St. Paul's Episcopal Church began in 1809 in a small building on South Fairfax Street between Prince and Duke Streets. In 1817, one of the country's most famous architects, Benjamin Latrobe, was chosen to design the present church. He was born in England and came to this country in 1796. Appointed by President Jefferson in 1803 as surveyor of public buildings in Washington, D.C., Latrobe completed the U.S. Capitol, which was begun by William Thorton, and designed Statuary Hall. In 1807, he completed the White House, designed both porticos, and later restored the building after the War of 1812. An outstanding example of American architecture inspired by the Gothic churches in Europe, St. Paul's is said to have been modeled after St. James Church, Piccadilly, London.
In 1823, after the fledgling seminary at Williamsburg had failed, the Rev. Reuel Keith and Dr. William Wilmer, determined to keep the idea of a seminary alive, met at St. Paul's with a class of 14 young men, forming the nucleus of Virginia Theological Seminary, which flourishes today.
On February 9, 1862, the Rev. K. J. Stewart was arrested by Union officers after failing to offer a prayer for the President during the height of the Civil War. A melee occurred in the sanctuary as the congregation attempted to defend its minister. On that same day, a warning was issued to “females and others,” threatening arrest for offensive remarks and demonstrations—prompted, no doubt, by the actions of several St. Paul's ladies, including one who is said to have dropped her Prayer Book from the gallery onto the head of an offending officer.
On June 28, 1862, St. Paul's was seized and used as a hospital for Federal forces until the spring of 1865. It was at the Appomatox Courthouse, home of a St. Paul's parishioner, Wilmer McLean, that Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865.
- from "The History of St. Paul's Episcopal Church" by Ruth Lincoln Kaye
Kate Waller Barrett
"Holiness in Our Time"
By Dr. Tal Day, St. Paul's parishioner
In 2009, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church adopted text for a fourth revision of the Church’s book of “lesser feasts and fasts.” Lesser feasts are designated dates in the Church calendar set aside for the celebration of named saints. This fourth revision is titled: Holy Women, Holy Men.
Significantly, Holy Women, Holy Men departs from editions published since 1979 by setting forth criteria and also procedures that the Church is to use to recognize and commemorate modern persons for holiness – or as saints. It reflects a view that the message of the Gospels finds continued expression in history through the life and work of notable individuals.
At the request of our rector, I have done research into the life and work of Kate Waller Barrett, a member of our congregation for nearly 30 years. Her descendants are still active members of St. Paul’s, and her Duke Street home is currently owned by another St. Paul’s family. The hope is that this research will begin the process of including the life and witness of Kate Waller Barrett in the Church’s calendar of saints.
What follows is a brief summary of her inspiring story. A more complete account can be found here.
Kate Waller Barrett (1857-1925) was a social reformer in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries who was notable for her moral courage and effectiveness in changing social understandings and attitudes toward those stigmatized and neglected in her day. In her first reform efforts, to redress the moral stigma against unmarried mothers and their children and to establish means for them to learn to care for their children and to support themselves, she was expressly inspired by the Gospels, particularly Jesus’s acceptance of sinners as recounted in Luke. The Crittenton Homes for unmarried mothers and destitute women that she established with the financial support of Charles Crittenton became models of their kind. As those first reform efforts gained traction and she enjoyed corresponding prestige, her concerns grew to encompass other social issues including humane treatment of prisoners, delinquent children, prostitution, education, care for wounded veterans, suffrage and political rights for women, and historic preservation. Throughout, she felt her faith growing ever deeper as well.
Barrett brought to all of these efforts a broadly curious intellect, a commitment to continuing self-education to equip herself to serve effectively, extraordinary administrative talent, a gift for mediating conflicts, a faith in the ability of the people she served to better themselves and find a better life if properly supported and not oppressed by social prejudices, and a gracious human spirit that never reduced the human suffering she observed to abstractions. Barrett conceived the rescue mission of the Crittenton Homes in evangelical terms, as “homes” expressing Christian love and humility. The proper tone in the homes, she believed, was gratitude for the opportunity to serve the unmarried women coming into their care. For example, in making a room in a home attractive, something Barrett considered important in itself, Barrett urged that no matron should “ever give [herself] a little self-congratulatory pat on the shoulder and say with a tone of triumph, ‘It is better than she ever had before,’ but thank God that [she has] been permitted to make [a girl’s] life brighter and add wholesome comfort to it.”
A Collect in honor of Kate Waller Barrett
O God, who has blessed us with means and opportunities to serve the needs of others, grant that we may, like Kate Waller Barrett, respond to these opportunities with compassion and insight. Grant us also that, through our charity, we may be led to sound judgments about the sources of the needs that we serve and may be granted grace and strength to address those as well; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.