Interview with Rev. Bob Cilinski, Pastor

December 16, 2015

By Bob and Marie Clark

This interview covers the principal events of Father Cilinski’s first year as Nativity pastor.  To put the interview in context, the following timeline may be helpful.


  • Saturday, June 7: Father Cilinski’s appointment as pastor announced.
  • Wednesday, June 25: Father Cilinski’s first day as Nativity pastor.
  • Saturday-Sunday, June 28-29: Father Cilinski’s introductory homily to the parish community.
  • Saturday, September 13: Groundbreaking for new Parish Activity Center.
  • Saturday-Sunday, September 20-21: Nativity’s first ministries fair.
  • Sunday, November 9: Stewardship Commitment Sunday.


  • February-March: Phase Two of new building (offices, entrance remodeling) unveiled.
  • Monday, April 6: Nativity Facebook page launched.
  • Sunday, May 3: Memorial service to mark the one-year anniversary of Father Martin’s death.
  • Sunday, May 17: Father Bob announces formation of Pastoral/Parish Council.
  • Sunday, July 12: Father Bob announces new Sunday Mass at 5:30 pm to begin September 13.
  • Sunday, July 26: New Deacon Dick Kelly announced.
  • Wednesday, August 26: Mass of Thanksgiving for Sisters.  Father Guido Sarducci makes his appearance.
  • September: Nativity School opens new school year with completed renovations and additions.
  • October: Parish Council membership announced.
  • October 15: First parish assembly.

*     *     *

Nativity History Project: We began the interview by asking Father Bob to recall for us the principal events of his first year as pastor.

Father Bob Cilinski: First I want to say “thank you” to you for writing the history of Nativity Parish through the years.  It really is a wonderful thing for the parish, documenting and celebrating in archives for future generations to see.  But also we also want to say thanks to God that we have these forty years of beautiful history of the life of the parish, going back to Father Ready, Father Ciullo, and Father Martin.  And now I have the privilege of serving and of joining the parish community as its pastor.

Father Martin’s sudden death certainly brought shock to all of us and a sense of loss and mourning.  Just three days before his death Father Martin was at a priests’ convocation.  We were gathered with eighty priests of our diocese.  I had lunch with Father Martin and some other priests and he was sharing his hopes for his last year before his retirement, the hope of doing the ground-breaking for the new parish center and additional classrooms.  He was a little anxious about his retirement; it would have been hard for him to let go of Nativity Parish.  So I said to him “Well you can celebrate your victory lap.”  And he said “What’s that?” So I said “Well in your last year at Nativity you should just rejoice in everything you and the community have done together, really make every event one in which you enjoy in a special way.  And take a victory lap for all that you’ve done for the parish.”  And he said “Yes, that’s a good idea.”  But three days later the Lord called him home.  And his body became frail and then shut down.  I wasn’t expecting that victory lap, but we definitely believe the day of our destiny and in our resurrection.  And it’s a day of victory for us, a day of victory over death that Christ has won for us.  So his victory lap was celebrated in Heaven in a special way even greater than he would have celebrated on earth.  And I’m sure he did hear those words of the Lord “Well done good and faithful servant.”

So then I was asked by Bishop Loverde to follow Father Martin as Pastor of Nativity.  I had mixed emotions as I was letting go of my community at All Saints where I had been for fourteen years.  But I also knew it was a privilege and an honor to follow Father Martin at Nativity, joining the community, becoming part of them, and to journey with them through their grieving and loss.  Also Father Martin was a friend I had known for thirty-seven years.  We belonged to the same prayer group that met monthly.  For thirty-seven years I and Father Martin met with the same group of priests of our diocese.  So I had a very special connection to him and a friendship with him.

My first day at Nativity was June 25, which is my birthday.  So birthday at Nativity!  Kind of unique for me, celebrating my birth at the parish named for a birth, the birth of our Lord.  My second day – well I arrived the afternoon of the 25th; I always think these assignments begin at twelve noon, so my first full day was the 26th.  The parish put out for bids the eight million dollar construction project which was the hope and dream of the parish, one that I inherited as pastor to spearhead and support.  I knew firsthand the gift that a new parish center, gym, stage, a place for the community to gather, additional classrooms for our school, enhances everything that we’re about as a church in building the community of God.

