St. Mary's Washington D.C. Church, History

Syro-Malankara Catholic Washington D.C. Parish History

In 1985, His Grace, Rev. Most Rev. Benedict Mar Gregorios, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum during his visit to His Eminence Most. Rev. James Cardinal Hickey, then Archbishop of Washington, expressed his desire to have Malankara Catholic liturgical services for the newly emigrated faithful of the Malankara community in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Cardinal Hickey gladly agreed to sponsor Reverend Father John Kalloor (now, Bishop Yoohanon Mar Chrysostom of the Pathanamthitta Eparchy, which is is diocese in Kerala). Fr. John Kalloor was appointed the chaplain of the D.C. General Hospital, and he resided in the rectory of the Holy Comforter Church. Under the guidance of Rev. Fr. John Kalloor, the Mission was formally inaugurated at the Holy Comforter Church on April 28, 1985.

The Mission, which started under the guidance of Rev. Fr. John Kalloor in March 1985, started with four families, namely, the Stephen family, the Ninan Kutty family, the Puracken family and the Joseph Varghese family. Within a few months, five more families, namely, Devasia Karimpanal family, Mathew John family, T. C. Geevarghese family, Thottuppattil George family and Kalampanayil family joined the community. The Holy Qurbono, which is the Malankara term for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, was celebrated in Malankara-rite once a month on Sundays at 10am at St. Cyprian, Holy Comforter Church, Washington D.C. More families started joining our services, so the chapel could not accommodate all of the new members. Thus, the Mission was moved to the School of Holy Comforter Church. Guidance provided by Rev. Fr. Raymond, then pastor of the Holy Comforter Church, was of significant help in mitigating the initial difficulties of the Mission.

A classroom was converted into a chapel, and the Holy Qurbono was celebrated on a temporarily built altar. When Archbishop Mar Gregorios from India visited the community, a special Holy Qurbono was organized at the Grace Methodist Church, New Hampshire Avenue, where more than 250 people attended the Divine Liturgy. During this period, Dr. Babu Stephen and Mr. T. C. Geevarghese represented the Mission in the Malankara Board. The Indian American Catholic Association (IACA) and the Kerala Catholic Community of Greater Washington (KCCGW) contributed a lot for the growth of the Malankarites in the metropolitan area. As this was the only community which had the Holy Mass in the native South Indian Malayalam language, many Kerala Christians in and around the D.C. metropolitan area helped it to grow further. Mr. Varkey Kallarackal, Mr. Thomas Koipuram, late Dr. Joseph Nidhiry, late Mr. Antony Planthara, Mr. Jose Vettickal, Mr. George Vettikaden, Dr. Varghese Kannarkatt, Dr. Joseph Mathew, Mr. Augustin Poulose and late Dr. Thomas John are a few among them. Their contributions contributed significantly for the growth of this community. The first baptism celebrated at the Mission was of Mr. Jaison Devasia in 1987. The first death recorded in this Mission is that of Ms. Reethamma Kalampanayil in April 1991.

Though the Malankara community was small in number, the individuals started associating with other Keralites, in other words some South Indians, in the metropolitan area. Rev. Fr. John Kalloor of our Mission was one of the founding members of the Ecumenical Council of Kerala (hereafter ECKC) Christians in the Baltimore, Washington, and Virginia areas. ECKC came into existence in 1991. Mrs. Gracy Stephen was the first ECKC President from this Mission. By the year 1991, the Mission had increased the number of families to 15. We started prayer meetings once a month in individual houses. Additionally, events like annual picnics were conducted as opportunities to foster Catholic fellowship. During this period, the Mission moved to St. Anne’s Chapel attached to St. Mary’s Catholic School in Landover Hills, Maryland because it was a more convenient location for the members. The permission and wholehearted support for this change was extended by Rev. Fr. Joseph P. Kennedy, the then pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

