Msgr. Paul V. Heller Years:  The Establishment of Bishop O’Connell High School and the Diocese of Arlington

Msgr. Paul V. Heller Years:  The Establishment of Bishop  O’Connell High School and the Diocese of Arlington

Bishop O’ Connell High School.  With the post-World War II expansion of Arlington County came the need for a parochial high school to serve the needs of families in Northern Virginia.  Six parishes, St. James, St. Agnes, St. Ann, St. Charles, St. John. and St. Thomas More, purchased a twenty-acre tract of land in 1949.  The school was established under the Diocese of Richmond, the only Catholic diocese in the state of Virginia at the time.  When Father Heller became pastor of St. James Parish in 1953, he was instrumental in supporting a fund raising drive to build the new high school.  The successful drive resulted in a ground breaking ceremony on March 27, 1956.  The school was named in honor of an outstanding educator and seventh Bishop of Richmond, Most Rev. Denis J. O’Connell.   Bishop O’Connell High School opened its doors September 9, 1957 and graduated its first class in 1961.  Father Heller served a lengthy time on the Board of Governors of the school.   Bishop O’ Connell High School came under the direction of the Diocese of Arlington when it was established in 1974.

Diocese of Arlington.  In 1972 priests of the Alexandria and Arlington Deaneries requested Bishop John J. Russell, the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, to initiate the process toward the establishment of a new diocese in their part of the Commonwealth.  On August 13, 1974, Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, auxiliary of Philadelphia and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania, was installed in St. Thomas More Church as the first Bishop of Arlington. St. Thomas More Church was elevated to become the new diocesan cathedral. The new diocese began with more than 136,000 Catholics, 60 diocesan and 33 religious priests, 49 parishes, and seven missions.  Saint Thomas More became the patron saint for the Diocese of Arlington.  He is also the patron saint for politicians, statesmen, lawyers, and widowers. His feast day is on June 22.  Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is the secondary patron of the Diocese of Arlington. She is also the patron of Catholic schools. Her feast day is on January 4. (Source:

Bishops of the Diocese of Arlington

     1974-1983: Most Rev. Thomas J. Welsh

     1983-1998: Most Rev. John R. Keating

     1999-2016: Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde

     2016-Present: Most Rev. Michael F. Burbidge 

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