So we began to continue with the project.  We selected a contractor to do the building.  Scott Long was the one selected.  They had been in Northern Virginia and Chantilly for over forty years and had done other work in the diocese with a very good reputation.

My first homily at Nativity I remembered Father Martin and the theme I chose was “Remembering into the Future.”  The theme was how our memories always evoke a response.  Jesus said that: “Do this in memory of me.”  So every Eucharist is a memorial, we remember what Jesus did, we remember his love for us.  We never want to forget that.  We remember his words: As I have done do likewise.  Do this in memory of me.”  So we celebrate the Eucharist in loving memory.  I also took the day to remember Father Martin and all the good that he did; and in remembering him we go into our future with him in love, and that we live with him praying for us.  And that bond of friendship and love of Father Martin did not unravel with his death.  And I also shared in the homily the beautiful picture of the smiling Christ that Father Martin had given me on my ordination day.  And he wrote a message on the back of that picture.  The message was one that said “If you look to the smiling Christ you think of his compassion, joy and love.  And I see these qualities in you.”  And then he quoted Saint Pope John XXIII: I don’t care what they think of me or what others say about me.  One thing I know … I must be true to my own proposition – to be good and kind to everyone at all times.“

So we united together as a community to journey into our future.  On September 13 we celebrated the ground-breaking for our new parish activity center, one of Father Martin’s hopes.  We invited Father Ready, the founding pastor to come and celebrate the groundbreaking.  He was the Vicar General of our diocese.  I thought it was very appropriate for him to come so we could honor him and thank him as the first pastor, our connection to the past.  He was the only living former pastor.  And so he came and we did honor him.  In his homily that day in the groundbreaking he said “Continue to be open to the Holy Spirit as you go into your future.  Don’t be afraid!  The Holy Spirit will always be there to guide you.”  I thought that was beautiful advice for the parish he founded as we looked to our future, that we should trust the Holy Spirit, which will always guide us.  Little did we know that Father Ready a few months later would also become ill and would return to God.  So it became even more special that we had invited him to celebrate at the groundbreaking.  It wasn’t the first time he had turned a shovelful of earth over of the land here at Nativity as he celebrated the groundbreaking for the original church!

And then it was a time of transition; first a sense of shock, sadness and maybe some anger, a normal human feeling when there’s a sudden change or loss.  And then we moved into kind of neutral zone for the parish, a sense of “what’s going to happen now?”  There might be some doubt, some skepticism, wondering what this new pastor is going to be like.  He certainly can’t fill the shoes of our previous pastor, he was so wonderful.  So it’s a time of transition.  For me the most important thing was just to show care and concern and join with the community in their time of mourning.

And then like all transitions then there comes a time of acceptance and a time of realizing how important this is for our community and our faith and for our being together.  And what can happen is that new innovation and new energy and enthusiasm can come from the transition.  It really is the Paschal Mystery enacted, the dying and the rising.  So although in the transition there is a time of dying and skepticism and doubt, from that can come new life.  And at Nativity we experienced that together.

We had our first Nativity ministries fair celebrating all the ministeries and the giftedness of the parish and inviting others to share their gifts, their time, their talent.  It’s a way of living out our baptism.  So even though we were going to be building new buildings, the church is not buildings; the church is the people of God.  So we wanted to celebrate that, strengthening our community, strengthening our relationships with one another.

Then we had a stewardship commitment Sunday because the other part of our stewardship is our treasure: time, talents, and treasure.  And the whole idea of stewardship is that all good gifts come from God, and at the end of our life we all stand before the Lord and give an account of what we did with our time, our talent, our treasure, that which had been entrusted to us to share.  And so at stewardship commitment Sunday we asked every family to reflect on their level of giving, of sacrificial giving of their treasure to support the work of the church, the needs of our ministries, the needs of our new building, of utilities and of our staff, all those needs to pay for all the things God is calling us to do.  That was a very important moment in the parish and people really responded generously and our offertory increased.  Because of that we are able to do more.

