Our Lady of the Hills graced with historical crucifix

COLUMBIA—When parishioners at Our Lady of the Hills talked about wanting a crucifix for their chapel, they never imagined they would receive one touched by a saint.

Redemptorist Father Peter Sousa, pastor, shared the history of his church’s “new” cross, which dates back to the late 1800s and carries connections to St. Katharine Drexel.

The cross was first erected around 1895 in the chapel of St. Emma Industrial and Agricultural college, which was established by St. Katharine Drexel’s sister and brother-in-law as a vocations school for African-American men in Virginia. St. Emma later became a military academy for African-American men.

All photos provided: The cross, which fell into disrepair after being left outside on the closed St. Emma campus, was restored by the State Museum.

The school and its chapel were supervised by several Catholic religious orders, including Christian Brothers, Benedictines and Spiritans.

After the death of her husband, Louise Drexel Morrell (St. Katharine’s sister) built St. Edwards Church in his memory on the campus of St. Emma. The crucifix was placed at the main altar of the new church and remained there until St. Emma closed in 1970.

At that point, Father Peter said, the crucifix apparently ended up outside in the elements and suffered significant damage.

Enter Good Shepherd Church in Columbia, which was searching for a cross of its own. Upon hearing about the historic crucifix, parishioner Dennis Egan rescued it and brought it to Columbia in 1995, where it was restored by the South Carolina State Museum, Father Peter said.

The cross graced the altar of Good Shepherd until its recent closure. Then, having heard the historic item needed a new home, Father Peter contacted Father Gary Linsky at St. Peter Church (which oversaw Good Shepherd) and was granted permission to relocate the crucifix.

Lifting the tangible symbol of Christ’s sacrifice proved difficult, so professional movers and a large truck were hired. In a twist of providence, Dennis Egan just happened to stop by Our Lady of the Hills to pray on the exact same day and time that the movers were unloading the crucifix.

Margaret Kerr, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Hills, said that moment of intersecting story lines gives her chills, seeing it as witness of the power of God in all our lives.

The cross is huge, and may take some getting used to for some parishioners, but others said they love the significance and rich background of it.

“This crucifix has an extraordinary history going so far back, and an American saint is involved in the history, along with her good works for Native American and black children,” Kerr said. “I had goosebumps all over!”

She said she hopes the cross will stir the imagination of everyone who sees it.

Father Peter said he is pleased that the crucifix has found a new home in his church.

“My hope is that every time we come to pray in church, especially when we celebrate the Eucharist, this image of the crucified Jesus will remind us of God’s great love for us in giving us his Son, who willingly accepted death on the cross to bring us new life and resurrection,” Father Peter said.