Hail Mary

Virginia’s first basilica reopens after extensive renovations. 

The new altar at Basilica of Saint Mary. Courtesy of Image Capital Group.

Norfolk’s Basilica of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception reopened in January 2021 following a $7 million renovation. Parishioners returned to worshipping among the original stained glass windows from Munich, Germany, installed in 1858 and restored as part of the renovation process. The original, well-preserved pews face a new altar, and the historic organ was fully restored. During construction, workers discovered several tombs and a tunnel beneath the floor, which may have been part of the Underground Railroad. The project was headed by parishioner Will McCadden. 

The parish was founded in 1791 as Saint Patrick Church by French Catholics. It was the oldest parish in the Richmond Diocese and predated the formation of the diocese by 29 years. In 1961, 72 years after the creation of Saint Joseph’s Black Catholic parish, the church was clustered with Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception. The edifice was rededicated in November 1989 after a previous renovation and restoration. Two years later, in time for its 200th anniversary, Pope John Paul II proclaimed the Church of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception a minor basilica, the only one in the Commonwealth of Virginia at the time, and still the only historically African-American basilica in America. BasilicaOfSaintMary.org 


This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue.

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