History of Catholic Church of Saint Mark
Founding (1978 – 1983)
The parish of the Catholic Church of St. Mark was established by Bishop Walter F. Sullivan in May 29, 1978. Known initially as the Indian River Catholic Community, parish boundaries were drawn that identified 253 families that were attending either the Church of the Ascension on Princess Anne Rd and St. Matthew’s on Sandra Lane in Virginia Beach. There was no building, no land, no rectory. Father Joseph L. Clark was assigned but was living at Star of the Sea Catholic Church at the oceanfront.
Letters were sent to these families and bulletin announcements were printed in the neighboring parishes encouraging people to become part of the new parish. A handful of people responded, and gathered in a garage around a picnic table altar for the first Mass. Masses were held every weekend in backyards or in garages and family rooms during inclement weather. Soon there were 54 families – the building of church had begun.
In the first months, a steering committee was formed to deal with issues such as registration of members; investigating potential land sites; committees for liturgy, music, religious education and communication the community. Finding a rectory and a name for the new parish was also high on the agenda. By fall, a home-based religious education program was established; a liturgy committee was formed to oversee the details of the “moving Mass”; a house in the Indian Lakes neighborhood was identifies to serve as a rectory and the name St. Mark, evangelist and gospel writer, was selected. With St. Matthew to the West of the parish, St Mark was a natural progression. In the following years, two new parishes to our East chose the names of Luke and John. By October 1978, St. Mark had outgrown garages, family rooms, and backyards, and Masses were being celebrated at Brandon J. High School on Sunday mornings, and at Community United Methodist Church on Saturday evening and holy days.
As St. Mark grew, the need for a permanent place to worship grew as well. Parish leaders worked tirelessly to acquire property, select an architect (McClung-Carver-Rogers), survey the parish membership for design preferences, and establish fund-raising programs. The parish also continued to build the community and the church through liturgy, education, outreach and fellowship. St. Mark was enriched by a substantial number of parish members who were in the military and they brought many diverse ideas and talents. All planning and decisions were coordinated with and required approval of the Diocese. In February 1981, 6.58 acres of land were purchased by the Diocese for use by St. Mark. With the land from the Diocese, the cost of building a church came to the parish, as is the tradition. The lot was cleared of house, pool, and outbuildings. Pre-construction details like access to the lot, drainage and runoff were dealt with by the building committee. November 6, 1983, five and a half years after establishment… GROUND BREAKING…
Building on Firm Foundations (1984 – 1991)
As 1984 began, there were 543 families registered in the parish and the “portable” Masses continued Saturday evenings at Hope Lutheran Church and Sunday mornings in the cafeteria at Indian Lakes Elementary School. Every week the collapsible altar, the portable sound system, the linens, the vessels, song books, song sheets, bulletins, coffee pots, and so on were packed, unpacked set up, taken down, and repacked. Baptisms took place in the “cafeteria” church. Religious education classes met in homes. Sacramental preparation classes for parents met wherever space was available. Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) met at the rectory in Indian Lakes. Daily Mass was celebrated in the rectory’s sun porch and the parish offices were in the rectory garage. Social outreach programs were limited to a few. Prayer groups, bible study, fund raisers and socials were held. Parish council and Finance Committee were established. The sense of church, parish identity, community was about to take structure.
The church building was going up. Phase One (17,088 sq ft) of a two phase plan included a Great Hall as a temporary worship space and for fellowship. There was a chapel for daily Mass, a commons area, offices, a kitchen area and room for a nursery. Phase One costs were $1,047,883 but only a debt of $450,000 was necessary due to the careful management and the generosity of the parishioners. A separate fund drive was held for the furnishings. Families could purchase a chair, a brick, contribute to the altar or to a general furnishing fund. It was decided that there would be no memorial plaques or visible acknowledgement of donations. The belief was that every contribution to St. Mark was vital to the whole, whether the contribution bought the altar or paid the electric or water bill, one had to exist for the other.
The dream and prayer of many faithful and committed people, the church building, Phase One was dedicated on October 6, 1984. It was a celebration of beginnings and endings. The people of St. Mark were ending their “nomadic” worship history and beginning to meet the daily and routine challenges of “owning” a building.
Settling In – A Home (1984 – 1992)
Weekend and holiday Masses were now celebrated in the Great Hall. Daily Masses were in the Chapel. The parish offices moved from the rectory garage to the Church. Different challenges emerged: security, keys, power and telephone bills, signage, cleaning, and a parking lot. As a community that had been so temporary for six years, St. Mark settled in and grew. Being a visible presence in the Kempsville area, St Mark had doors that welcomed many new members. With a Great Hall, social events could be held at church furthering fellowship and growth. There was a strong focus on paying off the $450,000 and saving toward Phase Two – a Sanctuary.
