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St. Joseph's Shrine of Mary Katherine Drexel

28 Cameron Street, Columbia, VA 23038

(434) 589-5201


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. <p>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.<p> On October 1, 2000, Pope John Paul beatified Katharine. She was the second American to be so honored.<p>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.<p> 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.<p> 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. <p> 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. <p>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.<p> 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.<p> 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.



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