So in February and March we actually started construction and the building of our new center began to happen.  It rose up out of the ground on a very strong foundation.  So last year we saw the building of community, the expression of the community of the people, the parish and its growth and its expansion and its generosity and sacrifice.  Of course the children and all the staff, all the people were very excited to see that new building come up.  During February and March we also re-looked at Phase II of the building project which includes renovation of our current offices, enlarging and renovating the restrooms and putting in additional restrooms.  And then we made a decision to build an entranceway with a covered vestibule in front of the church where we can gather before and after our worship for hospitality and for building community and relationships.  So in doing that we made some changes to the Phase II building project and were able to enlarge the parish center and make it larger than it was originally intended.  So the new plans and schematic designs of the new entranceway of the church I shared with as many parish groups as possible and it seemed to have universal appeal and approval.  So we applied for a change order in our building plan and went through that process and it was approved and accepted.  So that was a great victory for us!

On Easter Sunday Nativity launched its new Facebook page.  I’m very grateful to Sharon and Sal Ruibal for their initiative to do that and a willingness to serve to oversee Facebook.  That’s been a wonderful way to put up daily reflections and pictures and celebrate events and special feasts in the parish and to highlight special people in the parish.

On Sunday, May 3, we remembered Father Martin and we remembered him throughout this first year.  He really did have his “victory lap,” both in Heaven and here on earth.  At parish affairs throughout the year we always remembered Father Martin and I wanted to personally give him that “victory lap” at Nativity.  So at every special event he was mentioned and he was quoted so he really did continue to live on in our midst and in the hearts and minds of the people.  But we wanted to mark his anniversary which was May 3; it was a Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Easter.  So at all our Masses that weekend we celebrated Father Martin’s anniversary remembering into the future.  And we also not only at Mass remembered him we went to his gravesite and had a special memorial service.  Three hundred people showed up, including his family from Rhode Island for the memorial service on the first anniversary of his death.  That Sunday we also chose to be our “Operation Starfish” second collection.  And we moved it, along with basket, to the Sunday closest to Father Martin’s death as a way of remembering him.  That was so dear to his heart, so we had that special second collection on that Sunday closest to Father Martin’s anniversary.  And we let him speak to us on that Sunday about our care for the poor “around the world and across the street”.  There was a beautiful generous collection.  I went down to Fort Lauderdale where Food for the Poor has their headquarters and presented a check for $380,000 to Food for the Poor for Good Shepherd Village for building more homes, and clean water systems, and schools and clinics in Haiti.  And we also that day had a memorial service and a prayer service remembering Father Martin.

In May I announced the formation of a new Parish Council and asked the community to participate in that with a discernment process so we asked everyone in the parish, teenagers and adults, to suggest the name of someone they felt the qualities and the insight necessary to serve on the Parish Council.  So everyone in the parish was asked to participate in that.  We had over 300 adults who were suggested and 78 teenagers were suggested.  And then from that input I met with a small group of people who prayerfully received that list and then made a decision to select the members of our Parish Council: both men and women, different ages, representing different ethnic backgrounds, and representing the life of the parish.  That’s to be a consultative body with the pastor; not the only one, there are many consultative bodies in the parish: Finance Council, staff, and various parish groups, but then this will be an additional group.  It’s an opportunity for me to meet, to share, to listen, and to gain insights and consultation.  They’re all involved in the life of the parish.  I think as much consultation as possible on every level of parish life will help make the best decisions.  Although the Parish Council is not directive but more consultative, that consultative role is still very important and doesn’t the importance of consultation.  So we rejoiced in that and were happy about the input that came from the parish community.  It showed me that we enjoy a lot of gifts, that over three hundred adults were suggested for the Parish Council, and 78 teenagers, so there was a recognition of the beauty of the people of God here at Nativity, providing me a list of names of resources for the future.

