14 October 2012

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church

After several busy weekends, I finally got back to church this weekend, attending Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the Anacostia neighborhood of Southeast Washington. It's one of the churches that I wrote about in my research paper last year on Washington's black Catholic churches, and was founded in 1921 after black members of St. Teresa of Avila parish decided to form their own church.

I had to drag my lazy, out of shape legs up Morris Rd. to get to OLPH, which is located on a big hill with a pretty nice view of the city. The church building, constructed in the 70s, had a very unusual diamond shape. I liked it though, since it allowed the parishioners to sort of sit surrounding the altar as opposed to just having long vertical rows.

The parish serves an interesting contrast to St. Teresa of Avila parish, which is only a few blocks down the road. I've written before about STA (here) and their spirited, emotionally charged service. Our Lady of Perpetual Help had a much more conservative feel; although incorporating the Gospel choir and many of the conventions of traditional African-American worship, there wasn't so much raw emotion and intensity. That isn't to say it wasn't a nice service: they had a twenty person Gospel choir which sounded great and a very talented, multi-tasking piano player. At one point I saw him simultaneously playing the piano, giving hand signals to the choir, standing to see what the priest was doing, and flipping his sheet music at the same time. They closed with a beautiful rendition of "I Have Decided to Make Jesus My Choice."

07 August 2012

Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament

This Sunday, I went to another church on the border of Washington, D.C. and Maryland, but this time on the  Western edge, near Friendship Heights. The neighborhood was really nice and mellow, with a lot of churches along the way.

I could have sworn this Mass started at 11:00, and I arrived, late, from the Metro, at 11:10. However, it turns out I was wrong and the Mass had started at 10:30. I caught the very end of the Mass while standing at the back of the church. I was pretty embarassed, as I stood in the back and watched like a loser. The parish seemed like it was booming, with a Mass full of young families and children. The church building utilized a lot of stone, and looked like it had been constructed fairly recently. Outside was a giant fir tree that I can only imagine is utilized as a Christmas tree.

22 July 2012

Church of the Incarnation

So, as I may or may not have mentioned before, I'm working now towards the end of the Capitol Catholic project. Thanks to my laziness in previous semesters, most of the churches left on my list are pretty hard to get to, either far from Metro stations or in distant parts of the city. Today's church, Incarnation, was no exception.

Incarnation was formed in 1914, one of the original black parishes in the district. It was formed for the rural community of Deanwood and its new church, built in 1959, rests on Eastern Avenue in Northeast DC. Eastern Avenue is the dividing line between the District of Columbia and Maryland, and Incarnation is one of three parishes that lie directly on the border between DC and Maryland. As I walked to church on Eastern, I saw DC license plates on one side of the street and Maryland licenses on the other.

It took me a while to get out to Incarnation, and I ended up showing up to the Mass about half an hour late. I was treated to a nice, mellow Mass, with a few Gospel hymns thrown in by a small ensemble. My favorite was "Oh Lord, I Want You to Help Me," done by the bassist and the pianist.

01 July 2012

Nuestra Senora Reina de las Americas (Our Lady Queen of the Americas)

At long last, I'm back in Washington after a semester in Ecuador and a short visit to my family and friends in California. With my senior year approaching, I decided to re-focus myself and finish the Capitol Catholic project, which I have dedicated so much time and effort to over the last couple years. I made a list and there's 13 churches left for me to visit. I'm excited to get working and am hoping to finish the project by the end of the fall semester.

My visit today was to Our Lady, Queen of the Americas Parish. They're located in a neighborhood northwest of DuPont circle, close to Sheridan Circle and Embassy Row. They do most of their Masses in Spanish, which was fine by me, since I've been looking for opportunities to practice the Spanish I've learned in Ecuador.

The parish doesn't have a typical church building, they have a three floor brick building which also doubles as a parish hall and a language school. The worship space was on the third floor, and was brightly colored. The walls were mostly a turquoise-y green and complemented with a salmon-y pink. There was also some crazy-bright colored stained glass on the right side of the church. I didn't take notes during the sermon today, but the Gospel reading was about Jesus curing a dying woman, so the priest offered a blessing of the sick.

04 January 2012


I got very busy this past semester and didn't get to visit as many churches as I would have liked to. I'm looking forward to finishing the project during the 2012-2013 school year, since I will not be in Washington for the Spring 2012 semester. I'll be studying Spanish language and Ecuadorian culture in Quito, Ecuador from January until May. 

I'll be keeping a blog while I'm down there. Follow me at:

God Bless, Friends. 

Holy Comforter/ St. Cyprian Church

I finally visited another church in December, after a long, hard semester which kept me too busy to work on Capitol Catholic. I took my friend Dan to Holy Comforter/ St. Cyprian Church in the Capitol Hill area. I knew a bunch about the history of the parish because I studied it as part of a paper I wrote on black Catholic parishes in Washington, D.C. From my paper:

The parish formed as a result of increasing black migration into Washington, providing a large enough base to support another parish. Between 1880 and 1890, Washington’s black population increased from 48, 377 to 75,572, or 40.1% of the city’s population. Many settled in the Capitol Hill area, east of the Capitol, where the African-American Catholics attended St. Peter’s parish. They were forced to sit in the rear of the church and were offered few services, since the parish priests considered them technically part of the colored parish, St. Augustine’s. This policy engendered complaints as early as 1878, when a letter was sent from Catholics in east Washington to Archbishop of Baltimore James Gibbons, bemoaning the “deaths of a number of colored Catholics without the last sacraments because the other reverend fathers, considering them as parishioners of the distant St. Augustine’s, would not attend to their spiritual needs.”

            Eventually, the voices of these Catholics were heard, and James Cardinal Gibbons sent a Maryland priest, Father James R. Matthews, to St. Peter’s, to work with the black Catholics. He initially held Masses in the former parish hall, and the new parish was organized in 1893. While credit is due to the initiative of the St. Cyprian’s parishioners and the hard work of Father Matthews, it is evident that the most important factor in forming St. Cyprian’s was the increase in black population in Washington and the Capitol Hill area in particular. The St. Joseph’s Advocate noted at the St. Cyprian’s cornerstone-laying that there was a “need long felt of this second church in a section of Washington abounding with colored people having a large percentage of Catholic families for generations accommodated at St. Peter’s.”

St. Cyprian, facing decaying facilities and a smaller parish, merged with nearby Holy Comforter parish, formerly a majority white parish, in the 1960's. Today, the Mass at the merged parish features a large Gospel choir and a very passionate service. The priest gave a sermon which discussed how we develop in our faith, and told stories about working as the only African-American in a small farming town in California. The Mass closed up with a performance of one my favorite Gospel pieces, "I Opened My Mouth To The Lord," a fiery piece which requires that three parts of the choir sing different pieces of the hymn at the same time. It was great, and a great way to end the semester. 

03 January 2012

St. Francis Xavier Church

These are some pictures from my visit to St. Francis Xavier Church in Southeast D.C. in September. I have delayed doing this so long that I have lost my notes and honestly couldn't tell you much about the service. There was a small choir and they incorporated a few Gospel hymns into the Mass, but it was much more low-key than churches like St. Teresa of Avila. I also brought my friend Hunter, who enjoyed the Mass.