On The Occasion Of Its Eightieth Year As A Parish

(Note: You may read an updated history of St. Paul's written by the Rector Search Committee in April 2016 here.)

1910 - 1990
by: The Reverend Paula Swaebe Kettlewell


Rectors of St. Paul's Memorial Church
The Reverend Hugh H. McIlhany 1908 — 1910
The Reverend Beverley Tucker 1910 — 1920
The Reverend Noble C. Powell 1920 — 1931
The Reverend William H. Laird 1932 — 1947
The Reverend Theodore H. Evans 1947 — 1961
The Reverend Harcourt Waller 1961 — 1969
The Reverend David Ward 1969 — 1979
The Reverend David Poist 1980 — 2006
The Reverend Alan Mead, Interim

2006 — 2008

The Reverend James Richardson

2008 — 2015


In 1990 St. Paul's Memorial Church celebrated its eightieth year as a parish of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia. Its history is the record of a congregation which has gathered at St. Paul's to worship God, and has gone from St. Paul's to be the church in the world. The Christian responsibility to work for the mission of the church has been particularly explicit for St. Paul's, as it was established to be a mission to the University of Virginia. Although at certain times in its eighty year history the congregation's attention has been focused on the church buildings, the history of St. Paul's is primarily the story of its people.

When The Right Reverend Robert Gibson became the Bishop of Virginia in 1897, he cited the creation of an Episcopal church at the University of Virginia as one of his most important goals. In the Bishop's words, "In looking for neglected persons, the condition of the boys at the University of Virginia caught my attention. Without criticizing in the least degree the care extended to the students by the Authorities at the University, I thought that it was perfectly plain that their own church was not doing its duty to the Episcopal boys".

At that time, the Episcopal church closest to the University was Christ Church, located more than a mile away. It was generally agreed that from such a distance the needs of the 280 Episcopal students at the University were not being, and could not be adequately met. To meet those needs, Bishop Gibson envisioned a small-sized permanent congregation which would provide a temporary spiritual home for Episcopal students during their years at the University. Because those students came from all parts of Virginia and the nation, and would leave the University to become leaders in parishes throughout the country, the Bishop felt that the local congregation should receive spiritual and financial support from the diocese and the church at large.

The Rector and the vestry of Christ Church enthusiastically endorsed Bishop Gibson's proposal to establish a church closer to the University, but all agreed that the project should be delayed until the debt on Christ Church was. paid and the church building consecrated. In the interim, thanks to a gift of $1725 from Mr. Joseph Bryan of Richmond, Virginia, Bishop Gibson was able to acquire a site for the proposed new church by buying a vacant lot on the corner of Main and 12th Streets. The second payment of $1180, a gift from Miss Stuart, also of Richmond, enabled the Bishop to complete the purchase of the property. The 1907 Diocesan Council, which met in Warrenton, Virginia, gave its unanimous support to the Bishop's plan of a new parish at the University, and voted $75,000 towards its buildings and grounds. That same year the Diocese of Southern Virginia also gave its unanimous support, as did the alumni of the University who were delegates to the General Convention of the church which met in Richmond.

On January 1, 1908, the project took a very important step forward when the Reverend Hugh H. McIlhany, the secretary of the Y.M.C.A. at the University, agreed to become the priest in charge of the proposed church. Six days later, during the worst snowstorm of that winter, Mr. McIlhany and Bishop Gibson held a meeting for ". . . all Episcopal ladies in the university community who are interested in the creation of an Episcopal church at the university". Despite the blizzard, twelve women attended the meeting, gave their support to the Bishop's plan to raise $100,000 for the buildings and a partial endowment, and suggested that the new church be named St. Paul's.

Two other groups of women were crucially important at this early money-raising stage of St. Paul's life. In the fall of 1908, The Women's Auxiliary Committee, made up of fifteen women who had had sons, brothers and fathers at the University, was established in Richmond, and in February, 1909, The Ladies of the University Community, with Miss Virginia Mason as its first president, was organized in Charlottesville. This group later became known as The St. Paul's Guild. Both groups of women raised money for St. Paul's through their own contributions and by interesting many other people in the idea of an Episcopal church at the University.

