Catholic Church (Roman)

Diocese of Arlington

Diocese of ArlingtonDiocese of Arlington
200 N. Glebe Road, Suite 704
Arlington, VA 22203
Toll Free: (800) 468-6653
Phone: (703) 841-2500
Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde, Bishop


The history of Catholicism in Northern Virginia began 400 years before the establishment of the Arlington Diocese and continues to experience extraordinary growth.

Colonial Era

1570: Jesuit Father John Baptist Sequia and companions were brutally killed in the Virginia wilderness near what is now Williamsburg.

1647: Catholicism in Virginia was revived when Governor Giles Brent of Maryland and his sister, Margaret maintained the first Catholic settlement in Virginia as one that embraced religious tolerance.

1650: Pope Urban VIII established the Prefecture Apostolic of Virginia, entrusting it to the Capuchin Fathers, and appointed Father Martial, O.F.M. Cap., its first Prefect Apostolic.  Also, James II of England granted Proclamation of Religious Tolerance.

Catholicism in the State of Virginia

1785: Thomas Jefferson’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom decreed that Catholics were free to worship openly in the Old Dominion and the Church began to grow in the area.

1795: Thanks in part to George Washington, Alexandria became the first permanent site for Catholic worship in Virginia.

1820: Pope Pius VII decreed that the state of Virginia (including what is now West Virginia) would be contained in the new Diocese of Richmond.  In actuality, the Richmond Diocese was governed by Baltimore until 1841.

1972: The priests of the Alexandria and Arlington Deaneries requested the Most Reverend John J. Russell, Richmond ‘s 10th Bishop, to initiate the process toward the establishment of a new diocese in their part of the Commonwealth.

Catholic Diocese of Arlington

August 13, 1974: Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, auxiliary of Philadelphia and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania, was installed in St. Thomas More Church as the first Bishop of Arlington.  St. Thomas More Church was elevated to become the new diocesan cathedral.

1974: The Diocese of Arlington had more than 136,000 Catholics; 60 diocesan and 33 religious priests; 49 parishes and 7 missions.

1974-1983: Bishop Welsh opened 4 elementary schools, 1 high school, 6 parishes, and dedicated 11 new churches.  He was also instrumental in the founding of Christendom College in Front Royal, the then Notre Dame Institute in Alexandria, and Catholic Distance University.

1983-1998: Bishop John R. Keating was named Arlington’s second Bishop.  Bishop Keating served until his death on March 22, 1998 and is best remembered for his encouragement of vocations during the continued rapid growth of the diocese.  He ordained 84 men and dedicated more than 20 new churches and 7 schools.

1999: More than 336,000 Catholics in the diocese welcomed Bishop Paul S. Loverde to Arlington.  Bishop Loverde established four primary goals for our Diocese: evangelization, unity, reconciliation and service.
“History of the Arlington Diocese.” Catholic Diocese of Arlington. Arlington Catholic Herald. Web. <>.

Diocese of Richmond

Diocese of RichmondDiocese of Richmond
7800 Carousel Lane
Richmond, VA 23294
Phone: (804) 359-5661
Fax: (804) 358-9159
Most Rev. Francis X. DiLorenzo, Bishop

Mission Statement

We, the Christian faithful of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, led by our Bishop and in union with the universal Church, are listeners, learners, teachers and Disciples of Christ. We embrace our diversity and its expression in faith. We share a vision of a diocese where love grows, life triumphs and justice and peace prevail. We participate in God’s work to renew our Church and the world, through Word, Worship, Community and Service.


The Diocese of Richmond, formed from America’s first diocese, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is among the nation’s eight oldest Catholic dioceses.

Erected by decree of Pope Pius VII on July 11, 1820, the Diocese encompassed the entire state of Virginia, including what is now West Virginia.

There were few Catholics within that vast territory between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ohio River.  Harsh laws had discouraged them from settling in colonial Virginia.  It was not until the passing of Thomas Jefferson’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1786 that Catholics were free to worship openly in the Old Dominion.  Within 10 years, Catholic communities began to form.  St. Mary’s at Alexandria was established in 1795 as the first Catholic church in Virginia.  Records from 1794 show that the Catholic congregation in Norfolk owned a parcel of land for religious purposes.

More precisely, the Norfolk land was held by the Norfolk Catholic community’s lay trustees.  It was their conflict with their pastor over this land that prompted Vatican authorities to persuade the pope to set up a Virginia diocese with a residential bishop to suppress the “Norfolk Schism.”

As the first Bishop of Richmond, the Pope chose Father Patrick Kelly, then president of St. John’s Seminary, Birchfield, Ireland.  He was consecrated bishop in St. James Chapel, Dublin on August 24, 1820.

