By Jennifer Neville Of The Catholic Virginian
The “laundry list” of community and world needs has not changed since St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Newport News originated in the late 19th century, and the parish continues to have a responsibility to address those needs, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo declared at a Mass celebrating the parish’s 100th year in its present church building.
From the beginning, the parish has faced a number of issues such as economic strife, endangered homeland security, political polarization, racial tension and accessible health care just as it does today, the bishop said.
“This is the world in which we currently live. Our ancestors in the faith had to struggle with this, and we’re still struggling with this as persons of faith,” the bishop said.
A parish’s primary purpose, he said, is to foster an environment in which it can develop a communion, a unity with Jesus. A parish also has a responsibility to evaluate the needs of the community and, in partnership with Christ, address those needs to ensure the dignity of every individual is protected.
“The ultimate goal is to be with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit forever and ever” without neglecting this world and its many challenges, Bishop DiLorenzo said.
Following in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul, parishioners have contributed their time, talent and treasures to share his love for the poor and the marginalized. For example, some of its present outreach efforts for homeless and low-income individuals are weekday hot meals, a food pantry, a clothes closet, and the donation of bus passes for appointments such as doctor visits and job interviews. At Christmas, the parish draws volunteers from throughout the community to host a Christmas party complete with gifts, refreshments, and a visit from Santa. The celebration has grown to include approximately 600 low-income individuals of all ages.
St. Vincent de Paul Parish’s history stretches back to 1881 when a group of approximately 30 Catholics worshipped in the home of one of the parish families thus forming the second Catholic parish on the Peninsula. In 1970, St. Vincent de Paul Parish merged with nearby St. Alphonsus Parish, which was established in 1944 to serve black Catholics. St. Vincent de Paul Parish, which has approximately 300 families, is now part of the Peninsula Cluster which also includes St. Joseph Parish in Hampton and St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish at Fort Monroe.
St. Vincent de Paul Parish’s first church was built in 1891 on Washington Ave. near 34th St. Despite the parish’s humble beginning, the number of parishioners had grown to approximately 1,000 by 1900. In 1916 ground was broken for the present church and rectory (now administrative offices) about two blocks away on 33rd St., and celebration of Mass began there in 1917. Over the years the church added stained glass windows, paintings and statues. In 2005 the church was added to the Virginia Historical Register and the National Register of Historic Places.