I returned to my former home area twice this past month by traveling in faith in Virginia. Primarily my trip was to visit friends and family, but it became part of my pilgrimage. First, I enjoyed Easter at my parish, Saint Leo the Great in Fairfax, and visited my daughters. On my way there from Alabama, I stopped for a few days in Gordonsville and went to Mass at the lovely Saint Isidore the Farmer in Gordonsville VA. In northern Virginia, my stops included the magnificent Saint John the Apostle Catholic Church in Leesburg and the charming Saint Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church in the picturesque village of Middleburg.
Loudoun County Pilgrimage
As part of a meandering tour of Loudoun County vineyards and farms, Saint John the Apostle and Saint Stephen the Martyr can be visited easily in one pilgrimage. The former is a large, new church dedicated in 2012, and the latter modest in size and built in 1963. Yet both offer reverent celebration of Mass and lovely architecture that lifts the traveler’s thoughts to the eternal.
At Saint John’s, delicate patterns of color reflect through the stained glass windows, staining the white marble alcoves in shifting hues. The altar is a masterpiece with detailed bas relief sculptures. The same artistry enlivens the Stations of the Cross and a smiling statue of Pope Saint John Paul II.
Outside, Saint Stephen Martyr looks like a traditional mid century church. Inside, simple white and black decor complements burnished wooden pews. A riot of live flowers and delicate lace cloth soften the simple lines of the altar.
Of course, any place in Virginia remains firmly rooted in history. Although the new Saint John the Apostle church is recent, the parish traces its history in Leesburg to 1878. Be sure to stop by the historic “Little Church” at 231 N. King Street in downtown Leesburg, now renamed “The Immaculate Conception Chapel.” You can enjoy quiet moments in Eucharistic Adoration there.
Within Saint Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church you may discover signs of the strong historical connection with President John F. Kennedy. You can read about it here. Look for the pew used by the Kennedy family and photographs in the vestibule.
Return to Virginia
After leaving Virginia for Georgia, I unexpectedly came right back to celebrate the life of a dear friend who passed away April 21. My friend Deirdre McQuade beautifully witnessed how to love and trust God in the middle of suffering. After a several year battle against cancer, she passed peacefully at home with family and friends, uplifted by many prayers. Her wake and funeral were testaments to how fully Deirdre lived life, like her favorite saint-to-be, Sister Thea Bowman.
A Faithful Friend
Deirdre and I became good friends several years ago. I’d met her before at musical events in the DC area. Yet ironically we never spent much time together until I embarked on my journeys as a Tin Can Pilgrim in 2018. Starting with a visit to my home in Fairfax for my “house-parting” party, Deirdre and I began to touch base every few weeks. Through phone calls on the road and in-person visits when I returned to the area, she became a steadfast friend, a “sturdy shelter” as Scripture puts it. We prayed together after she was diagnosed with cancer and then again many times for each other when I was diagnosed in 2020. With great joy, Deirdre beautifully modeled how to offer suffering for the intentions and well-being of others.
Flowers and Stations
A couple of years ago Deirdre ventured out to a campground in Manassas to photograph my first Airstream. Last year we made a couple of overnight trips to another friend’s home in North Beach. As she battled cancer, Deirdre requested that friends send her photos of joyful yellow things to lift her spirits. She also asked me to send her photos of the Eighth Station of the Cross: Jesus comforts the sorrowful women. So, I made it a habit to text her every week or so with photos of yellow flowers and pictures of the Eighth Station from my visits to churches across the country. Several times she surprised me with her signature “whistle-grams” where she whistled happy birthday and even Auld Lang Syne for New Year’s. Her bright light and spirit led me to dedicate my book Journeys with a Tin Can Pilgrim to her, knowing that she was on her journey to eternal union with God.
Friends Now and Forever
If you are so inclined, please pray for Deirdre’s peaceful repose and for comfort for her family and friends. In thanks, I share with subscribers to my blog a poem from my forthcoming book In Plain Sight Hidden: Poems from a Tin Can Pilgrim. I wrote this for Deirdre several months before she passed. Those who loved her may find some comfort in it. Those who did not know her may perhaps be inspired with hope in their own struggles.