Arriving in Norfolk the following January, Bishop Kelly found that, not only was his congregation sorely disunited, it was also too poor to support a bishop and his work.  The new bishop was forced to support himself by operating a school.   Bishop Kelly obtained permission to return to Ireland and left Virginia in July, 1822 without ever having visited his see city, Richmond, which had no organized Catholic community at that time.

For the next 19 years, the Diocese of Richmond was under the administration of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  In 1841, Pope Gregory XVI restored the Diocese to independent administration and appointed Father Richard Vincent Whelan as its second bishop.  Bishop Whelan was the first of four Baltimore natives to head the Richmond diocese.

On a pastoral visit to the far western areas of his diocese, Bishop Whelan found large and growing communities of Irish and Italian Catholics who were pushing the new railroad through the mountains.  He stayed to serve them and, in 1850, became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling which encompassed all of Virginia west of the Allegheny Mountains and west of Maryland.

Arriving in Richmond in December 1850, Bishop John McGill, a native of Philadelphia and formerly a priest of the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky, found a diocese numbering around 7,000 Catholics, served by eight priests and worshiping in 10 churches, including the Cathedral of St. Peter, which had been built in 1834.

Bishop McGill’s service as Richmond’s third ordinary spanned 21 years, a period in which Virginia was scourged by yellow fever and cholera epidemics, racked by the Civil War and plagued by the anti-Catholic bigotry of Know-Nothingism.

After his death in 1872, Bishop McGill was succeeded by Baltimore native Bishop James Gibbons, the Vicar-Apostolic of North Carolina, who would later become the renowned Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore.  Bishop Gibbons drew on his experience as the spiritual leader of Virginia’s Catholic minority to write the book “Faith of Our Fathers,” a celebrated exposition of Catholic beliefs.  The work, published in 1876, went through numerous printings and was translated into several languages.

Upon the transfer of Bishop Gibbons to Baltimore, John Joseph Keane, a native of Ireland and a Washington, D.C. pastor, was named Richmond’s fifth bishop in 1878.  He was the first Catholic bishop to be consecrated in Richmond.  Bishop Keane was responsible for bringing the Josephite Fathers into the Diocese to serve the black Catholic community.  He was also instrumental in the foundation of The Catholic University of America and became its first rector.

Bishop Keane was succeeded in 1889 by Bishop Augustine Van de Vyver, a native of Belgium.  He had served as a missionary priest in the western part of the Diocese and later as Vicar General before being named the sixth Bishop of Richmond.  During his 22 years as ordinary, Bishop Van de Vyver founded 12 parishes and built 32 churches, including the present Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (1906).

After Bishop Van de Vyver’s death, Bishop Denis Joseph O’Connell became Richmond’s seventh ordinary in 1912.  Another native of Ireland and originally a priest of the Richmond Diocese, Bishop O’Connell had served as the Rector of the North American College in Rome and as Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco.  He served 14 years, resigning in 1926 due to illness.

Bishop Andrew James Brennan, a native of Towanda, Pennsylvania and the Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was installed as Richmond’s eighth bishop on December 16, 1926.  Less than eight years later, he suffered a stroke that cut short his service to the Diocese.

Monsignor Peter Leo Ireton from Baltimore became Apostolic Administrator and Coadjutor Bishop of Richmond in 1935 and the ninth ordinary in 1945.  Bishop Ireton guided the Diocese during 22 years of rapid growth.  Its population expanded from 37,000 in 1935 to 147,000 in 1958.  During Bishop Ireton’s ministry, 42 parishes were established and 24 schools were built.

Five months after Bishop Ireton’s death in 1958, Bishop John Joyce Russell of Charleston, South Carolina, a Baltimore native, became Richmond’s tenth bishop.  Ahead of Bishop Russell lay the task of guiding the Diocese through a period of the most far-reaching change in the Catholic Church in four centuries.  It was a change that Bishop Russell, as a father of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) had helped to bring about.

As a result of the Council, Richmond was one of the first four dioceses in the nation to establish a Commission on Ecumenical Affairs (1963).  In 1966, a Diocesan Pastoral Council and a Council of Priests were established in answer to Vatican II’s call for bishops to share responsibility for governing their dioceses.

After Bishop Russell’s retirement, Bishop Walter Francis Sullivan, a native of Washington, D.C. and auxiliary bishop of this diocese, was named the eleventh Bishop of Richmond in 1974.  At the same time, the Diocese of Arlington was formed from 21 Northern Virginia counties.  The “new” Diocese of Richmond, which came into being August 13, 1974, comprised some 36,000 square miles and included the remaining 74 counties of the state, essentially the southern three-fifths of Virginia.

Bishop Sullivan retired in 2003 after nearly thirty years as ordinary – a period longer than any of his predecessors.  He was succeeded by Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, a Philadelphia native and formerly the Bishop of Honolulu, who was installed as the twelfth Bishop of Richmond on May 24, 2004.
“History of the Diocese.” Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Web. <>.