ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The Vatican has designated a historic Catholic church in northern Virginia as a basilica.
Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge announced the designation during services Sunday at St. Mary Catholic Church in Old Town Alexandria, which traces its history back to George Washington.
“It is an extraordinary honor to announce that the Holy See has designated St. Mary’s in Old Town to be the newest basilica in the United States. This historic announcement recognizes the important role St. Mary’s has played in the Diocese, the City of Alexandria and even the very founding of our country,” the bishop said.
“I congratulate Father Hathaway and all of the priests who have served this parish over the generations for their work in bringing St. Mary’s to this special day,” Burbidge continued, according to the Arlington Catholic Herald. “I pray that Our Lord continues to bless St. Mary’s and its community for generations to come!”
Father Edward C. Hathaway is the pastor of the new basilica.
“Today, we are overjoyed and humbled by the recognition of St. Mary as one of the major churches in the world dedicated to Christ,” the priest said.
“As the first Catholic parish in Virginia and West Virginia, learning its history is to gain a greater insight into the spread of the Catholic faith in the former English colonies and throughout our nation,” Hathaway continued.
According to the diocesan newspaper, Hathaway said the parish is looking for ways to communicate “our significant history and contribution to Catholicism in the commonwealth and beyond through printed guides and other means.”
The church was founded in 1795 and is the first Catholic parish in Virginia. Washington made the first financial contribution to the parish.
It is the 84th basilica in the U.S. and the second in Virginia, joining the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk.
Churches receive designation as a basilica for architectural beauty, historical significance, or renown as a place of public worship.
Crux staff contributed to this report.