Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church, Colonial Beach, built in 1906, is the second oldest Catholic church in the Northern Neck of Virginia. First honors go to Saint Paul’s, Hague, which was built in 1890. The latter church was built to serve the religious needs of Polish and Bohemian workers who came over from Baltimore, primarily to help with the tomato crop. Priests would then come by boat to celebrate Mass there once a month. When the workers ceased to come, Saint Paul’s fell into disuse, then into decay and was finally closed. Around the early part of the twentieth century, Colonial Beach began to attract large numbers of tourists. They came on river boats for weekend excursions, and accompanying them were Jesuit priests from Maryland who would minister to those who where Catholic.
In 1906, Joseph and Annie C. Dierkin deeded a lot on the corner of Boundary Street and Lossing Avenue to the Reverend Augustine Van de Veyver, then Bishop of Richmond. In that year, and on that lot, with volunteer labor and money from vacationers and local people, the church was built. This photo, dated June 10, 1906, shows the frame church under construction. In front of the building are standing the Reverend P. A. Ryan, S.J., Henry Hull, Joseph Dierkin, Dr. R. H. Reh, William O’Mealey, John M. Ruppert, Dr. A. D. Wilkinson, and J. Blake Clarke. The photograph was taken by a William L. Cullen, photographer, of Washington, D.C.
The annual report of the Parish for 1907 shows that the cost of the church building was $2,000. (Pew rents for the year were $200 and total receipts were $244. Expenditures for the year were $274 so somehow the difference was made up.) It is also recorded that in 1917 the same Joseph and Annie C. Dierkin deeded the adjacent lot facing the Potomac River to the Right Reverend Dennis J. O’Connell, Bishop of Richmond. On this lot was probably a frame house that was later expanded into the present office for the church.
The area was for some time served by diocesan priests, who were sent out for short periods of time to “ride the circuit”. Mr. Richard Rollins, a long time resident of Colonial Beach, recalls that in the 1920’s he rode with a Father Perrig in a horse and buggy from Fredericksburg, through King George County, and down the Northern Neck. Along the way the priest would celebrate Mass for and visit with Catholic families in the area. In these early years, Saint Elizabeth’s served a territory of more than a thousand square miles.
Saint Elizabeth’s eventually became the mother church of the first parish developed in the Northern Neck. This parish at one time included, aside from the Colonial Beach church itself, Saint Anthony’s in King George, Saint Paul’s at Hague (reopened in 1923), Saint Francis de Sales in Kilmarnock, Saint Timothy’s in Tappahannock, and the Naval Chapel, Dahlgren. Later, Kilmarnock would develop into the second established parish. Even later, Saint Timothy’s became the third. Saint Paul’s is currently a mission church of Saint Francis de Sales.
In 1943 the Northern Neck was still in the Diocese of Richmond. The Most Reverend Peter Ireton, Bishop of Richmond at the time, assigned Saint Elizabeth’s and its other churches to the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity (The Trinitarians). The first of these priests to be assigned was the Reverend Francis Donohue, with the Reverend Basil Ruane as his assistant. According to the Religious Census Report of June 1943 to January 1944, the total number of parishioners at Saint Elizabeth’s Church was forty.
In 1960, the Reverend Leonard Bachman became pastor. By this time the congregation had outgrown the little frame church of 1906, and it had to be replaced. On May 19, 1963, the new Saint Elizabeth’s Church was dedicated by the Most Reverend John Joyce Russell, Bishop of Richmond. The new church was contemporary in design and built of native brick. New hand carved statues were commissioned from Genoa, Italy. The Stations of the Cross are by Virginia artist Stan Koshinski of Lynchburg. For those who were devoted to the old church, however, the lovely stained glass window from over the main altar was transferred to the new building where it occupies the same position. Also retained from the past were the small stained glass medallions, which can be seen incorporated into the side windows of the new church. The old church bell, too, was saved, and is on display on the grounds. The first Parish Advisory Council met at Saint Elizabeth on April 25, 1967 at 8:00 p.m.
In 1974 Saint Elizabeth’s Parish was made part of the Diocese of Arlington, created by Pope Paul VI in 1974. The Trinitarians departed in 1993 and the Parish has been served by diocesan priests ever since. The first diocesan priest was Father John Cregan, who became pastor of Saint Elizabeth’s Parish in July 1993. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church and Saint Anthony Mission now serve a total permanent congregation of about 1,300 people. One thing that has not changed is that the Saint Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church continues to serve the many vacationers who come here every summer and whose counterparts early in the century started it all. During that time of year the parish population is substantially increased.
Between 2010 and 2012, under the stewardship of Father Francis de Rosa, St Elizabeth’s facilities underwent and extensive and long overdue renovation. The large office building which once housed the Trinitarian Fathers was the first project undertaken. This edifice at 11 S. Irving Avenue was built in 1896 and was donated to the parish by the McGowan family in 1906. It is a striking example of turn of the century architecture and its familiar stately bearing graces the beachfront with a new presence.
|Office After Rennovation||Office Before Rennovation|
On the corner of Boundary and Irving stands an even older building. Originally constructed in the late 1800s, what was once the W.B. Fox General Merchandise underwent several revisions (from store to newspaper to private home) before the parish acquired it from the Frances Karn estate in the 1980s. Its complete renovation and restoration earned the parish the 2012 Colonial Beach Historical Society Annual Award. The building is now used as a parish Meeting House.
|Meeting House Before Rennovation||Meeting House After Rennovation|
The church exterior was renovated in the summer of 2012, partly in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the current church’s construction. A new black 24 gauge metal roof replaced the old shingle roof, the fading brick exterior was painted a charming country white, the crumbling modernist bell tower was taken down and a lovely cupola with bells placed atop the church itself, with a gold cross crowning it all. Most importantly, the facade was completely remodeled and expanded, featuring African mahogany doors, a stunning rose window and gothic sidelights.