A Brief History of The Parish of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Colonial Beach & St. Anthony of Padua in King George, Virginia
By Father Francis M. de Rosa, Pastor
September 22, 2021
St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Colonial Beach and St. Anthony of Padua Church in King George have an interwoven and storied presence in what is now the Diocese of Arlington.
Presently the two churches are one parish, but they were in yesteryear both part of a much larger parochial territory. They are located on what is called the Northern Neck of Virginia, which is the peninsula bounded by the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and ending at Chesapeake Bay to the East.
The first important historical Catholic presence in this part of our Diocese was in the latter half of the 1600s. The Catholic Brent Family of Aquia Creek in Stafford County had a member named George Brent who became a representative in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1688. He was the only Catholic delegate in the colonial parliament. George Brent was partly responsible for the local defense of Virginia’s Northern Neck, whereat lies our parish.
In 1858 St. Mary Church was established in Fredericksburg, within the Diocese of Richmond. This is our mother church. St. Mary’s covered a vast territory which included the entire Eastward thrust of the Northern Neck.
In 1905 a wood frame church was built in the little fishing and resort town of Colonial Beach, 13 years after the town’s 1892 incorporation. This first St. Elizabeth’s church building was replaced in 1962 by the present edifice. Since 2009 the church has undergone significant beautification both inside and out.
In 1917 the children of a certain Fielding Lewis (a descendant of George Washington’s sister Betty) built our St. Anthony’s church in King George County. That first building happily remains but was expanded in 1986. The original section of the 1917 church, comprising the present sanctuary, is thus one of the oldest buildings in the Diocese of Arlington.
In 1922 the pastor of St. Mary’s in Fredericksburg, the Rev. Thomas Bernard Martin, moved to Colonial Beach and established a new parish headquartered at St. Elizabeth’s in Colonial Beach. This new parish comprised the entire Northern Neck. At St. Anthony’s in King George, one can see a stained glass window dedicated to him and another to Fielding Lewis.
In 1943 the Diocese of Richmond entrusted St. Elizabeth’s in Colonial Beach and her five mission churches to the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity (or “Trinitarians”).
In 1966 the six churches were divided into two parishes. St. Elizabeth’s in Colonial Beach had two missions (St. Anthony’s in King George and Sacred Heart in Dahlgren). And St. Francis in Kilmarnock had two missions (St. Paul’s in Hague and St. Timothy’s in Tappahannock).
In 1974 St. Timothy’s in Tappahannock became its own parish with St. Paul’s as its mission.
Then in 1974 the Richmond Diocese itself was divided and the Diocese of Arlington was formed. The entire Northern Neck now fell under the jurisdiction of Arlington. But for a time, this resulted in an anomaly, since St. Timothy’s (in Tappahannock) was in the Richmond Diocese but its mission, St. Paul’s (in Hague) was in the newly formed Arlington Diocese.
In 1981 the Trinitarians at last relinquished St. Francis in Kilmarnock along with her regained mission St. Paul in Hague to the Diocese of Arlington.
In 1992 the Arlington Diocese finally took over St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Colonial Beach, with her own two missions in Dahlgren and King George. The Sacred Heart Chapel at Dahlgren was closed by the Archdiocese of the Military in 2017.
The current parish territory of St. Elizabeth and St. Anthony is in a historic part of the Arlington Diocese. Within its ecclesiastical boundaries are found the birthplaces of Presidents James Monroe, James Madison, George Washington, and Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The parish of St. Elizabeth and St. Anthony has had six pastors from the Diocese of Arlington since 1992: Fr. John Cregan, Fr. William Schopps, Fr. John Melmer, Fr Thomas Vanderwoude, Fr. John Zeigler and Fr. Francis de Rosa.
These two erstwhile fledgling Catholic outposts at Colonial Beach and King George are now grown to over 1,400 souls. Separated by 15 miles of woods and farms, and having their own distinctive characteristics, the two churches maintain a strong bond within one parish. They are felicitously united in sharing and in supporting one another.
The parish has many activities, organizations and groups, along with a high number of converts. Each Sunday we also welcome a number of journeying non-Catholics who have found a spiritual home amongst us. Daily Mass attendance is very robust. And traditional Catholic devotions such as the Holy Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration are strong. The parish is also a significant center of the traditional Latin Mass.
The parish houses the Guadalupe Free Clinic, founded by Father Thomas Vanderwoude and Father Jerome Magat. The clinic has for nigh on 18 years served the poor and uninsured of Westmoreland County.
In 2019 the parish established the lovely “Blessed Trinity Catholic Cemetery” located in the heart of our parish on Route 301. The cemetery’s graves all face East awaiting the Coming of the Lord. The cemetery will eventually be the resting place of 1,200 loved ones.
Our humble country parish is firmly maintaining the Holy Catholic Faith in this far away part of the Diocese of Arlington. Every one of our efforts is caught up in the great mystery of the Church that Jesus Christ founded and is directed toward the salvation of souls and the greater glory of God.