Men's Catholic Household Fosters Vocations

July 1 feature about Charleston, S.C., initiative.

HOLY HOUSE. Father Jeffrey Kirby, vicar of vocations for the Charleston, S.C., Diocese, encourages young men like (left to right) Seth Toft, Rhett Williams and Christopher Davies to discern God’s call for their lives as they live in community in Drexel House.
HOLY HOUSE. Father Jeffrey Kirby, vicar of vocations for the Charleston, S.C., Diocese, encourages young men like (left to right) Seth Toft, Rhett Williams and Christopher Davies to discern God’s call for their lives as they live in community in Drexel House. (photo: Deirdre C. Mays)

Drexel House in the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., is a unique Catholic men’s residence for discernment: Resident Christopher Davies finds it “absolutely amazing the whole house goes to Holy Hour and Eucharistic adoration.”

“Having the presence of Christ in the house — you can’t beat it,” says Davies. “I can go anytime in front of the Blessed Sacrament and pray: I have Jesus as one of my roommates.”

Located in historic downtown Charleston within walking distance of everything, including St. Mary’s Cathedral, Drexel House is home to young men ages 20 to 35 who live a Catholic life in community as they discern where they’re being called by God.

“It’s a place for Catholic men to come and live in an environment of prayer and virtue,” says Father Jeffrey Kirby, vicar of vocations for the diocese. “And in that environment, if they’re discerning for holy orders — great; for holy matrimony — great; for single life — great.”

The house is celebrating its first anniversary this month. The household promotes holiness and its location is holy ground: In the mid-19th century, it was part of St. Peter’s Catholic Church. The parish closed in 1968, but a new convent was built on this site for the Oblate Sisters of Providence, who lived there until 1999.

In 2001, the year after John Paul II canonized Mother Katharine Drexel, Bishop Robert Baker of the Birmingham, Ala., Diocese, who then headed the Charleston Diocese, renamed the former convent the Drexel House in honor of the new saint and her historic visit here in 1929. In July 2011, Charleston’s Bishop Robert Guglielmone formally established Drexel House as a Catholic residence for men.

The young men work and have friendships outside of the Drexel community, but every morning and evening the community prays together. The men lead the Liturgy of the Hours. Every Thursday they have a Holy Hour with Eucharistic adoration.

“All this great friendship and conversation has developed through the house,” notes Father Kirby, who is also director of Drexel House. “It has really become a community of faith and a community of discipleship.”

Rhett Williams found the community prayer and Holy Hours “a huge help in ordering my prayer life, listening to God’s call and discerning where that call was leading me.”

In 2011, returning from the Peace Corps in El Salvador, Williams heard that Father Kirby was looking for a bilingual vocation assistant. Since entering the Catholic Church as a college sophomore, he kept in contact with the priest, so this job was a natural choice. Says Williams: “I always felt a call to the Church and was never sure what that call was.” Until now.

When Father Kirby told him his plans for Drexel House, Williams came onboard immediately. Today, he is the house president.

“We’re all discerning where we’re going,” says Williams. “It’s really a good deal, because there are people to relate to and bounce ideas off of.”

Drexel House has also been a great asset for recognizing one’s gifts, “putting them all in order and seeing where God is calling me,” Williams says. He has gotten an answer: In August, he will be entering the seminary for the Charleston Diocese. Since he’s going to the seminary soon and works as a vocations assistant with Father Kirby, he still lives at the house.

Seth Toft also received an answer. Although he grew up Catholic, five years ago, he “awakened to the beauty of the Church,” he says.

At present, “God has me serving as a paramedic,” he says.

But he was also discerning the priesthood. Finding himself “at a crossroads,” he talked with Father Kirby at the time Drexel House was opening.

“That was attractive to me (living here) in discerning either for the priesthood or growing closer to Christ in my faith in a community,” remembers Toft, who was one of the first residents.

“It was great living with the presence of Catholic guys my age,” says Toft. “That helped me make a lot of decisions about what to do with my life. I devoted lots of time to prayer and discernment.”

During that time, he met a young woman, and they started dating seriously. Soon, Drexel House was playing a major part in her decision to enter the Catholic Church. She was drawn to the Eucharist and received direction from Father Kirby.

Toft stresses that Drexel House gave a tangible approach to the Church for both of them: “Holy matrimony as my vocation and her decision to become Catholic.” Having discerned, he recently moved out of the house.

“Wanting to discern going into a religious vocation or discerning any path in life, a young man can experience a deepened, more intense Catholic spiritual life there,” he says of Drexel House, emphasizing that the Eucharist is “the stronghold and the glue for the residents living there.”

As for Davies, he came to Drexel House shortly after he entered the Church this past Easter. He was already familiar with it because a young-adult study group met there when he was going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Then, attending a retreat led by Father Kirby to discern his next step in these early stages, Davies had a spiritual experience through which he understood clearly that God was lighting his immediate path — to Drexel House.

“I felt a lot of peace after that,” he says. Now he’s here to discern where God is leading him next.

Among the ready helps is Father Kirby, who also lives here. With the diocesan vocations office also located here, there’s ready access to him for confession and spiritual direction.

Stewardship keeps the place running. The men care for the house, do the cooking and pay rent, which the diocese keeps low. The first residents renovated and painted the house.

Drexel House is at full capacity, housing 11 men. Since last July, some have gone to college or graduate school, and others have moved in.

“The house serves the purpose, when a man finds what he is to do next, so there will always be this fluid nature,” says Father Kirby.

In the summer, seminarians live here if they are interning at diocesan offices and hospitals. “They get to be around laymen who may not be called to holy orders but who are seeking holiness, and these men are getting to know future priests,” observes Father Kirby. “There’s a powerful witness of the Church, with all these different vocations trying to spread the Kingdom of God.”

“We’re hoping for more holy orders,” he explains, “but the other need is for formation among the Christian faithful for holy matrimony — strong men who can be Christian husbands and fathers — and the ability for young men to understand that now, when the world is attacking and redefining it (marriage).”

Now the diocese hopes to start a similar residence for women.

As Father Kirby sums up: “These men are really receiving a formation in faith, community and the life of the Church. To whatever vocation the Lord may call them — religious life, marriage or the single life — we will have well-formed men who are men of prayer, live a life of virtue and desire to serve in Christ’s name. This is a win-win for the Church.”

Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer