Feast of St. Katharine Drexel - 3 March
(Originally posted 3 March 2006)
Excerpted from a parish history titled St. Joseph's Shrine of St. Mary Katharine Drexel - Its History: Past and Present:
The following 4 paragraphs were taken from Chapter 11 entitled "The River Flows South and West", in the biography of St. Mary Katharine Drexel, The Golden Door, published in 1957, two years after her death:
In 1901, Mother Katharine had made this trip not only to inspect the school (St. Francis de Sales), but also to discuss setting up small catechetical centers in nearby places in Virginia. This necessitated a considerable amount of train travel. Once in a coach between Richmond and Lynchburg, the train stopped at a small station marked Columbia. She noticed a gilt cross gleaming through the trees and said to her companion, Mother Mercedes, "Do you think that is a Catholic Chapel?" Mother Mercedes replied that she did not think so, as she had been told there was no Mass celebrated between Richmond and Lynchburg.
On their return to St. Francis de Sales they learned from one of the students that there was such a chapel in a little town nearby. The two Sisters went to see this chapel and found it fairly large and in excellent condition; to their surprise they also found it in perfect order, swept and dusted; on the altar clean linen and fresh flowers. There was no sign of life, but even as they were still staring about they heard shuffling steps behind them and turned to see an old Negro looking at them with keen interest. He told them he was Uncle Zeke, and that he was a convert of Father Wakeham and had been with the Wakehams for years. His daughter, Rebecca, was the student who had told them about the Wakeham Chapel.
"Ever since the death of Mrs. Wakeham in 1891, I come here to clean the Chapel every morning and say a prayer there'll be Mass again some day", he told them. Then taking them to the carefully tended family cemetery, he showed some headstones weathered by the years, others very new.
Mother Katharine, much touched by the old man's loyalty and devotion, told him that she could not promise that Mass would be said in the Chapel, but she could send a few of her Sisters from St. Francis de Sales there each week to teach Catechism (Her Sisters remained a part of St. Joseph's until 1971) and perhaps later she would open a small school. As soon as Mother Katharine returned to St. Francis de Sales, she made arrangements to carry out that part of her promise.
In [the] early 1900[s], when Mother Katharine Drexel made arrangement for the Josephite Fathers to say Mass, the Wakeham Chapel unofficially became a Public Chapel, known as St. Joseph's.
Note: At a special Mass on October 15, 2000, honoring the canonization of St. Katharine Drexel, at St. Joseph's, Bishop Walter Sullivan, Bishop of Richmond, VA, added to the name of St. Joseph's - "Shrine of St Katharine Drexel".
featuring a statue of St. Katharine Drexel with two children
at St. Joseph’s/Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel in Columbia, Virginia
on December 17, 2006
From the Charlottesville-Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau:
St. Joseph's Shrine of Mary Katherine Drexel
28 Cameron Street
Columbia, VA 23038
Phone: (434) 589-5201
Directions: Located on the corner of Washington and Cameron Streeets in Columbia, VA. at 28 Cameron Street.
This small shrine is located in the heart of the small town of Columbia. It is a charming and effective reminder of the power of individuals to change lives and communities by the power of their beliefs.
The chapel is named in honor of Saint Katharine Drexel who was born in 1858, into a prominent Philadelphia family. Katharine was raised as a devout Catholic, and in 1891 became a novitiate in The Sisters of Mercy. She had a special and avid interest in the education and support of African and Native Americans. She began by donating money but soon concluded that more was needed and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, whose members would work to provide education and build schools throughout the country, especially in the South and West. She dedicated her life and a fortune of 20 million dollars to the order. In 1915 she founded Xavier University in New Orleans, the only historically African American and Catholic University in the United States. At her death there were more than 500 Sisters teaching in 63 schools throughout the country.
On October 1, 2000, Pope John Paul beatified Katharine. She was the second American to be so honored.
The connection of St. Joseph’s shrine to Mary Katherine Drexel is an interesting story. Early in 1900 a train carrying Mother Drexel stopped in Columbia. Mother Drexel noticed a gold cross through the trees and wondered if it might be a Catholic Church. Further inquiry informed them that the cross was part of a chapel built by William Wakeham, who had settled in Columbia and raised his nine children there. The Wakeham Chapel was built so that their son, Richard, who was ordained as a Sulpician Father could say Mass when visiting his parents. The chapel had been closed since the death of Mrs. Wakeham in 1891.
When Mother Drexel visited the chapel, an elderly African American man named Zach Kimbro greeted her. He explained that he was the caretaker, and his fondest wish was to see Mass said again in the chapel. Mother Drexel was touched by his devotion to the chapel and recognized that she could help provide Catholic education and worship in a rural community nearby her beloved schools of St. Emma’s and St. Francis de Sales.
Mother Drexel promised to help if she could, and shortly thereafter some of the sisters from her order began to teach catechism classes in the chapel and Josephite priests from Richmond began to hold Mass once a month.
In 1904 a local African American named Fred Nichols built a small school for African American students at the behest of Mother Drexel. The school served kindergarten to eighth grade students and was taught by a missionary from Ohio named Lydia O’Hare. The daughter of freed slaves, Lydia O’Hare was a dedicated teacher and devout Catholic. Miss O’Hare and Fred Nichols eventually married and continued to manage the school for 47 years, through the Great Depression and beyond.
After the school closed Lydia O’Hare Nichols traveled to Washington D.C. to be near her adopted daughter and to spend the remaining years of her life with the Sisters of the Poor. She is buried in St. Olivet Cemetery in Washington D.C.
The name of the chapel changed from Wakeham Chapel to St. Joseph’s on October 2, 1939, and the chapel remained a mission of the Josephite Order until 1967. Mother Drexel died peacefully on March 3, 1945 at the age of 97. Saint Mary Katharine Drexel's Feast Day is March 3.
Today, the small chapel that inspired such devotion from Zach Kimbro, Mary Katharine Drexel and Lydia O’Hare Nichols continues to serve the community of Columbia. Mass is held each Sunday at 9:00 am, and the chapel can be seen from the exterior 24 hours a day.
Patron Saints Index: Katharine Drexel
For Bensalem and the World, it's St. Katharine Drexel
Charlottesville Tourism - St. Joseph's Shrine of Mary Katharine Drexel
(scroll down to the 3rd listing)
"Katharine Drexel, the Millionaire Saint" at McNamara's Blog.
Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Feast Day of St. Katharine Drexel - 3 March (2006)
Dedication of Grotto to St. Katharine Drexel
Feast of St. Katharine Drexel - 3 March (2007)
Feast of St. Katharine Drexel - 3 March (2008)
Feast of St. Katharine Drexel - 3 March (2009)
125 Years of Catholics in Columbia, VA
Labels: Saints and Martyrs