Our History

Introduction

On behalf of the parish I wish to thank Wallace Andrews, parish historian, for his history of the parish. As you read it, please recognize in its pages the entire biblical story of God’s faithful love for his people. Our short history, dating from 1925, is filled with vision and hope, sin and loss, redemption and grace. This snapshot of God’s people in a particular place and time is universal in implication because God chooses to act in particular ways in the lives of ordinary men and women just like you and me. This is the story of a faithful remnant standing fast when the world’s wisdom counseled admitting defeat and the subsequent ministry which has unfolded.

This is the story of hope triumphant over despair, perseverance negating difficulty, the power of God made manifest in bricks and mortar. It is the challenge of the truth that those to whom much has been given, much is expected. May we under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit give witness to the saving work of God in our lives, in the life of our parish, and in the life of the world.

Andrew T. P. Merrow, Rector

Contents

St. Mary's circa. 1954.
St. Mary’s circa. 1954.

Founding of St. Mary’s

No figure was more instrumental in founding St. Mary’s Church than the Rev. John George Sadtler, who, in 1924, became rector of Langley Parish and its parish church, St. John’s, McLean. At that time Langley Parish included parts of both Fairfax and Arlington Counties, and so Fr. Sadtler also ministered part time to the Epiphany Mission Church in Cherrydale, Arlington. Not long after his appointment, he became interested in establishing a new mission church in the rapidly growing section of Arlington near the Washington Golf and Country Club.

Co-Adjutor of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Henry St. George Tucker, shovel in hand, for the groundbreaking ceremony on June 1926. Looking on is the rector of St. John McLean, the Rev. John G. Sadtler.
Co-Adjutor of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Henry St. George Tucker, shovel in hand, for the groundbreaking ceremony on June 1926. Looking on is the rector of St. John McLean, the Rev. John G. Sadtler.

After canvassing the neighborhood in the summer of 1925, Fr. Sadtler proposed to the St. John’s vestry that steps be taken to build a church there. The vestry concurred and appointed a committee to implement the proposal.

Admiral and Mrs. Presley M. Rixey, who lived in the mansion that is now the core of Marymount University’s central building, became very interested in the church project. They had decided to reserve part of their land as a site for a church and offered the gift of that land, located at Rixey Station, to the building committee. By the end of July, the committee had accepted the gift, approved a preliminary design for the building drawn up by architect W. H. Irwin Fleming, and come up with a plan for raising money.

The building committee elected Adm. Rixey, who served as Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy, an honorary member and asked him and Mrs. Rixey to select the name of the church. They settled on Church of Our Mothers, but Fr. Sadtler pointed out that Episcopal churches were generally named for a saint or Biblical character and suggested St. Mary’s. The Rixeys and the committee agreed upon St. Mary’s — The Church of Our Mothers as the compromise. The Rixeys also offered to match money raised within the parish for the building fund, up to a specified amount.

Bishop William Cabell Brown relieved Fr. Sadtler of his ministry at the Epiphany Mission Church so that he could devote more time to the new mission church. Fr. Sadtler secured permission from Arlington County school authorities to hold church services in the nearby unoccupied Carne School Building — at the site of what is now St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. The first divine service was held at the school on February 4, 1926.

Fund raising efforts were so successful that ground was broken for the church building on June 5, 1926. The Rt. Rev. Henry St. George Tucker, Bishop Coadjutor of Virginia, officiated at the ceremony, assisted by the Rev. John G. Sadtler. Despite inclement weather, more than 100 people attended.

The laying of the cornerstone took place on August 25, 1926. Bishop William Cabell Brown officiated, assisted by the Rev. Sadtler. The Masons also took part, using the trowel and gavel used by George Washington in laying the cornerstone of the Capitol in 1793.

