Our church celebrated the Fifth Anniversary of the building’s dedication on Catholic University Day, November 12, 1916 . It was an auspicious date, since our then pastor, Monsignor Crane, was among the first graduates of newly established Catholic University in Washington, DC. The main celebrant was Right Reverend Thomas Shahan, Rector of the University. Reverend James T. Higgins of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, a classmate of Monsignor Crane, assisted.
The sermon described our church construction: “Nine years ago last spring the first spadeful of earth was turned on the site of this magnificent building…month by month afterwards you watched the majestic structure rise, cradled by scaffolding, until the commanding dome was finished and the elaborate furnishing completed, and your church was ready for its dedication…” Today, “the sweet voices of the newly christened bells proclaim to the neighborhood that this is a day of joy for St. Francis de Sales Parish….” Dedicated in October, this was the first time the bells were rung.
Addressing the building’s symbolism, the homilist noted that, atop the dome, “ its cross points heavenwards… to belief in God and hope in the world to come…” and “pierces the clouds of doubt…which come between the soul and the Creator…” Doubt was strong in 1916: “The present is to a great extent the age of the merely natural. Man will believe only what he can see and science is so vastly increasing his vision that he has come to believe that there is no limit to his powers of penetration. The world of spirit, the world of faith, the supernatural, has to prove its reality before man will accept it…” using quantifiable scientific evidence from five senses.
Our building outlines a sacred space, to be experienced with a different sense: “All the glories of Christian architecture owe their inspiration to a belief…that a church should be a worthy tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament…It is not an empty monument, but a place “within whose walls the Sacramental Christ is always dwelling;” a space to inspire, refresh, and lift us above the ordinary.
The five-year anniversary of our building came in the darkness of World War I. A hundred years later, in this new century of unrest, we are still reconciling faith with reason, but science has begun to acknowledge that the more we learn about our universe, the more we realize that we don’t know. Our church is a refuge to reach for that which continues to be beyond our understanding.