In 1994, Rev. Fr. John Kalloor was transferred to the Archdiocese of Trivandrum, and Rev. Fr. Thomas Poovannal was appointed as the new chaplain of the Washington Mission. Rev. Fr. Thomas Poovannal lived in the rectory at the Holy Name Church North-East, Washington DC, and he was also the chaplain at D.C. General Hospital. He extended availability of the Holy Qurbono to the first and third Sundays of every month and initiated catechism classes in the Mission in 1995. He followed the footsteps of Rev. Fr. John Kalloor to visit the sick and the needy. In 1995 the Mission established a scholarship in memory of the late Archbishop Benedict Mar Gregorios, who had passed away the previous year. The Mar Gregorios Award is given to Sunday school students who received the highest scores in the Malankara Eparchies (Dioceses) in India. His Eminence Most. Rev. Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, then Archbishop of Washington and successor to Cardinal Hickey, continued to extend all paternal support to the growth of this Mission. Rev. Fr. Thomas Poovannal continued to organize the catechism classes and started conducting Holy Qurbono every Sunday and on special occasions. His sacerdotal silver jubilee was celebrated on June 9, 2001. During this period, the residence of the chaplain of the Mission was moved to the rectory at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Landover Hills, with the help of Rev. Fr. Joseph P. Kennedy, the then pastor of St. Mary’s. At that time, Mr. T. C. Geevarghese and Mr. David Kalampanayil were elected to the Malankara Board as representatives from the Mission.

Rev. Fr. Geevarughese J. Charuvilayil took charge as the chaplain of the Mission in July 2001, and Rev. Fr. Thomas Poovannal returned to the Archdiocese of Trivandrum, Kerala. The new chaplain re-organized the catechism classes from Grade I to Grade III and appointed Ms. Daisy Varghese as the first principal of Sunday School. During this time, Rev. Fr. Geevarughese J. Charuvilayil was working as the caretaker chaplain in Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham, Maryland. Rev. Fr. William Hines, then pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church continued to support this Mission. Under the guidance of His Excellency, Most. Rev. Dr. Issac Mar Cleemis, now His Beatitude Moran Mor Baselios Cardinal Cleemis, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum and Catholicos, the Washington Mission continued to grow stronger. The Fifth Family Conference of the Malankara Catholic Missions of North-East USA was hosted by this Mission on August 31, 2002. Rev. Fr. Geevarughese J. Charuvilayil was the chief coordinator and Mr. T. C. Geevarghese was the convener for the event. When the Malankara Catholic Church was elevated to a Major Archiepiscopal Church, this Mission also reorganized its religious organizations. Malankara Catholic Youth Movement (hereafter MCYM), Mathru Sangam (Mother’s Association), Pithru Sangam (Father’s Association), and Malankara Catholic Association (MCA) were established. Mr. T. C. Geevarghese and Mr. Mathew John were the elected members to represent the Malankara Board from this Mission. Ms. Soji Pappachen was appointed as principal of Sunday School in 2005. During this period, the first Sunday School anniversary was celebrated by the community and, since then, this has been followed every year. As a result of the efforts of the chaplain and members, the Mission organized Christmas caroling during this period.

Rev. Fr. Geevarughese Charuvilayil returned to the Major Archieparchy (also called Major Archdiocese) of Trivandrum on July 15, 2006 and Rev. Fr. Jacob George Chirayath was appointed as the chaplain of the Mission. Fr. Chirayath took initiatives to extend the catechism classes to include grades IV to X and appointed Mr. Jacob Thomas as the principal. In August 2006, Rev. Fr. Samuel C. Giese took charge as the pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Landover Hills and extended his support to this Mission. St. Anne’s Chapel was exclusively given to the use of our community, and facilities in the Burgundy rooms and school gym were also extended to the community during this period. The chaplain remodeled the altar and decorated it according to our traditional Malankara custom, and Mr. Johny Thomas assisted him in this effort. Fr. Chirayath continued to build on the various initiatives of the previous chaplain, such as, monthly family prayers in the community, and initiated efforts to involve the youth and Sunday School kids during the divine services at the altar. In 2008, the chaplain and the parishioners hosted a youth festival for the benefits of Sunday School students, Sargolsav 2008. In addition to Washington, the Missions from New York State, Philadelphia and New Jersey took part in different talent competitions. His Excellency, Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thomas, the then Apostolic Visitator and Administrator for North America and Europe, now Bishop of the Eparchy of Bethary, was the chief guest for the events. On the decision of unbiased and independent judges selected from the outside the Missions, the children of our Mission emerged as overall champions and “Master” Shawn Abraham won the Kalaprathibha award. Mr. Jose Puracken, Mr. Binu Varghese and Mr. Jacob Thomas were the coordinators of this event, which was first of its kind in the North-American Malankara history. Dr. Babu Stephen family was the major sponsor for this event. A church building fund was started during the tenure of Fr. Chirayath. In August 2009, the Major Archbishop Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Catholicos visited this Mission, and the Catholicos was welcomed by the Chaplain and community in a public meeting held at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Landover Hills. The jubilee celebrations of this Mission started in April 2010, and a Holy Qurbono was celebrated by the His Excellency Most Rev. Yoohanon Mar Chrysostom, the first chaplain of the Mission. Special prayers were being made in every house after the daily evening prayer and after the Holy Qurbono at the Church.

