Deacon Steve Dixon served as a parishioner at St. Rita’s Church in Alexandria for most of his 75 years. He attended St. Rita’s School, as did his wife, Thana. After getting married and having their twin daughters, Donna and Debbie, the family continued to worship and volunteer at the parish. For the past 10 years he has served the parish as a deacon. He describes the Saint Rita community as his “second family”.
“The parish has been such an influence on our lives,” Deacon Dixon said. “We wanted to get involved because God had given so much (my wife and I) that the little we could give back was the least we could do. We tried to stay active because it truly is our home away from home.
Deacon Dixon, born in Washington on June 23, 1946, began dating St. Rita as a baby after being adopted by his parents through Catholic charities. St. Rita’s School opened in 1952 and he was a freshman freshman member. At the time, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania ran the school. “Sixty children in a classroom and a nun,” he said. “If you crossed the line, you suffered the consequences. That one teacher is able to control and teach so many children is amazing. We got a great base in the Catholic faith from the sisters and the priests.
For his junior year of high school, he attended St. John Vianney Minor Seminary in Richmond, now closed, before discerning that he was not called to the priesthood. While in high school at the now-closed Hammond High School in Alexandria, he began dating Thana, who was a friend of his younger sister Susan.
“We dated in high school, went to proms together, then to college,” he said. “A year before I graduated we got engaged and when I graduated in 1969 we got married. We were married for 47 years before she passed away in December 2016.” The couple briefly attended other parishes as they moved through northern Virginia, but they often returned to St. Rita, and a few years after their marriage they returned to Alexandria for good.
“(I) moved into the house (that I currently live in) when I was in seventh grade at St. Rita and lived in that house until I got married,” he said. . “Mum and dad continued to live there and then it got to the point where they couldn’t take care of the house anymore, there were too many steps and things like that. They went to Washington House (retirement community) to live and my wife and I moved in (into the house).
While the couple was raising their daughters, much of their free time was spent at the parish. They participated in youth groups, volunteered at the annual bazaar, and decorated the church for Easter and Christmas. Deacon Dixon served as reader and cantor. Gradually he began to discern a call to the permanent diaconate. But the Diocese of Arlington’s diaconate program was suspended at the time.
“Then one day Father (Denis M. Donahue) called me and said, ‘Bishop Loverde is going to (re-open) the diaconate training program and you need to apply right away.’ So I did,” Deacon Dixon said. Coincidentally, his spiritual director at the seminary, Father Frank J. Ready, was one of the priests heading the program. “When we started chasing after ordination, I think we were as prepared as we could be,” said Deacon Dixon, who was ordained in 2011.
After retiring from the financial services industry, Deacon Dixon worked as a substitute teacher for many years. Most recently, he worked part-time at Everly Wheatley Funeral Home in Alexandria. He goes there so often for his diaconal ministry that the director offers him a job. “It’s a very rewarding type experience because I can tap into my ministry as a deacon to help people through a very difficult time in their lives,” he said.
At the parish, he also prepares couples for marriage, carries communion to nearby retirement homes, leads worship and blessings, and occasionally visits schoolchildren and religious education students.
He always remains close to his daughters, both of whom are also parishioners who live a few blocks from him. His daughter Debbie is the parish business manager. He has three grandsons and a great-granddaughter. “They’ve been so good to me,” he said of his daughters. “They take turns inviting me (for dinner) almost every night. We have a very close family and I think it’s a tribute to my wife. She kept the family together very tightly. We all learned a lot from her.
Although Alexandria has changed and grown since she was a child, Deacon Dixon thinks there is still a warm atmosphere. “I can go almost anywhere and be at any function here and know people,” he said. “I still feel like there’s a small hometown feel here in the city and especially in this parish. People who go to church here come because of that sense of community, of being part of something bigger than us that can give us so much more in our faith than we can give ourselves.