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Parish History


 In Foggy Bottom, Washington, DC


The establishment of St. Stephen Parish began on Sunday afternoon, June 3, 1866, when Reverend John B. Maguire, S.J., the President of Georgetown University, delivered the principal address.  He said that it was most appropriate that the  new parish be dedicated to St. Stephen, for it suggested an obligation to be firm in one’s faith and to be moved by a spirit of charity and forgiveness.


The Reverend John McNally was the first Pastor of St. Stephen’s after it was established as an independent parish and a reasonable boundary, 20th Street, N.W., was established between St. Stephen’s and St. Matthew’s.  The dedication of the new Church fell on Sunday, December 27, 1868.  The main altar was not erected in the upper church until February, 1869.  At that time, the cost of the land, construction of the church and the rectory totaled about $60,000.  There were no offertory envelopes used at this time, and income was generated from pew rentals in the church.


During this period, the children of the parishioners of St. Stephen’s attended school at St. Matthew’s, but when the school property was sold, the people of St. Stephen’s were faced with the necessity of not only raising sufficient funds to complete the church and the parish house, but a school as well.  In 1872, the parish erected a two-story wooden structure on 24th Street, N.W. between D and E Streets at a cost of $2,200.  This school struggled with problems of financing, inadequate structure, and rising enrollment for several years.  Eventually it became obvious that the task was too great for the resources at hand.  The school closed in 1879 and thereafter the children of the parish attended nearby public schools.  The parish thus turned to Sunday school classes and by the turn of the century, St. Stephen’s had the largest classes in the city.


The Washington Monument was completed in 1884, bringing new respectability to the city.  Father McNally died soon thereafter in 1889.  Father John Gloyd became the second pastor of the parish.  Now in a time of relative prosperity for the parish, there arose an interest in beautifying the church.  This took the form of decorating the interior with frescoes and improving the exterior front of the church.


Changing times also demonstrated that the original parish house or rectory was too small.  So, as a part of the improvements at St. Stephen’s, Father Gloyd added a west wing that provided three additional rooms.  Father Gloyd also looked into real estate due to a concern about the present and future needs for a school.  Father Gloyd was transferred to St. Patrick’s in 1894 and died in 1897.


Father John J. Dougherty became the third pastor of St. Stephen’s.  He focused his attention on two of the most obvious needs of the church: a new sanctuary and sacristy.  The old upstairs sacristy was torn down.  The church was extended by removing a portion of the rear wall and constructing an apse.  On the ground level, the rear of the building was extended to provide a long sacristy with plenty of storage space.  The cost of all the additions to the church was $6,611.  Father Dougherty died in 1896.


Father Walker S. Caughy became the fourth pastor of St. Stephen’s. He embarked on a program to meet the people of his parish by visiting the homes of nearly every parishioner.  It was this human touch that meant so much in the Golden Age of the parish, which grew to number 4,800 in 1901.  He died in 1910 and was responsible for many of the marble additions to the altar.


The fifth pastor was Father Joseph J. Cassidy and in 1910 the parish had a debt of $13,800.  He resolved to liquidate it, and within a short time, the old debt was erased.  During this tenure, electric lights replaced the old gas jets in the church.  For a number of years, Father Cassidy looked forward to the day when St. Stephen’s would have its own parochial school.  The post-war years after World War I saw the realization of these dreams.  By 1923, $79,000 had been raised to build a new school and the construction began.  In 1924, Father Cassidy was elevated to the rank of Monsignor and died in 1926.


Reverend George Bernard Harrington succeeded Monsignor Cassidy and became the sixth pastor of St. Stephen’s. He encountered debt of $104,000, which he managed to pay off by the late 1930’s. He died in 1942.


Father Edward Jerome Winter was appointed as the seventh pastor of the parish.  He led the programs of renovations to the rectory, convent and church.  Under Father Winter’s leadership the daily life of the parish was reorganized and revitalized.  Every fall a census of the parish was taken, yielding important information on the needs of the parish.  In 1949, the same year that he was transferred to Sacred Heart Parish, he modernized the sanctuary in the lower church.  He died in 1958.


Father Joseph F. Denges became the eighth pastor of the parish.  He undertook renovation of the school and was elevated to the rank of Right Revered Monsignor.  The small group of active parishioners still at St. Stephen’s rejoiced with their pastor over this honor.  From a low point in 1952, the income of the parish gradually began to improve as Government workers and others availed themselves of the facilities of this downtown parish.


Ordinarily church structures tend to remain the same no matter how much the surrounding area changes.  They stand as silent reminders of a former age.  But in the case of St. Stephen’s Church, the passage of time caught up with it as well.  On Wednesday, July 15, 1959, the last Masses were said in the old church.


