Forming a Community of Faith
Burtonsville and its surrounding areas have traditionally been a very diverse religious community. The Methodist Church was the most prominent of the Protestant communities in the Burtonsville area. However, congregations from other communities including Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Quakers and Mennonites had churches in Spencerville, Olney, Sandy Spring and Damascus.
The Athey family were prominent members of the Liberty Grove Methodist Church and owned a considerable amount of land in the Burtonsville area. The Catholic Archdiocese obtained the current parcel of land (approximately 23 acres) in 1950 on which Resurrection parish is now located. The property was leased to a local farmer until the parish was established in 1980.
In June of 1980, Bishop Thomas Lyons assigned Father Macfarlane to St. John the Baptists rectory in Silver Spring to study the needs of the growing Catholic population in the Burtonsville area. From June through the end of the year Father Macfarlane met with the Catholics in the area and discussed with them the possibility of starting a new parish. He also met with representatives from the Park and Planning Office of Montgomery County to find out their growth predictions for the area.
Meanwhile Archbishop Hickey was appointed Archbishop to Washington in August 1980. Father Macfarlane met with Archbishop Hickey and Bishop Marino. Father recommended that a new parish be established in the Burtonsville area and that a future church could be built on the Burtonsville property on Greencastle Road.
The fledgling parish was begun as a mission in November 1980 and called the Burtonsville Catholic Community. Mass initially was celebrated at Liberty Grove Methodist Church at 5pm on Saturday evenings and at Paint Branch High School on Sunday mornings at 10:15am. On the first weekend Mass was celebrated, 113 people attended Mass which comprised of 35 households. The collection that Sunday was $312. The small Catholic congregation made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in numbers. The early days were quite a struggle.
By the Spring of 1981 things began to look more positive. More people found their way to the Burtonsville community. It was time to make a dramatic move.
Another meeting with Archbishop Hickey in March 1981 proved the impetus in establishing this six month old community as a Catholic parish. The Archbishop accepted Father Macfarlane’s suggestion of the name ‘Resurrection Parish’ and the name of the parish was announced on April 22, 1981, Easter Sunday. It was soon necessary to add a third Mass at 8:00am on Sunday morning at Liberty Grove. The weekend attendance now numbered about 400 people.
During the first year of the parish’s existence, it had progressed far beyond anyone’s hopes or dreams. Men and women answered appeals for help with the zeal of missionaries. There was a great spirit in those early days. The women especially participated with great diligence in every phase of the parish’s activities – liturgical, social, educational, etc.
In June of 1982 Sister Mary Margaret, a Sister of the Holy Cross, was hired as a pastoral associate. Sister Mary Margaret became the first Sister to be hired as a pastoral associate in the Archdiocese. Sister was well received by the parish and appreciated for her warmth and good humor. Many ministries and committees were formed under her guidance. That same summer Father Macfarlane wrote a personal letter to every potential member of the new parish inviting them to register as members. By the end of the summer about 250 families made up the community of Resurrection parish.
During the next two years as the parish continued to grow slowly, several vibrant parish organizations were established. A very good religious education program was begun for children in grades 1 – 12. Dorothy Werner volunteered her efforts the first year to get things organized. By the second year she was hired as the Director of Religious Education, a position she still holds. The program has grown from about sixty children the first year to about 450 children in 1989.
An active social committee was established which planned monthly social events to bring the parish community together. This committee became a major fundraising force. Likewise, a talented liturgy committee began to plan liturgies under the direction of Sister Mary Margaret. Several generous people also began an Outreach Committee to meet the needs of the poor and the disenfranchised within the parish boundaries. Their quiet work continues to touch the lives of so many people today.
By 1984 the parish had to face the question of building something for its growing numbers. After reviewing our financial situation and looking at the needs of our parish as a whole, we decided that we would like to build a church. The building committee under the direction of Joseph Froio and the finance committee under the leadership of George Wade began meeting to plan for the future. Parish meetings were held, architects interviewed, the parish was polled and the reality of the situation dictated that what we wanted was not financially possible at this time. So the parish scaled back its expectations and settled on a two-phase construction. An all-purpose lower level building would be designed and built first to be followed later on by a permanent church. The lower level would then become a social hall and meeting area. The Church would be built on top of the social hall.
On February 4, 1985, a general parish meeting was held at Liberty Grove. There Father Macfarlane presented these ideas to the parish at large. Those present gave an enthusiastic go ahead to this two-phased program.
A pledge drive was initiated by the men of the parish. Two hundred and fifty families pledged and contributed over $450,000 to this campaign. We were on our way. Since the church owned about 25 acres of property on Greencastle Road, it was decided that twelve acres was more than enough for a parish complex. Consequently 12 acres were sold for an additional $375,000. We now had half the money needed to begin the building program.
