The Peak Years2017-04-04T18:28:08-04:00


Christus Rex on Fleury Cross circa. 1957.

Christus Rex on Fleury Cross circa. 1957.

The 1940s

The Rev. George F. Tittmann began his rectorship at St. Mary’s Church on April 19, 1942. With the nation preparing for war, Washington, D.C., was a boom town, and the influx of service personnel and civilian government workers spilled over into northern Virginia.

Fr. Tittmann, a graduate of Harvard College and the Virginia Theological Seminary, was a dynamic individual and liberal in his views. With his charismatic personality, he quickly drew young people to St. Mary’s. During his first year, the number of baptized members increased from 197 to more than 750. The number of families grew from about 200 to 263 and, of particular interest, the number of singles grew from about 21 to 81.

Fr. Tittmann organized a Cub Pack of the Boy Scouts and announced in December that 50 boys had joined. By March 1943, a Boy Scout Troop had also been organized and a scoutmaster selected. Girl Scouts had been meeting in the parish hall since October 1939.

In addition to their regular scout activities, the girls joined in the war effort by folding bandages, making sandbags, and collecting items, such as soap and medicine droppers, for the Red Cross.

St. Mary’s Red Cross Unit was very active. Many women of the community were listed as occasional workers. An average of 25 women attended meetings held twice a week. In 1943 nearly 800 garments were made up in the sewing room, and the surgical dressing unit turned out about 16,000 dressings.

A four rank “unit” pipe organ, which had been ordered from the Moller Organ Co. between the rectorships of Fr. Williams and Fr. Tittmann, was installed in the former sacristy in October 1942.

In February 1943 Fr. Tittmann informed the vestry that he had decided to enter the Navy as a chaplain and, therefore, was tendering his resignation, to become effective the second Sunday after Easter. The vestry, however, rejected his resignation and granted him a leave of absence.

Dr. Robert 0. Kevin, professor of Old Testament at the Virginia Theological seminary, accepted the position as priest-in-charge during Fr. Tittmann’s absence. Later, Mr. Arthur Geeson, a seminary student, served as parish assistant to Dr. Kevin.

St. Mary’s Guild was renamed St. Mary’s Auxiliary Guild in 1943 and became affiliated with the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church. It had a membership of 100 women. One of the chief functions of the organization was packing boxes (mostly used clothing) for the mountain missions. Members also participated in war-bond drives.

Some 348 children were registered in the church school in 1945, but classroom facilities could accommodate fewer than one-third that number. All kinds of temporary expedients were adopted to provide Christian education and basic worship experience to the children: classes were scheduled in shifts, with junior classes meeting in the nave and primary classes scattered among the few classrooms, the kitchen, the stage, the vestry room, and the choir room.

The Rev. George F. Tittmann.

The Rev. George F. Tittmann.

A building committee was appointed to find solutions to the church school space problem. It considered two possible courses: remodeling and expanding the existing church building or purchasing land for a new school building. Both options were left open, but in 1944 the vestry took advantage of an opportunity to buy the 2 1/8-acre Robinson tract on the west side of Glebe Road at its intersection with Old Dominion Drive.

The Rev. George Tittmann returned from active duty as a Navy chaplain in January 1946, having served on a Navy attack transport in the Pacific. He and 88 other men and women from St. Mary’s had answered the call to the colors.

In June 1947 St. Mary’s purchased a residence at 2247 Upton Street as a rectory for Fr. Tittmann, his wife, and three children.

For a brief period, St. Mary’s participated in a series of religious broadcasts on Arlington’s Radio Station, WARL. Proposed by the Arlington Ministerial Union, the series included a church service broadcast each Sunday and a 15-minute program broadcast daily. The broadcasts were divided among Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths. St. Mary’s participated in the daily programs only.

The vestry initiated plans in 1947 to pay off the mortgage on the church building. Services on December 7 included the burning of the mortgage on the church steps and the Form of Consecration of a Church led by the Rt. Rev. Frederick Dean Goodwin, Bishop of Virginia. The Rev. John G. Sadtler, the first rector of St. Mary’s, also participated. Following the service, a reception was held for Dr. E. M. Blackwell to honor his 20 years as St. Mary’s senior warden and almost as many (1926-44) as its Sunday school superintendent. His contributions to the church were legion.

The 1950s

St. Mary’s joined the Arlington Council of Churches in 1948. Two Arlington churches, Epiphany and Grace Churches, merged in 1950 to form St. Andrew’s Church. At that time, a plan proposed by the Bishop of the Diocese to create Arlington Parish was approved. In 1951 St. Mary’s congregation voted to dissolve St. Mary’s Parish and become part of Arlington Parish, which included all of the other Episcopal churches in Arlington County.

In 1950 the congregation approved in principle a proposed enlargement of the church building. Plans went ahead, and the building program, which nearly doubled the church in size, was completed in 1952. The enlarged building was dedicated on October 19, 1952.