Mr. Mcllhany began devoting his considerable energy, enthusiasm and talent toward raising the $100,000 needed to build and partially endow St. Paul's Church. His idea was to make the church a memorial to many of the distinguished alumni, faculty and friends of the University, and his fund-raising campaign, called the Memorial Plan, encouraged people to make generous gifts in the form of memorials. In a pamphlet explaining the Memorial Plan, Mr. McIIhany said, "It (the church) will constitute, as it were, a sort of Westminster Abbey at the university, where memorials of distinguished alumni and friends who were also prominent in church life may be placed from time to time as they pass on to their reward". Mr. McIlhany's efforts to raise funds for the St. Paul's project extended far beyond Charlottesville and Virginia. His correspondence includes letters to all parts of the country, attempting to interest University alumni, active Episcopalians and other potential benefactors, such as Andrew Carnegie, in his project.

From the time of its purchase, the lot at 12th Street had been considered a less than ideal location for a church whose mission was to serve the University and whose buildings and endowment would be paid for by a memorial plan linking it to the past life of the University. Therefore, in July, 1909, thanks to a generous gift from Mr. Charles Steele, a New York alumnus, St. Paul's acquired an option on the property where the church is present-ly located. Belonging to the estate of the late Colonel William E. Peters, this was an L-shaped lot with 142 feet on University A venue, 325 feet on Chancellor Street and 71 feet on Madison Lane. Although it contained twice as much land as was thought necessary, and had two large brick residences already on it, the lot's strategic location on University Avenue justified its $50,000 purchase price. Four Charlottesville men, Bartlett Bolling, Channing Bolton, H.W. Hillary and William Lile agreed to serve as trustees of the property and to act as the local Advisory Committee until a congregation was organized.

On the advice of Mr. McIlhany, the trustees agreed to have the New York architectural firm of Ludlow and Peabody draw up plans for the church. At their June 28, 1910 meeting, the trustees accepted the architect's preliminary plans for a church that would cost $100,000 to build. The trustees recognized how vitally important Mr. McIlhany was to the success of the project and so at that same meeting they instructed him to take out two insurance policies on his life. One policy of $10,000 would be payable directly to the trustees and the second of $5,000 would be payable to his wife with the written agreement that half of that sum would be turned over to the trustees.

When it became apparent that it would take several years to raise enough money to build the permanent church, the trustees began to consider the possibility of putting up a temporary wooden structure to serve in the interim. As a first step in that direction, the brick residence on the Chancellor Street side of the property was torn down, rebuilt on the back of the property, and rented out. The final decision to go ahead with a temporary wooden church was made in mid-August, 1910, when the University suddenly announced that its own Sunday morning chapel services would be discontinued starting in September. Plans were drawn up, carpenters were hired, and in just two weeks the church was built, with the roof and floor being completed on Saturday evening, September 17th. The next day, Sunday, September 18, 1910, the first services of St. Paul's Memorial Church were held. The 8:00 A.M. service of Holy Communion, which was celebrated by Mr. McIlhany and the Reverend Harry Lee, the rector of Christ Church, was attended by fifty people, and at the later 11:00 o'clock service of Morning Prayer, the entire church was filled. It was a glorious, sunny day, which was fortunate since the building still lacked such finer finishing touches as windows and doors. The happiness of this occasion was soon overshadowed by the tragic and unexpected death of Mr. McIlhany at the age of thirty-six. Within days of the opening service he became critically ill from blood poisoning and died on October 9, 1910, at the University Hospital. He was survived by his wife and five young children. During the final days of his illness prayer services for his recovery were held daily in the University Chapel. In a letter to the Diocese, dated November 10, 1910, Bishop Gibson said: "In the passing of Dr. McIlhany to the life eternal, the church of Virginia has lost one of her most devoted servants, one whose whole life was given up to the work of the Master, and the work at the University has suffered a great blow." Making clear his continued commitment to St. Paul's, the Bishop set aside the fourth Sunday in Advent for a special offering in every parish of the diocese to raise $20,000 to ". . . carry on for the next six months the building of St. Paul's Memorial Church just as Dr. McIlhany had planned."


Worship Schedule

8:00 a.m. Holy Communion
10:00 a.m. Holy Communion
5:30 p.m. Holy Communion
9:00 p.m. Compline
12:15 p.m.
Holy Communion
5:30 p.m.
Evening Prayer

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