The storied Father Van was the third pastor of St. James. In early 1900, Amadeus Joseph Van Ingelgem left his native Belgium after 28 years of priesthood for the rough terrain of North America. Bishop van de Vyver recruited him to Virginia and, at the age of 50, Father Van began six years of missionary treks through the valley counties of the Commonwealth on Dixie, his black stallion.
After a year as the bishop’s secretary and chaplain at Oak Ridge, the estate of Thomas Fortune Ryan and his wife Ida in Nelson County, Virginia, Father Van reminded the bishop that he had come to serve all the people, not just the wealthy benefactors of the church. The bishop sent him to St. James in 1909.
Father Van inherited not only the growing St. James parish, but also missions in Fairfax Station, Pleasant Valley, El Nido in McLean, Herndon, Annandale, Purcellville and Leesburg. He brought the sacraments to the Catholics in these towns usually riding Doc, the horse he had bought from the former pastor, Father Tearney.
Father Van fostered St. James School by persuading the IHM Sisters to come to Falls Church in 1923. He presided at the parish suppers prepared by the women of St. James and visited his parishioners in their homes. He spent his own funds and gifts from his family in Belgium to assist parishioners in need and for repairs and improvements to the church. He enlarged the rectory, furnishing the basement with a billiard table where he played with men of the parish. He was invited to preach in local Protestant churches, and was “beloved by the entire community,” according to a history of Falls Church.
Father Van celebrated his Golden Jubilee at St. James in 1925, with honors from his local people as well as from the Embassy of Belgium. A purse of $1,000 was presented to him, and he turned it over to the church to pay off a debt on the heating system. In 1931, he persuaded Bishop Brennan to come to St. James to ordain Father Robert Beattie, a first for the little Falls Church parish. Father Beattie and his brother Dixon, also a priest, were both sons of St. James. The brothers were grandsons of Fountain Beattie, John Mosby’s lieutenant, who is buried in St. James cemetery.
A parishioner from Father Van’s years remembered him this way: “Father Van was on the smallish side with a large domed head full of brains, philosophy, a distinct sense of humor and an overpowering love of mankind. … I do not remember that he ever preached a short sermon.”
Father Van left St. James in 1931 to become chaplain to the Visitation Sisters in Richmond. He died there in 1935 at the age of 83. A bronze plaque honoring Father Van can be found to the left of the sanctuary under the windows of Saints Matthew and Bartholomew, which are dedicated to the memory of the “little Belgian.”