In the summer, one of our parishioners and a member of the Knights of Columbus for a long time, Dick Kelly, said that he would like to come to Nativity Parish as a deacon.  He was ordained a deacon for the Washington Archdiocese during a time when there was a moratorium in our diocese for ordaining to the Permanent Deaconate.  The bishop at the time felt we had too many deacons and just wanted to put a moratorium on it.  So when Dick Kelly felt the call to the deaconate he couldn’t be ordained for Arlington so he was ordained for Washington.  He was fourteen years at Saint Augustine’s Church.  But now his ties are to Nativity; his grandchildren are in our school; he’s a long-time member of the Knights of Columbus; so he felt it was time to come back home and share his deaconate ministry here at Nativity.  I welcomed that and he began to share in the life of the parish.

August marked a new special anniversary of our sisters from Italy, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the arrival of Sister Donatella, Sister Mary Attilia, and their order to serve as directors of the religious education program.  In this beautiful Year of the Consecrated Life, a year declared by Pope Francis, it was a perfect time to celebrate our sisters and their twenty-five years.  And it was a great celebration with a Mass.  Many of the priests who had served with them came back to join us and the whole church.  And we had a beautiful reception afterwards.  And there were skits, fun, and entertainment.  And Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live came all the way from Italy to make a special presentation.

Nativity History Project:  But you missed him though.

Father Bob: Yes, I had to step out of the room for a while but I heard he was wonderful and brought the sisters special honors from Pope Francis.  So we are grateful for Sister Donatella, Sister Mary Attilia, and Sister Ernestine for their service – twenty-five years in the parish.  They have the same enthusiasm and life and joy today that they had twenty-five years ago; they are ageless and forever young.  They are loved, and they share God’s love with our children and their families so beautifully.  They have been a consistent presence in the parish of fidelity, and in living out their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience they remind us that it’s not things that matter, it’s people that matter.

In September we opened our new school year, and the first few weeks into the school year we were able to begin to use our renovated class rooms.  A media center, music room, a new science lab, and an art room were opened, as well as new seventh and eighth grade class rooms and pre-K class rooms in the new addition.  And that brought great joy to the students to be able to use these new facilities.  I think they spoke to their hearts of how loved they are and how special they are through the generosity of the community.  The same with the religious education students.  The sisters have a new office that is closer to the lobby and entrance on the way to the school, and I think that the fact that the school office and the new religious education office are geographically right next to each other is a visible sign of the oneness of the parish community in our faith formation programs for our children, that they all share in the faith formation center, a school of faith and love here at Nativity, from our Catholic school to our Catholic religious education program.  The sisters are rejoicing in their new office.  It’s up front and center and provides easy access to anyone coming to Nativity.  In the past they had to walk down the hallway to find their office

In October, after the discernment process was completed the Parish Council members were chosen and announced and the first Parish Council meeting was held.  I was very pleased with everyone’s response.  Everyone that I asked to serve on the Parish Council said “yes” and that they were honored to do so.  And then we gained further input in October when we had a Parish Assembly.  It was held on October 15.  There were two reasons for that: one, to give an updating to the whole parish on life in the parish and our future with the building project which was about to conclude, and with the future project in Phase II; and two, to listen to the hopes and dreams of the people of Nativity.  They were asked to evaluate various areas of parish life: good, average, poor.  And that input was very helpful.  A lot of things were said in affirmation.  There were a couple of areas of parish life where it was felt we could do better and we can strengthen.  They would include our ecumenical work, strengthening our relationships with other faiths; continue to strengthen our adult formation with opportunities and programs so that we can truly become disciples of the Lord, and continue to grow in our faith in an ongoing, never-ending journey of adult formation; and to establish more opportunities for the senior citizens, the senior members of the parish, to gather for activities.  So those were three things we learned through the Parish Assembly.

