The Early Years

Contents

Rixey trolley station cira., 1926-30 with St. Mary's in the background.
Rixey trolley station cira., 1926-30 with St. Mary’s in the background.

The 1920s

The first service in the new church building was held on Passion Sunday, April 3, 1927. The building was modified English Gothic in design, with distinctive rough stone facing and a bell tower. The main entrance at the north end of the building faced the intersection of Glebe Road and the Washington and Old Dominion Railway.

On Easter Monday, April 18, five men were elected to the first vestry; Dr. Edward M. Blackwell, Mr. John L. Keddy, Mr. Benjamin L. Jacobs, Mr. T. Turner Smith and Mr. Glegge Thomas. At the first meeting. Dr. Blackwell was elected senior warden, an office that he went on to hold for 25 years.

In the early years there were not many Episcopalians in the vicinity of St. Mary’s, and people of all denominations were invited to participate in worship there. Many non-Episcopalians who did so ended up adopting St. Mary’s as their community church.

The church found itself in financial difficulties in 1928 when its major benefactor, Adm. Rixey, died. The building committee had incurred a larger loan for building construction than originally intended because Adm. Rixey had agreed to endorse a large part of the loan.

Although he left a legacy to the church to pay off the loan, the estate, when settled, was insufficient to honor the bequest. So throughout the Great Depression, St. Mary’s struggled to meet its financial obligations.

Fortunately, the women of St. Mary’s Guild did an outstanding job of raising money. Their largest annual fund-raising event was a card party held at the Washington Golf and Country Club each October.

In addition, the guild and individual circles within the guild gave smaller card parties, teas and dinners, and held food sales. The annual proceeds ranged from $600 to $1,000 – significant amounts during the Depression.

The 1930s

Muriel Catherine Phelan and Theodore Clyde Osterhaus, during the first wedding at St. Mary's on June 3, 1931.
Muriel Catherine Phelan and Theodore Clyde Osterhaus, during the first wedding at St. Mary’s on June 3, 1931.

The Rev. John G. Sadtler retired on September 15, 1935, largely because of the church’s financial situation. The Diocesan Missionary Society contributed to Fr. Sadtler’s stipend, but a society regulation required that such aid be withdrawn when a clergyman reached retirement age.

The vestries of St. John’s and St. Mary’s Churches concluded that, even with their combined efforts, the two churches could not undertake any additional obligations to make up the shortfall in the rector’s stipend.

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. A young man from a large Episcopalian family in Richmond, Virginia, he was like Fr. Sadtler low church and accepted St. Mary’s Mission Church as a community church. During his relatively brief tenure (lasting until 1941), he accomplished a great deal for St. Mary’s.

St. Mary’s Guild and a small chapter of the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church were both listed as active organizations at the beginning of Fr. Williams’s rectorship. Over time he nudged the guild toward having more educational and outreach activities and fewer fund-raising social events. He wanted St. Mary’s to support itself through popular subscription and pledges. He urged the guild members to familiarize themselves with the organization and goals of the woman’s auxiliary — particularly its missisonary activities. In 1939 the two women’s organizations merged under the name of St. Mary’s Guild.

By 1941 the guild had met most of the standards required for membership in the national organization — the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church. Other active church organizations during this period were the altar guild, the choir, a young people’s society, and a men’s club. Under Fr. Williams’s leadership the financial situation gradually improved.

By late 1939 the vestry resolved that “because of the growth of St. Mary’s and raising of a sufficient budget, it is desirable that St. Mary’s become a separate Parish with a full time rector and that the Senior Warden is authorized to appoint a committee to consider what steps should be taken to this end.”

The 1940s

At its 145th annual meeting, in May 1940, the Council of the Diocese of Virginia granted St. Mary’s petition to become the parish church of a new parish to be known as St. Mary’s Parish. It was not until early 1941, however, that Bishop Goodwin authorized Fr. Williams to become the full-time rector of St. Mary’s Church and the newly ordained Fr. Paschal D. Fowlkes to become rector of St. John’s Church. Around the same time, the vestry appointed a committee to commission a stained-glass window in memory of Admiral and Mrs. Rixey. The hand-blown stained glass was designed and executed by Henry Lee Willet, and the cypress frame was designed by John W. Stenhouse. The window was installed in the chancel (south) wall and was dedicated on July 7, 1940. Efforts to raise money for a pipe organ also got underway.

Fr. Williams announced to the vestry in May 1941 that he had accepted a call to Christ Church, Georgetown, D.C., effective September 1, 1941. The number of baptized members had more than doubled during his rectorship, increasing from 85 to 197. The number of children in church school had jumped from 90 to 175.