Parish History

The history of Catholicism in Alexandria goes back many years. Prior to the Revolutionary War, the Catholic religion was prohibited in Virginia. Priests from Maryland would cross the Potomac to minister secretly to their people. The first public Mass was not celebrated until after the surrender of Cornwallis in 1781. The first Catholic church in Northern Virginia was finally built in 1795. For many years, Jesuit priests from Georgetown University ministered to St. Mary’s, the new parish in Alexandria. The parish covered a large area outside the city boundaries, including what is now our own St. Louis Parish.

In the early 1920s, Father Louis Smet, Pastor of St. Mary’s, with the help of the Catholic laity in the Groveton area, began a Sunday School class for the neighborhood children. Father Smet soon saw a need for a mission church in Groveton. Accordingly in 1925, the old Groveton schoolhouse and the adjoining land was purchased to become the Mission of the Sacred Heart. At the time of its purchase, the old schoolhouse was considerably smaller. It faced out on U.S. Highway 1, instead of on Popkins Lane as we see it today. Mr. L.A. Popkins, with the aid of a team of horses, moved the building to its present location. In the early 1940s the building was enlarged, tripling its capacity to 175, and the name of the church was changed to St. Louis, in honor of Father Louis Smet. By 1949 the Catholic population had become so great that Monsignor Edward L. Stephens, Pastor of St. Mary’s, purchased additional land and a house across from the church. It became the rectory for the first resident pastor, Father Albert P. Campbell.

During the pastorates of Father Campbell and his successor Father Michael F. Igoe, the population of the Groveton area grew spectacularly. When Father Eugene P. Walsh came to St. Louis in June of 1955, the parish had grown to 1,700 parishioners. Father Walsh purchased property upon which a school and convent were soon erected. They were dedicated in 1956 by the Bishop of Richmond, the Most Reverend Peter L. Ireton. Masses were held in the school and soon after in the auditorium of the old Groveton High School (presently Bryant Education Center). A deep concern for the spiritual welfare of the parishioners prompted a ground-breaking ceremony in March 1961 for a new Church structure. The solemn blessing and dedication took place on May 5, 1962.

In 1967 Monsignor Justin D. McClunn became our pastor and served until 1977. In 1974 St. Louis became a parish under the new Diocese of Arlington with its first bishop, The Most Reverend Thomas J. Welsh. Subsequent to Monsignor McClunn’s transfer in 1977, the Reverend James W. McMurtrie became pastor. During his active and fruitful ministry here, he worked extensively in the areas of Catholic Education, Liturgy and Youth Ministry. Under his leadership, the parish dedicated the new Monsignor McClunn Hall in 1983. Prior to his transfer, he was promoted to the rank of Prelate of Honor with the title Reverend Monsignor.

In 1983 the Diocese of Arlington welcomed a new bishop, The Most Reverend John R. Keating. Between the years 1983 and 1987, the parish continued to grow under the leadership of Father Vincent A. Keane. In June 1987, our parish welcomed its new pastor, Reverend Dominic P. Irace, who pursued spiritual renewal and much needed facility restoration. Under his direction, the church and rectory were renovated, and the grounds were landscaped. Father Irace left St. Louis Parish in 1994 to assume the responsibilities of Rector of the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More in Arlington.

Reverend Richard J. Ley was assigned as Pastor of Saint Louis Parish in June of 1994. Father Ley, who was secretary to our former Bishop, Bishop Welsh, continued Father Irace’s work of improving the facilities at Saint Louis, and initiated Eucharistic Adoration and many other elements designed to increase the spirituality of the parish.

In June of 2000, St. Louis Parish welcomed Father John Riley as its new Pastor. Father Riley has expanded Eucharistic Adoration to include Nocturnal Adoration and 40 Hours, increased confessional hours, initiated a weekly Spanish Mass, offered an increasing number of adult formation and fellowship activities, instituted an annual parish retreat, and in many other ways enhanced the devotion and spirituality of St. Louis parishioners.

June of 2004 returned Fr. Staples to St. Louis as Administrator. A few years later in 2007 he was named Pastor. The adoration chapel is now finished and brings adorers daily to spend time in prayer before Our Lord.

Fr. Richard Mullins served as Administrator of St. Louis Parish from October of 2009 until June 2012.

In June 2012, Fr. Matthew Zuberbueler became the Administrator of St. Louis Parish. Fr Matthew was made pastor of St. Louis Parish in August 2013.