As part of the building project, the vestry contracted with the Newcomer Organ Co. to provide a rebuilt console for the organ and to enlarge the instrument by three stops (Gamba, Celeste, and Pedal Bourdon). The organ was then moved and reinstalled in a new choir loft at the rear of the nave.

The Rev. George F. Tittmann and the St. Mary's chior with the Rixey Memorial Window in the background.

The Rev. George F. Tittmann and the St. Mary’s choir with the Rixey Memorial Window in the background.

Other changes in the interior design included relocating the Rixey Memorial Window to the east wall of the narthex; installing a free-standing high altar with communion rails behind and on either side; suspending a gilded fleury cross above the altar; installing a wrought iron pulpit and lectern at the front of the chancel; and installing a wood-and-copper baptismal font in the center of the narthex. These changes in interior design were carried out under the direction of Canon Edward N. West of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Canon West was an authority on church design.

The church continued to grow throughout the early 1950s. The vestry authorized a call to the Rev. Guy Hill in 1953 to become associate rector of St. Mary’s. Then, in 1955, the vestry approved adding a director of religious education to the staff.

In 1954 St. Mary’s hosted the 159th Annual Council Meeting of the Diocese of Virginia. Fr. Tittmann arranged an outstanding program. About 4,000 people attended the opening service, which was held in the gymnasium of the Washington-Lee High School. More than 500 clergy and choir members were in the procession and the Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherill, presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, gave the opening address. Both Bishop Goodwin and Suffragan Bishop Gibson of The Diocese of Virginia participated in the service, and the Rev. Edward L. Merrow, rector of Grace Church, Alexandria, served as master of ceremonies. All events other than the opening service were held at St. Mary’s Church.

Fr. Tittmann tendered his resignation to the vestry in June 1956, to become effective on September 1. During the rectorship of this remarkable man St. Mary’s had grown phenomenally. 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. Fr. Reinheimer had received a B.S. degree from Trinity College in Connecticut, a B.D. degree from Episcopal Theological School in Massachusetts, an M.A. degree from Northwestern University, and a second M.A. degree from Georgetown University.

In 1956 the congregation approved the construction of a new rectory. Completion of the residence at 4540 North 41st Street coincided closely with the arrival of Fr. Reinheiroer and his family in January 1957.

Fr. Reinheimer was particularly interested in education and social issues. He felt strongly that Christians had a role to play within the community as well as the parish.

The vestry accepted, with regret, the resignation of the associate rector, Guy Hill, in September 1957. The Rev. Charles Pickett, Jr., was called in August 1958 to serve as assistant rector for a period of one year. Fr. Pickett submitted his resignation in May 1959, and the Rev. Edmund Stevens, who had served as supply preacher at St. Mary’s, was called as assistant rector in March 1960.

Fr. Stevens was very interested in church drama as a visual means of religious education and worship. Under his direction, the St. Mary’s Players participated in the interdenominational Metropolitan Church Drama Clubs’ cycle of Lenten Chancel Dramas in 1960 and 1961. Each of eight parishes produced a play and presented it in its own chancel and in the chancels of the other participating parishes.

Ill health forced Fr. Stevens to withdraw from active work in the parish in 1961. The vestry chose not to hire a new assistant rector at that time.

St. Mary’s continued to grow during the late 1950s, and, again, a lack of space for the growing church school became a chronic problem. In September 1957, Arlington County indicated that it wished to acquire the Robinson lot for the extension of Yorktown Boulevard. The Robinson lot included five parcels of land and St. Mary’s agreed to sell four to the county. The church then purchased the adjacent Smith lot and combined it with the remaining parcel of the Robinson property. Then, in 1959, St. Mary’s acquired the Darden property, which adjoined the Smith lot and extended to the intersection of Glebe Road and 26th Street. That purchase gave St. Mary’s a total of 2.76 acres of land on the west side of Glebe Road.

A large brick house, originally built by Dr. Blackwell as his residence, stood on the Darden property, and a smaller frame house occupied part of the Smith property. Space in those two houses was used for additional classrooms and other activities.

The 1960s

The annual St. Mary’s fair, which was held on the church grounds across Glebe Road, was a big community event in the 1960s. It was held on two consecutive days and was much like an old-fashioned county fair. There were usually about 50 booths, a large dining tent, pony rides, and other offerings. One year 900 dinners were served. It took about 200 people to run the fair, and several thousand people reportedly attended.

A building plans committee was appointed in 1960 to prepare and submit plans for the construction of a building, or buildings, on the newly acquired land. The architectural firm engaged for the project submitted a master plan calling first for construction of a parish house and parking area and then for the construction of a new sanctuary building.

A capital campaign was initiated in May to raise funds for the construction of a parish house. The building would provide seven church school classrooms, an assembly hall and kitchen, offices for the staff, a common room, and a chapel. As of January 9, 1961, $131,776 had been pledged to the building fund.