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1951-1952 Enlarging the Church

1951-1952 Enlarging the Church

The Cornerstone as well as the exterior and interior of St. James Church was blessed by Bishop Ireton at dedication ceremonies. The Rev. John Rea, assistant pastor, is at the left, and Very Rev. Justin D. McClunn, Chancellor, is at the right. From 1977-1980, Msgr. McClunn served as 6th pastor of St. James.

By 1950, six Sunday Masses in the church were overcrowded and the Holy Ghost Fathers and Franciscan Friars of the Atonement were coming to help Father Mullarkey and his two assistant pastors; Masses were still being said in the mission parishes in El Nido and Herndon. The school auditorium was called into service and still the crowding was uncomfortable and unsafe. With agreement from Bishop Peter L. Ireton and full-hearted support from the parishioners, Father Mullarkey embarked on the enlargement of the church.

Work began on July 1, 1951, under Philadelphia architects Gleason and Mulrooney. Construction was led by parishioner A. P. DiGiulian’s company. A cruciform church emerged, while the parish gathered for Mass in the school auditorium and cafeteria. A daughter of A. P. DiGiulian (known in the parish as Reds) remembers Father Mullarkey coming to their home for dinner and “the Irishman and the Italian” discussing progress on the church building. Her father, she recalls, had to work hard to persuade Father Mullarkey that the main altar should come from Italy, of Italian marble. The altar then became the gift of parishioner Marcus Bles, who eventually sold his cattle farm to those who would develop Tysons Corner.

Bishop Ireton came to bless the cornerstone and dedicate the new church on October 12, 1952, 50 years after the cornerstone was laid for the original stone church. Father Edward V. Mullarkey died on May 6, 1953, a few months after the joyous dedication of the enlarged church. He had presided over the destiny of St. James Parish for almost 22 years and during his tenure watched the number of families grow from 85 to 1,698. In October 2016, the number of families in the parish was 3,096.

The mosaic pelican on the altar front is an ancient Christian symbol, originating in myth and faith. In times of famine, the mother pelican was said to pierce her breast with her beak, feeding her chicks with her life blood. The story was appropriated by Christians and applied to the life-giving death of Jesus on the cross. 

The completed south transept and north transept, bottom.