St. Mary Catholic Church in Old Town Alexandria (courtesy photo)

The Vatican issued a decree granting St. Mary Catholic Church in Alexandria the title ‘minor basilica,’ making it the first basilica in Northern Virginia, the first in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and the 84th in the United States. The 223-year-old Roman Catholic church will officially be named “The Basilica of Saint Mary.”

The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, along with Fr. Edward C. Hathaway, Pastor of St. Mary Church, made the announcement Sunday during 8:30 a.m. Mass at St. Mary.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge announces that St. Mary Church has been declared a Minor Basilica (courtesy photo)

“It is an extraordinary honor to announce that the Holy See has designated St. Mary in Old Town to be the newest basilica in the United States,” Bishop Burbidge said. “This historic announcement recognizes the important role St. Mary has played in the Diocese, the City of Alexandria, and even the very founding of our country. I congratulate Fr. Hathaway and all of the priests who have served this parish over the generations for their work in bringing St. Mary’s to this special day. I pray that Our Lord continue to bless St. Mary’s and its community for generations to come.”

“Designation as a basilica now opens a new chapter in our parish history and brings honor not only to our parish, but to the entire Diocese and to Roman Catholics throughout the country,” said Fr. Hathaway. “Being named a Basilica carries a special connection for us to the Holy See and the Holy Father in Rome and recognizes Saint Mary’s important role within the history of the universal Church, Now, more than ever, the faithful and others are encouraged to visit this parish and discover the beauty of the Lord and His love for His sons and daughters.”

Founded in 1795, the Church of St. Mary is the first Catholic parish in the Commonwealth of Virginia and State of West Virginia, which were one state until 1863. George Washington made the first financial contribution to the parish in the late 1700s, equivalent to $1,200 today. A chapel was built at the south end of Alexandra in 1795. In 1810, the parish moved to its present location in the heart of the city on South Royal Street.

See more about the basilica at stmaryoldtown.org.