Twenty six years ago I fled to Saint Stephen Martyr Church when my friend David unexpectedly died. David and I had gone to law school together and worked at the same prominent law firm on Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., in the District of Columbia. He’d just gotten engaged. While on vacation mountain climbing in Argentina, he died on the mountaintop of a heart defect he didn’t know he had.
I heard the news when I came back from lunch to find empty desks and sobbing secretaries, David was very popular at the firm and many people were shaken by his loss. Just a few months before, David had taken time repeatedly to encourage me to stick to some tedious physical therapy for an injury to my hand. He’d suffered something similar once and had never regained full mobility in one of his fingers.
That cold February afternoon his sudden death led me to find a church near the office and go pray for him. I had not practiced my faith for many years. As I wept in a pew in the back, I promised God I would start to go to Mass again.
I revisited that church yesterday in honor of David and in thanksgiving for how he had helped me rediscover my faith. Saint Stephen Martyr Roman Catholic Church is easy to miss, tucked amid office buildings and hotels, between Georgetown’s shopping district and the Foggy Bottom area of Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. It was a challenge to park my RAM 1500 truck nearby, but the church actually is very accessible to parking and walkable to the Foggy Bottom Metro station.
It is well worth a visit if you are in the Washington, D.C. area. The current building was dedicated in 1961, but earlier versions of the church stood on the same site since 1867. The 1960’s period church has an unusual sculpted ceiling and vibrant modern stained glass windows. Evocative sculptures recreate the Grotto of Lourdes as a side altar. The bronze panels of the doors contain scenes from the life of St. Stephen, and an intricate metal grill casts beautiful shadows on the wall containing the stations of the cross.
At any time of year, the church is a quiet oasis amid the bustle of Georgetown. I hope you will find a peaceful moment there, as I did many years ago, and take time to open your heart in conversation with God.
You’ll find the church at 2436 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037. The website ststephenmartyrdc.org has a detailed history.