Michael LeMay of LeMay Associates was chosen as the architect because he had already designed several contemporary churches in Northern Virginia. Archbishop Hickey approved of the construction plans for the new building. Mr. Joseph Froio was appointed construction manager on behalf of the parish, a new idea in the diocese that the Archbishop was willing to try. The appointment worked so well that Joe is now a member of the Archdiocesan Building Commission and each parish encouraged to have a similar person involved when building. The Crough Company was chosen to build this initial phase of the construction.
Bishop Eugene Marino presided at the ground-breaking of the new building on September 1985. It was an exciting day as the first shovel of dirt was turned over and the beginning of the fulfillment of a dream came true for the people of Resurrection parish.
During this year of construction another Sunday Mass was added to accommodate the growing community. We began saying Mass at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at 12:15. Four Masses were now celebrated on the weekend: Saturday, 5pm at Liberty Grove Methodist Church; Sunday 8am at Liberty Grove, 10:15 at Paint Brach High School and 12;15 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Each time we had to change locations it meant loading six suitcases, an altar, boxes, vestments, etc., into the car and unload everything in the next location. It was quite an operation. At times the people who helped every weekend looked like the Keystone Cops running around, setting up for Mass, repacking in time for the next Mass.
The lower level all-purpose building was finished in July 1986. The congregation gathered for the first Mass on the first weekend of August. What a relief to have everything in one place where new people could find us! Find us they did. Between August and December of 1986 three hundred new families joined the parish. By year’s end close to 900 households now made up the Catholic community in Burtonsville.
Archbishop Hickey came to Burtonsville and dedicated the new building in September 1986. Now we gather those dispersed in three buildings and bring everyone together as one community.
In the brief instance of moving into a permanent building from three disparate locations, Resurrection parish was no longer a small country parish in a small town of Montgomery County. Resurrection quickly became a large, vibrant parish impacting on the Burtonsville area and the archdiocese as a whole.
Very soon the parishioners came to realize that only half their dream was fulfilled. We needed and wanted a permanent church.
Another pledge campaign was inaugurated with the help of the Moran Company. Over $900,000 was pledged and given by the generous people of the parish. The architect (Mike LeMay) drew up the plans for the church and Associated Builders was chosen for the second phase of construction. The Cardinal approved the plans and work began again in September 1988. The real church was underway.
Building is never easy but building on top an existing structure is almost impossible. Again, Joe Froio orchestrated the whole operation.
The building of the upper church was constantly troubled by leaking from the second floor into the first floor when it rained. And did it rain. Noah’s flood had nothing on us in the spring and summer of 1989. Twenty-nine inches of rain fell during the construction. At least 28 inches of it fell inside. Was the Lord trying to tell us something, like he did to Noah? In spite of the rain and delays with the permit process of the County, the church was finally finished in October 1989.
The new Sanctuary for the Church of the Resurrection represents the culmination of over eight years of collaborative effort between Father Jack Macfarlane, the architects, LeMay Association. The 13,000 square foot addition to the original structure completes a vision for worship, education and fellowship initiated in 1982.
The new Sanctuary is built over the first phase building at the corner of Greencastle Road and Old Columbia Pike. Announcing the presence of the church, a tall masonry bell tower rises out of a low planter at the entry plaza to the new building. In addition to a dedication stone and three bells, the tower shelters a stainless-steel cross representing the Resurrection.
From the outside, the religious nature of the building is further established by the use of curved walls and rounded corners to create a strong sculptural character. Sunlight plays over the roughhewn texture of the fluted block and deep recesses to create strong shadows and a memorable visual image.
The new plaza at the bell tower provides both cascading steps and a level entrance for the handicapped and elderly into the new Sanctuary. The skylight entry vestibule, which will be illuminated at night like a jewel, provides a bright and airy transition from the outside.
Upon entering the Commons, one is greeted with shimmering reflections of light from the holy water font. The Commons acts as a large gathering area outside the Sanctuary. From this space one passes through the wood and glass French doors into the Sanctuary and as the quarry tile steps down, the ceiling rises to form the larger volume of the Sanctuary. Pews are arranged in sweeping rows radiating from the raised circular altar platform directly ahead. The sense of a community gathering around the altar created by the seating pattern is reinforced by raised coffers in the ceiling above. A narrow continuous skylight in the form of a cross allows daylight to pierce through the roof to accentuate the central aisle and bathe the altar in light.
From the Commons and all seats in the Sanctuary, the tabernacle is visible in the Chapel through a curved veil of stained glass in a wood frame that arches into the Sanctuary. In an alcove to the North, the baptistery is located in front of a large window between two carving block walls. A single step raises the baptistery above the Sanctuary onto a quarry tile base. Holy water wells up into a basin on a pedestal and flows through a niche in the pedestal down to a pool in the quarry tile base.
For special services like weddings and funerals, the new building provides a changing room for the bride, and a cry room for children during masses, located at the end of the Commons. This room will also be used for the assembly of wedding parties, funeral viewings etc.
In summary, Resurrection Catholic Church has been carefully designed and detailed to embody Father Macfarlane’s forward-looking vision to serve the Catholic community with compassion, dignity and grace into the 1990’s and beyond.