A campaign to raise money for the new church began.  It was estimated that the new air-conditioned church would seat 750 people and cost $450,000.  By Christmas, 1959, the fund raisers had exceeded their goal.  Construction began in January of 1960.  Monsignor Denges celebrated a Mass of Dedication in 1961.


St. Stephen’s School began losing students for years due to the shifts in population and the changing character of the neighborhood.  Monsignor Denges closed the school in 1954.  The building was then occupied until 1985 by Immaculate Conception Academy, a girls high school, administered by the Daughters of Charity.  The former parish school was sold, demolished and replaced by a new hotel in 1989.

President John Kennedy leaving St Stephen after Mass.


The structure of a new St. Stephen Martyr Church, opened in 1961, is the setting for carrying out the parish commitment of faith.  In order that the church not be lost among the large buildings surrounding it, a seventy-foot white, pre-cast concrete bell tower, surmounted by twenty-foot gold cross, was situated so as to dominate the corner of 25th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.  The main façade of the church is an elliptical concrete arch framing a 35 foot, richly-colored, jeweled glass window.  At the base of this window is a small projecting marquee covering the main portal, the soffit of which is gold mosaic.  Completing the façade is an heroic ceramic statue of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.


In 1968, Father Edward J. O’Brien became the ninth pastor of the parish.  Due to illness Father O’Brien resigned in 1970 and Bishop John S. Spence was named the tenth pastor of St. Stephen Martyr Parish.  Bishop Spence also developed health problems and in 1972, Father Michael J. Farrell became the eleventh pastor of the parish.  He was succeeded in 1976 by Father Thomas Sheehan, the twelfth pastor.


The original structure of the 1867 rectory gradually became obsolete, with serious structural and mechanical deficiencies.  Under the guidance of Father Sheehan, construction of a new parish center/rectory began in 1991; it was opened in 1993.  Church offices, community rooms and a gallery were placed in the basement.  On the ground level was a parish administrative office, offices for the priests, a reception area, a separate lobby for residential access, and a parish parlor.  There were also several meeting rooms for the use of various organizations and groups, and a choir practice room.  The second floor had a living room and a dining room, a kitchen, an exercise room, and residence rooms.  Additional residence rooms were on the third floor.  The off-center entrance way, emphasized by balconies and a rooftop gable, was the distinguishing feature of the new façade.


In May, 1997, St. Stephen Martyr celebrated the 130th anniversary of the parish.  Father Sheehan also announced his retirement at that time, after more than twenty years as pastor of St. Stephen’s.  To succeed Father Sheehan, Cardinal Hickey on May 21, 1997, appointed Monsignor Kenneth W. Roeltgen as the thirteenth pastor of St. Stephen Martyr.


Monsignor Roeltgen launched a capital campaign in order to make improvements in the church and rectory.  One of the major contributions of his five years as pastor was the renovation of the church, particularly the sanctuary.  He also carried through renovations in the rectory.  Monsignor Roeltgen was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2001, and he passed away on April 7, 2002 just as he was preparing to take up a new assignment as pastor of Annunciation Church in Washington.


In 1988, Fr. Valentine Keveny he started at St Stephen Martyr as the Parochial Vicar, and the Chaplain at  the George Washington University Hospital. On July 5, 2000, he was assigned as the Catholic Chaplain at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and Asbury Methodist Village. He resides at St. Mary’s Church and has been a blessing to our parish community.


In 2000 Fr. Patrick J. McCaffrey served as senior priest at Saint Stephen Martyr in Washington, D.C. and as Chaplain to GW Hospital, until he retired in 2005


Monsignor Robert Hill assumed the office of pastor of St. Stephen’s in the spring of 2002.  In his three years as pastor, he also served as vicar for clergy for the Archdiocese.  He dedicated himself to the improvement of the music program of the church.  Unfortunately, during repairs in the choir loft in 2004, serious damage was done to the organ.  Insurance money allowed for the purchase of a small temporary organ which was placed in the rear west side of the church, requiring the removal of several pews.  A brief campaign to raise money for a new organ garnered $188,000.  However, just as the organ fund campaign was getting underway, Monsignor Hill was transferred to become pastor at Holy Cross parish in Garret Park, MD.  The parish was blessed in these years to have a very fine music program, including the Gold Mass for musicians.


In May 2005, Fr. Klaus Sirianni was assigned to Saint Stephen Martyr as Parochial Vicar.  He was ordained in 1978.  He has served for many years in Archdiocese of Washington parishes and 20 years in military services as Catholic Chaplain. At the moment he is also serving as the George Washington Hospital Chaplain.


