Monsignor Justin D. McClunn, Sixth Pastor of St. James, 1977-1980
On June 12, 1977, Monsignor Justin D. McClunn was appointed to succeed Monsignor Heller as sixth pastor of St. James Parish. Monsignor McClunn was ordained on June 15, 1941. He became secretary to Bishop Ireton of Richmond and was later assigned to establish St. Louis Parish in Groveton, near Alexandria. From there he came to St. James.
Monsignor McClunn worked tirelessly for the church. A friend and adviser of Monsignor McClunn said he was “the ideal choice for this post.” Parishioners today will still remember how graciously Monsignor McClunn included now retired Monsignor Heller, “Pastor Emeritus,” in the life of the parish as he continued to live at St. James. On September 18, 1977, a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated for Monsignor Heller in gratitude to God for His faithful priest. Bishop Welsh was celebrant with 43 con-celebrating priests, including three bishops. At this mass, the three church bells named for Monsignor Heller and his parents were trundled down the main aisle for the Consecration of the Bells. Monsignor McClunn oversaw the renovation to the church interior. New cushioned pews and kneelers were installed. The church was painted from its pastel colors of mint green, pink and peach to its current ivory color. The white ribbed vaulting of the ceiling was painted a brown tone. Above the altar the ribs were painted in two tones to bring out the beautiful grapevine pattern and the holy name of Jesus (IHS) in the center boss. Monsignor McClunn worked closely with the Parish Advisory Board and made himself available to all groups and individuals.
A parishioner, Vicki Leitzinger, asked the question, “Why not have a new playground with the proper equipment to develop the growing children’s muscles?” Vicki began holding “Slimnastics” classes with fees going into a special “St. James Playground Fund.” Fifteen months later with the support of Monsignor McClunn and Sister Helen Maureen, and additional financial support from the PTO and Men’s Club, the school had a new playground located behind the convent where the white house once stood. On Sunday, October 30, 1977 Monsignor McClunn blessed the new playground: “. . . send thy holy angel from heaven to watch over all who play on these grounds. May his coming put new heart in them; may he protect them and be with them to defend them from all harm. Through Christ our Lord.” Ronald McDonald made the dedication even more special with his appearance. The playground opened to students the next day, with Sister Helen Maureen and the student body thanking a “special lady,” Mrs. Leitzinger, at a special school opening.
When Monsignor McClunn came to St. James he had already served three years in the diocesan offices overseeing the Tribunal. He continued this work while also taking care of St. James. The double load soon became too much for him, and on the advice of Bishop Welsh, he resigned as pastor but continued as Vicar General and Officialis of the Diocese, Chairman of the Diocesan Financial Committee, and Chairman of the Priests’ Retirement Fund. He took up residence in the rectory at Our Lady of Lourdes in Arlington and later at St. Thomas More in Arlington. Monsignor McClunn died of cancer on June 15, 1990, at Arlington Hospital at the age of 74.