By 1988 there were 979 registered families and at the parish picnic in July there was the first “mortgage burning.” St. Mark continued to grow and to move forward with plans for Phase Two. The number of ministers and volunteers needed to sustain liturgy, formation, outreach, and welcoming fellowship was also growing. The community gave their time and talent generously and constantly. A paid staff was held to a minimum and programs operated frugally so that the savings could be put toward Phase Two. In anticipation of his transfer, Fr. Clark asked that the design planning for Phase Two be delayed so that the new pastor could be part of the planning process.
In 1990, Fr. Clark was transferred and in June, Fr. Daniel N. Klem was assigned pastor. The Building Committee quickly set to work to build the Sanctuary – “the Church”. There was over $500,000 in the building fund and the parish was eager to continue. The process of building was repeated, design, bids, but now included Design and Architectural Guidelines for a Church.
There were evening education sessions to help the parish understand the liturgical requirements for a church built after Vatican II. A parish survey was made to assure that the building would meet the needs and expectations of the community. Questions about where the Tabernacle would be placed, and whether or not kneelers would be installed had to be decided. The color of the wood and style of the pews, type and color of fabric and carpeting were determined. The stained glass windows for the Reservation Chapel and the Sanctuary were designed…the Reserve Chapel windows represent the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. The five windows in the Sanctuary tell the story of the Gospel of St. Mark. On September 22, 1991 … GROUND BREAKING AGAIN… 13 years of building church and church building began to add an additional 14,146 square feet. The walls were finally up, pews installed, carpet laid, light fixtures hung, windows installed. The building came to life…DEDICATED…May 24, 1992, all without asking for a single pledge. St Mark was Church and had a CHURCH. The sense of accomplishment was tremendous. The spirit of the community was captured in song, composed by Del Ridge for St. Mark, “By Cross and Water Signed.” A mission statement was developed to capture the roots of St. Mark and articulate a vision for future generations.
Rooted in the Word, Nourished by the Sacraments, Guided by the Holy Spirit
We the people of St. Mark, are united in our desire to serve those in need,
to give our gifts and talents To build the Kingdom of God by imaging Jesus Christ
Living Our Mission (1993 – Present)
St. Mark became a recognized member of the local community, settled in, and started to age. Discussions began concerning support to the Haitian people. St. Mark working with other local parishes contributed to the purchase of the initial campus for what was to become the orphanage of Maison Fortune. A Food Pantry was opened serving the community, operating from a couple of cabinets.
Fr. Klem was transferred June 2002 and Fr. James C. Griffin was assigned in July. The Food Pantry grew from humble beginnings, opening the doors to three days a week. The Food Pantry worked in conjunction with other pantries in the area, local grocery and food establishments to provide bags of groceries to the area hungry. A pastoral need for deceased loved ones to be closely remembered was addressed. In the summer of 2007, a Columbarium was constructed adjacent to the church building and dedicated by Bishop Sullivan. Saint Mark’s continues to grow in numbers to 1400 plus families and in ways to support their needs.
Our commitment to Maison Fortune continued to build as St. Mark began a twinning agreement with the orphanage. This led to regular trips to the orphanage by Fr. Griffin and other parishioners.
We joined an area ecumenical group of churches, Chesapeake Area Shelter Team (CAST) to provide overnight shelter and meals to area homeless for a week during the winter months. CAST requires about 270 volunteers.
Fr. Griffin was transferred in June 2015 and Fr. Anthony Mpungo was assigned in July.
In July 2023 Father Anthony transfered to Holy Spirit and Father Eric Baffour Asamoah was assigned to Saint Mark. A native of Ghana, Father Eric was ordained to priesthood on July 1st off 2000 and has served in the Richmond Diocese since 2017. He was previously assigned to the Holy Trinity Cluster Parishes in the far southwest of Virginia until July 1st of 2023 when he began serving our parish here at Saint Mark in Virginia Beach, VA. Father Eric also serves on the Priest Advisory Committee for the Richmond Diocese.
Called to Service:
Christopher Gaffrey grew up in St. Mark was called by the Spirit from the community to serve God and His Church. He entered Postulancy for the Franciscan Order August 2001, professed Solemn Vows September 13, 2009, and was ordained April 24, 2010.
In 1998 the Diocese of Richmond reconsidered establishing a formation program for Deacons. Michael Johnson and John Kren applied to the program and were ordained at St. Gregory the Great by Bishop Walter F. Sullivan on March 22, 2003. Both were assigned to St. Mark. Daniel Sorady applied and was ordained at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo on October 13, 2012 and was assigned to St. Matthew. St. Mark is blessed to have several parishioners active as Third Order Carmelites and Franciscans.