Murphy Funeral Homes


Monsignor Robert E. Avella

May 11, 1949November 18, 2020

Msgr. Robert E. Avella, the first priest ordained for the newly formed (1974) Diocese of Arlington, died Nov. 18 of cancer. He was 71.

Msgr. Avella was born May 11, 1949, in Washington, to Gennaro and Anne Avella, who soon afterward moved their family to Arlington.

He grew up near Fort Myer military base and Arlington Cemetery, and he and his siblings could hear the evening taps being played. "We (in the Arlington diocese) have a special responsibility to pray for the men and women in the military, and their souls are entrusted to us, both in times of peace and war," he told the Catholic Herald in an interview in 1999.

Msgr. Avella attended St. Charles School and Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington for one year. He completed his secondary education at St. John Vianney School in Richmond, a minor seminary. He attended St. Mary’s Seminary and St. Mary’s University, both in Baltimore, graduating in 1975. He was ordained to the priesthood May 10, 1975, by Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, the first bishop of Arlington.

His earliest post in the diocese was as parochial vicar of St. Ambrose Church in Annandale (1975-78); he then served at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington (1978-79). He was assistant principal and chaplain at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington while in residence at St. Agnes Church in Arlington (1985-89), when he was named pastor of St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax, where he remained for more than a decade. In June 2000, he became pastor of St. Mary Church (now the Basilica of Saint Mary) in Alexandria and was named Bishop’s Delegate for the Clergy. He served as rector of the cathedral (2003-06) and as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington from 2006 until his retirement in 2020.

Over the years, Msgr. Avella served in many diocesan positions, including twice as director of vocations, (1978-85; 2003-04). He served on the presbyteral council (1995-97; 2010-14), the committee on priests’ retirement (four terms: 2000-14), the clergy personnel board (three terms: 1992-2006), the diocesan school board (2007-10), and the committee on the priest’s retirement facility (2007-10).

He lived in the bishop’s residence from 1979 to 1984, with both Bishop Welsh and Bishop John R. Keating.

He said he was in “complete shock” when Bishop Michael F. Burbidge visited him after a hip surgery in 2018 to give him a bit of “good news” — that the pope had named him a monsignor, with its more formal name, Chaplain to his Holiness. “That’s kind of like being a parish priest to the pope, who I’ll never see but I can pray for daily in a personal way,” Msgr. Avella said. “I’m his chaplain. It’s lovely wording. I wouldn’t want to be anything else.”

Throughout his ministry, Msgr. Avella said, "the most wonderful thing I found as a priest” was to be in a confessional, to hear penitents’ concerns and hopes, and provide encouragement.

Long into his priesthood, he would still say he aspired "to become a good priest," as he believed he had only just begun.

From his earliest days, he said, "I have really admired and been edified by the priests in this diocese," many of whom “are now gone to God."

For those unable to attend the funeral Mass in-person, it will be livestreamed Nov. 23 at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. The Mass is open to the public, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, in-person attendance will be limited. The visitation will be Nov. 22 from 3 to 6 p.m. and the vigil for the deceased will be at 6 p.m. The Rite of Committal/Burial will be private.

Condolences may be sent to David Avella, 1206 Perry William Dr., McLean, VA 22101

Find out more

The Mass of Christian Burial will be livestreamed Nov. 23 at 10 a.m. from the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, at



23 November

Mass of Christian Burial

10:00 am - 11:00 am

St. Thomas More Cathedral

3901 Cathedral Ln
Arlington, VA 22203

23 November

Graveside Service

2:30 pm - 3:00 pm

Fairfax Memorial Park

9900 Braddock Rd
Fairfax, VA 22032


  • Visitation

    Sunday, November 22, 2020

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Monsignor Robert E. Avella

have a memory or condolence to add?

Carlos and Karleen Escobar

November 22, 2020

We knew him as Father Avella in the early 1990's. He made church feel like home. It felt like he was talking directly to us when gave a homily. Bless him.

Melanie Lawhorn

November 22, 2020

Monsignor Avella married my husband and I in May after having postponed from March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His spiritual guidance on our journey and in so many other ways will be greatly missed. His soul was so kind and welcoming and gentle. We take comfort in knowing he is now in an eternal resting place with our Lord and Savior.

Bruce Hunt

November 22, 2020

I remember Bob from my days at SJV in Richmond. We had a few talks. As a kid aspiring to become a priest, I was grateful for the time he spent with me.
So sorry for this loss to your family.
God bless you all.

Mike Cotter

November 22, 2020

I remember Bob from high school. He was a senior when I was a freshman. I remember Bob as an exceptionally caring and compassionate guy who spent time with the younger guys and genuinely cared about their well-being. He was an inspiration to me. We have lost one of the truly Good Guys.

Arsene Ukundji

November 19, 2020

I’m speechless about the death of Mgr Robert Avella .Thanks for everything you have done in my life Rest in paradise.


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