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The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin was established in 1873. It is the outgrowth of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, formerly styled St. James’ First African Protestant Episcopal Church (est. June 23, 1824). Out of St. James’ emerged the formation of St. Katharine’s and St. Philip’s as missions of Mt. Calvary Church. The chapels were operated under the sponsorship and direction of the mother church. St. Katharine’s continues to exist. Today it is a self-supporting parish church located on the corner of Division and Presstman Streets. However, St Philip’s survived for several years before it was dissolved. Former members of St. Philip’s, desiring their own church, requested and received the approval of the Bishop to become a separate congregation. With the consent of the Bishop, the congregation styled themselves under the patronage of the blessed mother of our Lord, Saint Mary the Virgin.
The first service of the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin was held at All Saints Sisters Mission House, No. 85, Preston St., on Sunday, March 23, 1873, conducted by Father Calbraith B. Perry. This chapel soon became inadequate and two months later, a hall was rented on the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and St. Mary Street (named after St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Seminary). On May 18, 1873, Father Joseph Richey, Rector of Mt. Calvary Church, preached the sermon at the new location. Because of the tremendous increase in membership over the summer months, a friend and benefactor purchased a two-story building on Orchard St., near Madison Ave., across from Mt. Calvary Church, as a home for the congregation of the Chapel of St Mary the Virgin. The first Mass was said by Father Perry on the Feast of St. Matthew, September 21, 1873.
By 1878, the membership had outgrown the present building. The church’s benefactor secured properties behind the church on St. Mary St. and gave them to the Diocese of Maryland free of debt and at the disposal of Mt. Calvary’s clergy. Following this action a cornerstone for an addition to the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin was laid by Dr. Richey. The ceremony was held on Sunday, September 7, 1879. On Sunday, February 2, 1880, the first Mass was said in the new section.Matthew, September 21, 1873.
During the first meeting of the Vestry, Father E. Lawrence Lacher was officially elected as our first Rector. Vestry officers were elected. The senior and junior wardens were appointed by the Rector. At a second meeting, By-Laws were drawn and adopted. During the tenure of Father Lacher, there were many positive internal changes and growth. The most significant accomplishment was the establishment of the St. Stephen’s Court Apartments. Father Lacher served as our parish priest for 22 years. On March 31, 1970, he submitted his resignation to the Bishop. He then became manager-director of the St. Stephen’s Court Apartments, Inc. and was appointed Priest-in-Charge of the St. Stephen’s House Chapel, a mission of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin.
Bible study was initiated and conducted by Father Manning each week. He also started a monthly newsletter, La Fleur de Lis, shortly after his arrival. Father Manning was instrumental in getting a Daughters of the King chapter in the church. Wombwork Productions, Inc., a community-based program for youth and the performing arts, began residency at St. Mary’s under Fr. Manning’s leadership. He initiated the 125th anniversary celebration and the 21st Century Endowment Fund supported by contributions from parishioners. Fr. Manning retired in December 2003.
In February of 2004, Father Ronald Miller became Interim Rector. During his tenure, we were able to do much needed renovations. After the first Mass of Easter, parishioners brought foods eaten during the time of Jesus Christ. Foods such as dates, nuts, breads and fruits were shared and eaten. He initiated the use of bells at the first Mass of Christmas. Father Miller taught us about the Holy Land through his pictures taken during one of his trips to Jerusalem. He was always available to us if any assistance was needed. He left in October 2005.
Father Gerald Shelton Collins became our fourth Rector on November 1, 2005. His institution took place January 7, 2006. Father Gerald affectionately liked to define his institution as his “marriage to St Mary’s.” Our Celebration of a New Ministry with Fr. Gerald was beautiful with many priests attending from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, Southern Ohio, New York and Long Island. Father Collins faithfully served the St. Mary’s family until 2010.
Father Charles S. Mercer, Jr., was called to be our Priest-in-Charge and preached his first sermon at St. Mary the Virgin on January 15, 2012. Fr. Mercer has helped to revitalize our congregation and we look forward to many years together. In this first year of service to the St. Mary’s congregation, membership has doubled, several facility improvements have been made and outreach ministry is alive and well. In August 2012, the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin entered into a collaboration with the students of Belmont Elementary School as an outgrowth of the outreach of the St. Mary’s family. The spirit is alive and well at St. Mary!