When 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. Bishop Gibson envisioned a small, 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 even the nation, the Bishop felt that the local congregation should receive financial support from the diocese and the church at large.
In 1907 the Diocesan Council voted to support the Bishop’s plan, and aided by additional gifts, the Bishop bought the present lot across from the Rotunda. Hugh H. McIlhany, the YMCA secretary to the University, was named the first priest-in-charge. Mr. McIlhany oversaw the building of a wooden chapel on the site and officiated at its first service in September 1910. As a result of his participation in the large phase of construction, however, he contracted blood poisoning and died some three weeks later. He was succeeded in December by Beverley Tucker, who was the first UVA graduate to be named a Rhodes Scholar, and who would later go on to become the Bishop of Ohio. Under Mr. Tucker’s leadership, the parish grew rapidly, necessitating an expansion of the structure in 1915. Mr. Tucker founded two organizations for students: the St. Paul’s Club, a largely social group, and the Brotherhood of St. Andrew for the more religiously committed undergraduates.
After Mr. Tucker’s resignation in 1920, Noble Powell, later to be the Bishop of Maryland, became rector. Under Mr. Powell’s leadership the congregation grew from mission status to become a full-fledged parish. Since by then the congregation had outpaced even the enlarged chapel, the cornerstone of the present building was laid in 1926, though continuing debt meant that the building could not be consecrated until 1950, when the Bishop formally named it “St. Paul’s Memorial Church at the University of Virginia.”
In 1932 Mr. Tucker was succeeded by William Laird, whose daughter is still an active member of the parish. Mr. Laird saw the church through the financial difficulties of the Depression and the later years of World War II. An assistant priest, to whom he had largely delegated the student ministry, began the tradition of Sunday night suppers in the mid-thirties.
When Mr. Laird left in 1947 he was succeeded by Theodore H. Evans, who remained until 1961 and who took courageous if often unpopular stands in favor of racial integration. In 1951 Mr. Evans called Samuel Wylie, who later became the Dean of General Theological Seminary, to take charge of the student ministry. Mr. Wylie inaugurated the first Sunday evening services for students (at that time the service was one of Evening Prayer) followed by a supper prepared by “ladies of the parish” and a “chaplain’s discussion hour.” Mr. Wylie was followed by a succession of other assistants in the fifties and sixties—including David Cammack, Charles Perry (later Dean of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific), Richard Baker, and Rod Sinclair—who replaced Evening Prayer with the Eucharist, often incorporating folk music and dialogue sermons, followed by the now-traditional Sunday evening supper.
Mr. Evans was replaced by Harcourt Waller in 1962. Mr. Waller’s tenure was marked by continuing controversies over integration and new disputes over the liturgical changes that were eventually to lead to the revision of the Prayer Book in 1979. In 1969 Mr. Waller was succeeded by David Ward, an Englishman and a gifted actor. These years were financially difficult ones for the parish, requiring the cutting of staff. One result was that the Sunday evening service lapsed for several years in the late 1970s.
The calling of David Poist as rector in 1980 began a period of congregational rebuilding. In 1981 Mr. Poist named as part-time assistants Samuel Lloyd (at that time a young professor at UVA and now the Dean of the National Cathedral), Paula Kettlewell, and David Lee. Ms. Kettlewell became full-time two years later and was soon joined by Steven Keller Bonsey, who took primary responsibility for the student ministry. Together they revived the Sunday Eucharist at 5:30, to which some in the parish were opposed for fear that it would “split the congregation.” The Canterbury Club continued to meet on Tuesday nights, and “Thursday noon lunches in Pavilion XI” were attempted for several years. The old rectory was turned into “Canterbury House,” a residence for students who were committed to the parish and its ministry. Mr. Poist retired in 2006.
The student ministry continued through 2009 under the leadership of David McIlhiney and Neal Halvorson-Taylor, focused on the Sunday evening Eucharist at 5:30, followed by a dinner provided by parishioners, and on the Canterbury meeting, accompanied by a meal, now on Wednesday evenings. During an ordinary week in term, 75 or 80 students take part in one or both of these gatherings. In 2009 David McIlhiney retired and Neal continued to direct our student ministry through 2010. In the fall of 2010 the Rev. Nicholas Forti joined the St. Paul's staff as Associate Rector for Young Adult & University Ministry. Nik continues to lead the Canterbury ministry today.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 May 2012 12:07