A mariachi band entertains parishioners during the 50th anniversary celebration of St. Bartholomew Parish in Bethesda. The parish's anniversary celebration kicked off on Sept. 19 with a Mass and reception.
A mariachi band entertains parishioners during the 50th anniversary celebration of St. Bartholomew Parish in Bethesda. The parish's anniversary celebration kicked off on Sept. 19 with a Mass and reception.
Msgr. James Beattie, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Bethesda, set the record straight regarding the parish's founding 50 years ago this year. The story goes, he said, that legendary labor leader and AFL-CIO president George Meany urged then-Archbishop of Washington Patrick O'Boyle to build another parish in the post-World War II booming suburb of Bethesda.

In fact, it was Meany's wife, Eugenia, who one day said to the archbishop, "We need a parish. Why don't you start one? And don't tell me you don't have enough money because you do." The Meanys went on to be founding members of St. Bartholomew's.

At the 1959 dedication of the church, Msgr. Beattie said Archbishop O'Boyle looked around the Mass, noticed the large numbers of school-age children present, and announced that a school would be built.

"Right there in the middle of Mass, he made the decision, and that's how we have a school, a tremendous school at that," said Msgr. Beattie, who has served as pastor for 15 years, during a Sept. 20 Mass to mark the beginning of the parish's yearlong celebration in honor of its golden jubilee.

The pastor said a recent phone call from a woman whose parents were the first couple married at St. Bartholomew's inspired him to reflect on the parish's long history. He said the couple plans to return to St. Bartholomew's to renew their wedding vows.

"Can you imagine the numbers of people in the past 50 years who have come through these doors?" he said. "The baptisms, weddings, graduations, First Holy Communions, and funerals. How many people's lives have been touched by being a part of this parish? The number of people receiving the sacraments, the number of people coming to worship and to receive the body and blood of Christ."
Parishioners filled the church for the vigil Mass, in which Msgr. Beattie was the main celebrant and Father John Caulfield, the parish's newest parochial vicar, served as concelebrant.

Following the Mass, hundreds of parishioners - spanning several generations - attended a reception in the school's courtyard, where a festive four-piece mariachi band serenaded partygoers.

Bonnie Perkins, a 25-year parishioner and the chairperson of the 50th anniversary celebration, said several events will take place throughout the year to recognize and honor all aspects of parish life. "We want to pull together all the communities - the young, the seniors, the Hispanics, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary here at the parish," she said.

Marie Sharon, a St. Bart's parishioner since "day one," said her three children received all their sacraments at the church. She described the parish throughout the decades as "a real community," with a generous spirit of giving to those less fortunate.

Catherine Seidl Catlett, a 15-year parishioner whose parents were founding parishioners, said of St. Bart's, "The people who are here make it a special place."

Approximately, 1,000 households make up St. Bartholomew's Parish, which is located just inside the Beltway on River Road. Bartholomew House, an assisted living facility for the elderly operated by the archdiocese's Victory Housing, is located next to the church and school.

"This is a time to reflect, to give thanks...to come together, sharing in the same faith and trying to live out the message He gave to us. May God bless us as we begin to celebrate this anniversary of our 50th year," said Msgr. Beattie.