Following Monsignor Hill, Monsignor Edward J. Filardi became pastor in July 2005.  During his tenure, the parish’s financial standing was strengthened.  In keeping with modern times, the parish opened its first website in October 2005.  Monsignor Filardi continued the vision to make St. Stephen’s a recognized center of liturgical music.  A compact disk of the choir’s music was made to raise funds for the organ and to advertise the quality of the parish choir.  The temporary Casavant organ was installed early in February 2007. Monsignor Filardi’s desire to celebrate the parish’s 140th anniversary in 2007 could not be fulfilled because he was assigned as administrator of Immaculate Conception parish in addition to his duties at St. Stephen’s.  It was apparent that the doors of the church needed to be replaced.  Bids were welcomed for doors that would be both durable and serviceable as well as of high artistic quality. Monsignor Filardi concluded a contract with Philadelphia artist Anthony Visco in July 2009 for a set of bronze doors.  Monsignor Filardi was transferred at the same time to become pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bethesda.  Monsignor Robert Panke was assigned as administrator of St. Stephen’s for six months.


In January 2010 Monsignor Paul Langsfeld began his service as pastor.  He worked with Mr. Visco to refine the details on the new doors, and he identified donors to sponsor the bronze panels of the doors, which represent scenes from the life of St. Stephen.  In the meantime, Monsignor Langsfeld added the building of a new vestibule to the project of the new doors, so that the latter would have a suitable entrance way into the church.  A mini-campaign was launched in  March 2011 to raise money for the construction of the vestibule. The oak doors and the vestibule were crafted by Cornell Zimmer and Associates of North Carolina.   The new vestibule and the installation of the doors was completed by the end of the summer of 2011. The parish celebrated the  dedication of the new façade doors and vestibule on September 21, 2011.  In addition, the project to purchase a permanent organ and to locate it again in the choir loft was revived by Monsignor Langsfeld, who invited a long-time organ builder to study the various possibilities within the limits of the parish’s financial resources.   A new digital organ made by Marshall and Ogletree was built and it was installed during the winter of 2012.

On October 2012, Monsignor Langsfeld was transferred to Gaithersburg, Maryland to become Pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church. At the same time, Monsignor Paul Dudziak, the Pastor of St. Rose of Lima came to Washington to become the Pastor of St. Stephen Martyr.


On July 2013 we welcomed Deacon Ted Dmuchowski.


Msgr. Paul M. Dudziak continues and expands Msgr. Langsfeld's vision by creating a modern Reconciliation Room (in memory of Mary Cleary), and designed by parishioner Peter Moriarity, AIA. He is also planning the renovation of the parish hall and bathrooms, and the creation of a commercial kitchen." Msgr. Paul's " emphases in ministry are preaching, outreach to young adults, adult faith formation and one-to-one care giving through the initiation of Stephen's Ministry. The deaconal couple, Deacon Ted Dmuchowski and his wife Sophie leaded our parish's Stephen Ministry in this ecumenical initiative.

Msgr. Paul brings an emphasis on small, faith sharing groups and the distribution of thousands of devotional material, including over 21,000 of the St. Stephen Martyr tri-fold prayer cards. The parish has also begun assistance to Father Bill Ryan's parish and missions of subsistence farmers in Togo, West Africa; and St. Joseph's Parish in Lahore, Pakistan; and the Salesian Ministries assisting orphans and exploited children in Cambodia and Thailand. He established a permanent "Friends of the Music Ministry" program to promote the continuation of our excellent liturgical music traditions, and is working to completely renovate the parish hall. He has also began an outreach program to Wounded Military in Recovery; and enhanced our ministry to young adults and couples.


On August 2015, Deacon John Liu joined us as a permanent deacon. He was ordained in 2008 by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and served St Rose of Lima Parish until his transfer to St Stephen Martyr. He is helping Fr. Sirianni at GWU Hospital and ministering to residents of Brinton Woods Nursing Home. 


On May 2016 Deacon Ted  Dmuchowski was assigned to Our Lady of Visitation Parish in Darnestown, MD.


Within the physical structure of St. Stephen Martyr, especially in its unique church, the parish carries out its commitment of faith.  The highest expression of this faith is the celebration of the sacred liturgy—particularly the Holy Mass—and this celebration prepares the parish for its mission of service.  Today the parish includes nearly 500 permanent members and many more office, hospital and government workers who attend Mass on the weekdays and Holy Days.  It also welcomes many George Washington University students, local hotel guests and other visitors to the Nation’s Capital.




(June 12, 2018)


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