Parish History of St. William of York Catholic Church
The parish of St. William of York traces its
origin back to 1647, when the Brent family moved to
Stafford County to escape religious intolerance. Sir
Giles Brent, an English Catholic nobleman who once
served as governor of Maryland, moved from Baltimore
to the Virginia wilderness near the mouth of Aquia
Creek. In 1686, Captain George Brent was granted a
patent of 30,000 acres of land lying between the
Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. The patent, granted
by King James II, included a royal mandate assuring
the Brents and later inhabitants of Virginia free
exercise of their religion.
They established the town of Brenton, which was later called Aquia. In 1785, Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore reported about 200 Catholics in this area. Little more is known about the Catholic community here until almost 1900. The original cemetery of the lost community in Aquia was rediscovered in 1897. In addition to the inhabitants of the pioneer settlement, a monument was discovered to Spanish Jesuit priests who were martyred in 1687 while trying to convert the local Indians to Catholicism.
During the 1920's, Bishop Denis J. O’Connell of Richmond purchased the land containing the cemetery and gave the job of its restoration to the Richmond Catholic Women’s Club. A brick wall was built around the cemetery and an altar was erected. On October 6, 1929, the first field Mass was celebrated in the cemetery. One year later, the large crucifix, which still stands on Route 1 at the entry to the Widewater District of Stafford County, was unveiled and dedicated. It, too, was erected by the Richmond Catholic Women’s Club.
The earliest recorded recollection, from persons living in 1980, of Mass being celebrated in Stafford County comes from the descendants of the Alfred J. Pyke family of Widewater, Virginia. Priests traveling here from Fredericksburg said Mass in their family chapel during the 1920's. On May 17, 1925, the day St. Therese was canonized, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Mountjoy was made available to the visiting priests for Mass and religious instruction, which continued until 1943. Anna Mountjoy was particularly instrumental in the foundation of the parish of St. William of York, and conducted much of the religious instruction herself. She would gather about 30 children each week for their catechism lessons.
In 1943, a mission station named St. Therese was established at the Midway Island government housing project, and the mission continued after Midway Island was put under the supervision of Quantico Marine Base. During this time, 1920 - 1956, the Catholic community of Stafford County, which had been a mission area since colonial times, was served as a mission of St. Mary's Church in Fredericksburg. During its earlier days, the local ten or twelve families comprising the Stafford Catholic community would gather together to say the rosary and hope that a visiting priest would arrive to say Mass.
In 1955, Bishop Peter L. Ireton of Richmond granted permission to build a church near the crucifix to serve the Catholic community of Stafford. On May 6, 1956, St. William of York Church was dedicated. The dedication Mass was celebrated by Bishop Ireton. The parish had an initial enrollment of 25 families. On May 12, 1957, St. William of York had its first First Communion class of fifteen children. Father James J. Widmer, pastor of St. Mary's Church – the namesake of the Knights of Columbus chapter at St. William of York – was the Mass celebrant. The first wedding celebrated at the church was on June 17, 1961, at which vows were exchanged between James C. Habina and Edna Mae Ginn. The first First Mass of a newly ordained priest was celebrated by Fr. Michael Dobbins on May 16, 1999, the day after his ordination by Bishop Paul Loverde, the third bishop of the Diocese of Arlington. Fr. Dobbins was in the first ordination class after Bishop Loverde was installed.
On June 1, 1971, St. William of York was established as an official parish. Father John S. Wysocki was assigned as the first pastor. In 1976, when Fr. Edmund Kollar succeeded Fr. Wysocki as pastor, there were about 150 families in the parish. By 1980, when the parish activity center was dedicated, that number had grown to about 350 families, which made St. William of York the largest church by membership in Stafford County. By 1992, there were 1200 registered families.
(Original text by Glenda Kopchinski; as edited in April 2009)