Rev. Fr. Mathai Mannoorvadakkethil took charge of this Mission on February 27, 2011 from the previous vicar, Rev. Fr. Jacob George Chirayath. The new vicar rearranged St. Anne chapel to give it a traditional Malankara feel, and he introduced the holy veil in between the madbaha (sanctuary) and haikla (nave). Fr. Mathai started Malankara Catholic Children’s League (MCCL) and Jesus Kids in the local church for spiritual upliftment for the younger generation.

Some years back, the youth members of the Church (MCYM D.C.) spent a day at the Little Sisters of Poor, Baltimore and attended the Asia-Pacific Catholic Youth Conference in D.C. The Mission has always been an integral part of ECKC community. Mrs. Gracy Stephen, Mr. Jacob Thomas, Mr. Binu Varghese, Mr. Mathew John, Ms. Sindhu Stephen and Mr. Roy Mathew have served this organization as secretary/president/trustee. The Mission is also a member of the North American Asia-Pacific Catholic Association, and every year the Church members make a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception at Washington DC and celebrate our traditional Malankara Qurbono. The 9th Malankara Catholic Convention occurred in Leesburg, VA in 2015. The Washington parish helped in the logistics of this great family event.
In November 2014, the Malankara community moved to the Church of the Holy Spirit which is a Roman Catholic Church in Forestville, Maryland where it still holds the Divine Liturgy and other liturgical services do to the generosity of His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington. Rev. Fr. Everett Pearson is the current administrator of the Church of the Holy Spirit. Fr. Pearson is very supportive of our parish.
We are grateful for the effective leadership of the head of our Eparchy His Excellency Most. Rev. Dr. Thomas Mar Eusebius. On October 28, 2017 His Excellency, Most. Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Stepahanos will be installed as the 2nd Bishop of the St. Mary, Queen of Peace Syro-Malankara Catholic Eparchy of USA and Canada (hereafter Malankara, Queen of Peace Eparchy) As of September 2016, the local community was erected a parish under the Malankara, Queen of Peace Eparchy In 2017, Religious Sisters of the Daughters of Mary (hereafter D.M. Sisters) acquired a convent of their own in Maryland, which was blessed by Mar Eusebius on September 4, 2017.The religious sisters who reside in the convent are Sr. Anceline, D.M. and Sr. Divya George, D.M. Their public witness and Christian example is an inspiration to our younger parishioners.

On September 10, 2017, Fr. Michael Edathil took charge as the pastor of the parish. Currently, Ms. Anita Thomas is the secretary and Mr. Binu Varghese is the treasurer. Following the tradition of the Eastern Churches, all our members work in communion with the parish priest and local bishop in the dynamic growth of the Parish. Each of our parishioners take ownership and responsibility in bringing each soul closer to Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Now, the St. Mary’s Syro-Malankara Parish here in the Greater Washington Metropolitan area has one priest, who is the pastor, two religious sisters and over 30 families. Many of our members travel a significant distance to eagerly attend Holy Qurbono (Mass) and other liturgies. We joyfully anticipate many vocations to the priesthood and religious life.