Parochial statistics

Rector Dec. 31 year of: Year Communicants
in good standing
Members Church school (grades 1-9)
John George Sadtler Arrival 1926
Departure 1935 72 135 73
Peyton R. Williams Arrival 1936 85 85 90
Departure 1941 194 197 175
George F. Tittmann Arrival 1942 170 755 263
Departure 1956 893 1,680 452
John Bartel Reinheimer Arrival 1957 1,029 1,857 575
Departure 1968 103 199 14
Paul A. Bankston Arrival 1969 127 212 28
Departure 1971 139 229 16
Kenneth C. Eade Arrival 1972 159 234 19
Departure 1983 212 308 15
Andrew T. P. Merrow Arrival 1985 236 323 10
Present 2011 1,242 2,045 118*

* As of Dec. 31, 2011, church school ran through 5th grade

Through the years

St. Mary’s was established as a mission church in February 1926. The first service in the new church was held on Passion Sunday in 1927. The congregation moved from mission to parish status in 1941. The first major enlargement of the church building was completed in 1952.

Baptismal font circa. 1957.
Baptismal font circa. 1957.

In the 1960’s the church expanded across Glebe Road and ran a day school called St. Mary’s Day School (later renamed the Episcopal Academy). In 1981, part of the school land was sold to pay off parish debts. The school site is now occupied by the Rixey View townhouses and St. Mary’s parking lot. The generous bequest of John and Olive Paca began a capital campaign completed in 1996 to renovate and build to accommodate St. Mary’s growth and new ministries.

But in the early years, the church found itself in financial difficulties when its major benefactor, Adm. Rixey, died in 1928. And throughout the Great Depression, St. Mary’s struggled to meet its financial obligations. The Rev. John George Sadtler retired on September 15, 1935, largely because of the church’s financial situation.

The Rev. Peyton R. Williams accepted the joint rectorship of St. John’s and St. Mary’s Churches and was welcomed to St. Mary’s on September 6, 1936. During his relatively brief tenure (lasting until 1941), the number of baptized members had more than doubled, increasing from 85 to 197. The number of children in church school had jumped from 90 to 175.

The Rev. George F. Tittmann began his rectorship at St. Mary’s Church on April 19, 1942, helping to usher in peak years for St. Mary’s.

During the rectorship of Tittmann, which included a three-year stint as a Navy chaplain during World War II, St. Mary’s had grown phenomenally. By the time he resigned in 1956, the number of baptized members increased from about 200 to 1,680, the number of communicants in good standing from about 200 to 893, and the number of children in church school from 175 to 452.

The Rev. John Bartel Reinheimer was instituted as rector of St. Mary’s by the Bishop of Virginia at a special service on January 13, 1957.

St. Mary’s continued to grow during the late 1950s, but fund raising for the parish house brought to a head a controversy that had developed between the rector and ten of the 17-member vestry. Starting a day school became the focus of a second round of dissent at St. Mary’s, beginning in 1964. The main source of contention had to do with the allocation of the rector’s time between parish and school.

In April 1968, an agreement was worked out between the rector and the vestry for the separation and dissolution of pastoral relations. Fr. Reinheimer would resign as rector of St. Mary’s Parish and would be headmaster of the academy.

The toll of these troubled years was severe. By the end of 1968, St. Mary’s had only 199 members, 103 communicants, and 14 children in church school. The operating budget of the church was in the red.

The Rev. Paul A. Bankston accepted the challenge of guiding St. Mary’s, and the church’s small congregation greeted him in February 1969. His rectorship started out auspiciously, but then, sadly, he became terminally ill and died on August 24, 1971.

The Rev. Kenneth C. Eade became the rector of St. Mary’s on July 1, 1972.   Although he had inherited a dispirited church, he had made a good start in the healing process during his rectorship. Reversing the downward spiral, he had increased membership by one third by the time he retired in April 1983.

The Rev. Andrew T. P. Merrow accepted the call to serve St. Mary’s as permanent rector effective March 5, 1985.

In the early years of Fr. Merrow’s rectorship the church was still operating in the red. By 1991 he had nearly doubled the number of members and communicants, and for the first time in recent history St. Mary’s was operating in the black.

Under the strong and imaginative leadership of the Fr. Merrow, St. Mary’s has made great strides during the church’s years of rejuvenation. It has experienced rapid growth and has a large number of active and devoted parishioners.