CHARLESTON—The St. Katharine Drexel volunteer house has become a Catholic residence for men.
An official blessing by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone is scheduled for Aug. 24, but residents have already moved into the renovated building.
One of the first was Father Jeffrey F. Kirby, vicar for vocations. Recently, he was given an additional assignment as director of Drexel House, and the vocations office was relocated to the site.
The house is open to men ages 20-35, students or young professionals, who want to live and grow in their faith while in a Catholic environment.
Father Kirby said it is not a discernment house, although that is certainly encouraged and welcomed. He noted that some residents are discerning a priestly vocation, but others are dating and praying about what their calling may be.
Opening of the residence was not advertised, and Father Kirby said they were surprised by the number of applicants they received.
“We were hoping for a starter group of five, and God has sent 11,” he said.
That only leaves two openings in the renovated house, which received a massive cleaning over the summer to turn it into a proper residence. Two who are living in the house and helped prepare it are Justin Gaeta and Rhett Williams.
Gaeta, 23, is director of campus ministry at Bishop England High School. Williams, 26, just returned from a stint with the Peace Corps and is the bilingual secretary/administrative assistant to Father Kirby.
They said living in the house is a unique opportunity to strengthen their relationship with Christ through each other as they grow and learn together.
“One can live anywhere,” Williams said, “but our place has a priest and a chapel.”
Father Kirby said he will celebrate Mass and offer the sacraments when he is in town. Morning and evening prayer are available, along with Bible study and other events. The only required holy hour is the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Thursday nights.
“I don’t want a lot of rules,” he said. “We are called to be Catholic gentlemen through charity and respect.”
The house does have a president and two others who comprise a council to facilitate jobs, plan events and the evening meal, and handle daily issues.
Over the years
The history of St. Katharine Drexel House dates back 143 years.
The building was originally a Jewish synagogue that was purchased by the Diocese of Charleston.
In 1868, Bishop Patrick N. Lynch, the third bishop of Charleston, dedicated it as St. Peter Catholic Church, which served the African-American community for the next 100 years.
In 1968, Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoeffler closed St. Peter and integrated the community into St. Patrick Church. The building became a convent for the Oblate Sisters of Providence, who first came to serve the church and school in 1917. They lived in the convent for 31 years, until 1999.
In 2001, the Charleston Volunteer Program’s headquarters moved to the building, which was rededicated as St. Katharine Drexel House. At the same time, the convent chapel was blessed as St. Peter’s Chapel, in memory of the former community.
In that spirit the entire Volunteer House was dedicated in honor of St. Katharine Drexel, a great American woman of faith who had a special ministry to African-Americans and Native-Americans.
She grew up in an affluent Philadelphia family, and after leaving her wealth behind, she founded her own religious community to work with African-Americans and Native-Americans,
Mother Drexel was canonized a saint on Oct. 1, 2000. On Aug. 24, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone will bless the Drexel House as a residence for men.