Cathedral’s New Virginia Mae Center to Serve as Convening Space for New Cathedral College of Faith and Culture

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Supported by transformative gifts totaling $22 million from longtime Cathedral supporter Virginia Cretella Mars and Cathedral Chapter Chair Andrew C. Florance, Washington National Cathedral today announced that the former Cathedral College of Preachers will be renovated as the new Virginia Mae Center, one of the primary hubs for the new program arm of the Cathedral, the Cathedral College of Faith and Culture.

The reimagined Cathedral College of Faith and Culture will create new possibilities for the Cathedral’s programmatic life through the Institute for Music, Liturgy and the Arts; the Institute for Ethics and Public Engagement; and the Institute for Spirituality and Leadership.

“We are incredibly grateful for the generous gifts from Virginia Mars and her daughters, and from Andrew and Heather Florance, which will create new opportunities to invite people of all faiths to the Cathedral to explore art, music, moral leadership in public life and spiritual formation here at the crossroads of the civic and sacred,” said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral.

“The Cathedral College of Faith and Culture is the culmination of a journey to restore fiscal health to this institution. Consistent with the work we’ve done over the past four years to balance our budget, this project will be supported by an endowment, ensuring that we will be able to continue investing in our congregation, our city, the Cathedral building restoration, and our ongoing national events and programming.”

“For years, I have loved the building that we all know as ‘The College,’ and the new Cathedral College of Faith and Culture will create space for us to deepen the ties between one another and to come together to find new, better paths forward,” said Virginia Cretella Mars, a longtime supporter of the Cathedral and currently the secretary of the Cathedral Chapter, or governing board. “In these divided and polarized times, we need the convening power of this Cathedral to call us to our highest ideals and aspirations as a nation, and I’m thrilled that this building will be able to bring people together once more.”

Andrew C. Florance, the current chair of the Cathedral Chapter, and his wife, Heather, donated $5 million toward construction and renovation to bring the building back to life. He said the Cathedral’s financial success in recent years, and the positive momentum created by Dean Hollerith, made him see his gift as a long-term investment.

“This Cathedral was built by generations who never lived to see it completed, but who were captivated by the vision of a church for national purposes,” Florance said. “The leadership of Dean Hollerith, and our solid financial footing, allow the Cathedral to dream big once again, and the Cathedral College allows us to live more deeply into our calling to be agents of reconciliation in our city, the nation and the world.”

The College of Faith and Culture will be housed on the southeast corner of the Cathedral Close in a 1929 Gothic building formerly known as the College of Preachers, a destination for theological study and training in the art of preaching. When completed in late 2020, in time for Mars’ 90th birthday, the 27,000-square-foot newly renovated Virginia Mae Center – named in honor of its principal benefactor – will come alive once again with activity and energy. The LEED Silver-qualified facility will be fully handicapped-accessible and have capacity to house about 40 people across 30 guest suites with in-suite bathrooms, for both short-term stays and longer term academic residencies.

The Cathedral College of Faith and Culture will be home to three primary institutes:

  • The Institute for Music, Liturgy and the Arts, will offer programs, courses, and exhibitions while seeking to create national and international networks that foster excellence and innovation in choral and organ music, liturgy and preaching.
  • The Institute for Ethics and Public Engagementaims to strengthen the moral discourse of our community and the nation by shining the light of the Gospel on the important issues of our day, with a primary focus on racial justice and reconciliation, social justice, veterans’ issues and interfaith engagement.
  • The Institute for Spirituality and Leadershipwill offer courses, spiritual retreats, residencies and pilgrimages that aim to contribute to the spiritual and theological formation of lay and clergy leaders and offer opportunities for renewal, mentoring and reflection.

“We see in the Gospels that Jesus calls and gathers people together to teach them and to feed them,” said Hollerith. “He shows us how to welcome people and how to know them, even and especially when they are different from each other. He shows us how sharing fellowship and breaking bread together can change hearts. Washington National Cathedral is following the example of Jesus to be a place where people can come together, learn from each other and begin to build relationships. The College of Faith and Culture will be an important part of this welcome.”