For me personally one of the questions in the survey was “if you had one piece of advice to give your new pastor, what would it be?”  It was very helpful to get people’s response to that as they filled out the forms.  But someone of the Parish Council stood up and said “Father Bob, about that question about one piece of advice to give your new pastor: You know you’ve been with us now for over a year and you need to stop referring to yourself as our ‘new’ pastor.  You are our pastor.  So it’s time to just say that.”  So I felt that now the transition time has come to a conclusion and we are moving on together.  So I’m not going to refer to myself as the new pastor any more.  It’s been a year and a half and it’s time to move forward.

And then recently we were able to celebrate the dedication of the new Father Martin Center.  It was dedicated on December 5, an early Christmas gift for the parish.  Bishop Loverde came to be with us, Father Martin’s family came from Rhode Island and Florida; and we honored and remembered Father Martin and his name will now be enshrined on the entranceway to the new parish center.  It’ll be great to announce activities at Nativity to take place in the Father Martin Center.  And as I said then his name will always be in our midst.  So that was a great celebration, with not only a Saturday night Mass and reception and entertainment by our school band, children and youth groups, and the school chorus.  It was a delightful celebration to inaugurate our new sound system, the professional lighting, and our large screen.  It continued the next day after every Mass on Sunday a reception was held in the new parish center, and lots of families and people came down to the center, and stayed together and spent time together, and enjoy coffee and donuts.  One of the purposes of the new center was to build community and bring us together, and we were able to do that.  People stayed and they loved being together.  It was fun to watch the eyes of people walking in; they were filled with wonder and awe and joy.  The children in our school went into the center for the first time and they danced and they sang and they ran and they enjoyed the center.  And the second grade children went back to their class room and asked their teacher if they could pray for rain so they could have indoor recess.  I think that captures the joy of the new parish center.  And we hope people will use the new facilities and continue the work of being the church of God’s people and celebrate and pass on the work of the Gospel and their friendship with Christ

Nativity History Project:  Thank you very much, Father.  That was a great summary of a year and a half of exciting change and, I’m sure, challenges for you personally, but great achievement as well.  Thank you for sharing that with us.

Father Bob:  Well these are God’s achievements.  This is when you look around and say “Look how God is working; look how God can inspire us, to think great thoughts, to be open to change.”  We must always be discerning how God is working within us to find what do I have to give to the community.  Then you determine it and you do it.  Being pastor of Nativity brings joy, hospitality, welcoming, great compassion, especially for those in need, and generosity to share with others who do not have as much.  It’s all centered on our friendship with Christ.  All those Gospel principles flow from our friendship with Christ and remembering him and how he lived.  He taught us how to live fully human lives.  And then as we remember him, as we gather for the Eucharist, we’re empowered to then go out and bring Christ’s love to others.  So that’s where we get our inspiration, our power.  As the Church says, the Eucharist is the source from which everything else flows.

Nativity History Project:  Could I ask you just one last question?  I had the opportunity when I was writing the other portions of the history to interview Father Ready about his time as pastor and the opportunity to interview Father Martin about his time.  I didn’t have the opportunity to interview Father Sal but I had access to newspaper reports of people who had interviewed him.  And I was able to ask the same question of Father Ready and Father Martin, and the same question was asked of Father Sal, and I’d like to ask you the same question and get your response to it.  I asked them what was your primary goal or objective when you came here as pastor.  How would you describe it in your case?

Father Bob:  I think my primary goal was simply to come and be loved and to love the community in return.  And that’s my primary goal: to celebrate God’s loving presence, to proclaim and celebrate the gift of our faith that gives great meaning and purpose to our lives; to love the community, to care for them.  The joy of the priest is being in the thick of life, to celebrate with people the special moments of their life, birth and baptism, anniversaries, celebrating marriage and family life, sharing the Eucharist, visiting the elderly, listening to their stories, sharing in healing and prayer when a person is sick or dying, really feeling the gift of life.  These are the most privileged moments of our lives, feeling God’s loving presence.  So I’d say those were my “marching orders” when I came here: to love and try to keep the beautiful vision of Nativity parish alive, the vision that Father Martin and Father Sal and Father Ready had built over decades.  It’s about sharing the journey with the people of Nativity.  Remembering our past, we go into our future with lots of energy and hope.

Nativity History Project:  Thank you very much Father.

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