The Church Buildings

By Bob Clark

The Worship Center

In its early years, Nativity Parish was confronted with many needs, a rapidly growing and changing parish community, and limited funds with which to build its worship center. Over ten acres of land in a prime location were available for the building, but what kind of structure would best serve the needs of the parish? The parish families were consulted and conceptual surveys were conducted. As a mid-1970s planning document explains, “…a multi-purpose structure was designed that would both look and function as a church, while also providing a place for the related educational, social and administration activities of the parish. This is the first stage of a master plan which later can be expanded to meet the requirements of increased population. The open space concept will meet the needs of the Parish now. The building is programmed to serve the demands of a constantly expanding congregation.”

history52The architect’s original drawing of the worship center.

history53The architect’s original model of the worship center, from 1975. Note that the offices, multipurpose room, conference room and nursery were planned to be to the left of the entrance as one entered, instead of to the right as they were eventually built and as they are today (2013).

history54Soon after the architect’s model appeared, drawings of it began to be used on the cover of the church’s weekly bulletin. This one is from September 1976.

When applied to a worship center, the “open space” concept meant a church without permanent pews or even a permanent altar and sanctuary. Worshipers sat in movable chairs and the altar and sanctuary were moved from side to side of the church, depending on the configuration sought at any given Mass. Different configurations were used for Mass during Easter and Christmas, as well as for Masses with smaller attendance for weddings and funerals.

Religious education classes were held in the same space, and accommodated by moving the chairs around and bringing in portable partitions. The CCD students and their parents were responsible for arranging the chairs and partitions prior to the first class each evening, and for replacing all the furniture in its original configuration after the last class to be ready for the daily Mass the next morning. The same routine was followed for evening meetings; social gatherings could usually be accommodated in the All-Purpose Room (which included the space dedicated to the gift shop today) and the small kitchen behind it. The APR also served as a nursery where young children could be cared for during Mass, as the “Green Room” of today was still storage space in the original building. The nursery was run by volunteer parishioners as a co-op, so that the parents of each child would share in the supervisory responsibilities of the center on a rotating basis.

history55In 1976, when the architect’s drawings had reached this stage of detail and fund-raising began, the parish produced a brochure that showed various possible combinations of seating and altar placement, depending on how the Worship Center was to be used. The plan above is the design used most frequently for Mass. During Father Sal’s pastoral tenure, the movable chairs were replaced with permanent pews and a permanent altar was moved to be against what in this plan is the rear wall. Note that when the building finally was built, the offices and other rooms that extend out to the left side of the church were “flipped” over to the right side as we find them today.

history56The architect’s later drawing of the church. Notice how current (2013) usage has changed from the original concept. The altar was originally in the lower left corner, near where the St. Anthony’s altar is currently located, and the congregation today faces what was the rear wall originally. Space set aside for a nursery and bride’s room is now occupied by the gift shop.

history57The above photo, taken during the church’s dedication Mass on April 26, 1980, shows Mass celebrated in this location. Note the movable chairs instead of permanently installed pews. Permanent pews were installed in 1991 by the New Holland Church Furniture Company of New Holland, Pennsylvania. They cost approximately $80,000.00. With this installation, the orientation of the church for Mass was changed to the direction it has been ever since.

history58Two views of the entrance to the church as it appeared in 1992.history59

The Spiritual Formation Center and School

Father Sal began planning and preparation for this addition to the church in 1984. In October 1985, the Vicar General of the Diocese, Msgr. McClunn, advised Father Sal by letter that he had spoken with the Bishop about the proposed Nativity school project, and that the Bishop granted permission for the parish to hire an architect to prepare a conceptual drawing for the building that Father Sal had proposed. The letter stressed the tentative nature of the project, however, especially as regards the use of the conceptual drawing of the building in the fund-raising brochure.

history60Above is the site plan developed in December, 1985. This ambitious plan was to move forward in stages, as funding became available. The portion shaded in yellow became the spiritual formation center and eventually Nativity School. The area to the left, including a gymnasium and cafeteria, was not built during this phase. The cafeteria and Parish Hall were incorporated into the ground floor of the school. Planning for the last phase began in 2012, and fund-raising began in 2013.

Limited funds meant that planning proceeded quite slowly; and in March 1989, the chairperson of the parish’s Finance Committee, William Goetz, wrote Bishop Keating to ask for the Bishop’s support to secure a modest amount of additional funding to give the construction project some new momentum. The parish was now graduating large numbers of CCD students who had never known the benefits of studying in a good learning environment.

The ground-breaking ceremony, shown below, was held in March 1991.history61

On May 31, 1992, Nativity opened its new Spiritual Formation Center to house the parish’s religious education program, but Father Sal had it designed and built so it could be converted into a school, which was always his top priority. His dream became a reality in 1996.

history62Two views of the entrance to the spiritual formation center (now the school) in 1992.history63

Soon after the building was dedicated, the parish began the lengthy process of converting the building to an elementary school. In the fall of 1994, a survey of parishioners found that, of 374 families surveyed, 214 were “strongly in favor” and 83 were “in favor”, of converting to a school. The numbers of children in these families alone seemed supportive of the new school, with the possible exception of the eighth grade.

In February, 1996, Bishop Keating authorized Father Sal to spend $200,000.00 of parish funds for site improvement, a new road entrance, and land clearing for a new playground area prior to the opening of the school. Most of these improvements were required by Fairfax County in order for the parish to obtain the necessary permits and authorizations to convert the CCD building into a school serving 450 students from kindergarten through the eighth grade. In March, Bishop Keating gave his authorization to establish a convent of the Felician Sisters near Nativity. The sisters were invited by Father Sal to send a number of their members from New Jersey to Burke to staff the new school. Although the Felicians were limited in the number of sisters they had available, they were able to commit to sending one sister as principal, one as a teacher, and a third to serve the parish through the ministry of religious education. The new principal was Sister Lisa Marie DiSabatino, formerly principal of St. Bridget School in Glassboro, New Jersey. She was joined by Sisters Therese Bednarczk, a second-grade teacher, and Marie Victoria Bartkowski, pastoral associate and eighth-grade religion teacher.

There were few changes to the church buildings after the opening of the pastoral formation center/school. However, with the dramatic growth of the parish in the early years of the new millennium, it became clear that another building would be essential. This expansion could be seen as the logical completion of Father Sal’s 1985 site plan, described above, which shows clearly the plan for a third building adjoining the school. The focus of Father Martin from the late 1990s on was in the direction of outreach and carrying out the parish’s mission outside by investing in people rather than in buildings. By 2013, however, the need for additional space had become undeniable, so a plan for expansion was launched. The drive to raise the funds to begin this expansion is underway as this history was being prepared. Plans were for the ground breaking for the new building to occur in spring, 2014. Two artist’s renderings of the parish buildings upon completion of the expansion are below.


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