

– Michael


2 responses to “Visit no. 8: Our Lady Queen of Peace”

  1. Avatar

    The Synod I referenced in the post is the “regional” Synod (part of the “continental” Synod) that is to lead to the “global assemblies” at the Vatican starting this October, 2023. See:

  2. […] makes more aware of the grounds of my own parish — especially, after noticing the tucked-away Mary grotto at Our Lady Queen of Peace, our tucked-away Mary statue behind the Cathedral where nobody ever goes. (Plan on some talking […]

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