Our Parish Today
St. Columba's is home to a vibrant, spiritually engaged congregation, as well as an open house for all who seek a closer relationship with God. Its programs include community outreach, Sunday school, choir, and Bible study, and it gathers to enjoy and host events and celebrations throughout the year: a Mother's Day brunch, a Shrove Tuesday celebration, a St. Francis Day Blessing of the Animals, the Christmas tea and pageant, and an annual English garden party that draws guests from around and beyond Aquidneck Island.
A parish of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Rhode Island, Bishop Nicholas Knisely presiding, St. Columba's celebrates its Anglican heritage with respect for both Scripture and reason, and a deep appreciation for the way our faith is nourished by liturgy, music, and art, and expressed through service to others.
St. Columba’s is blessed to have both a rich history, in its beautiful 19th-century stone chapel, and the modern convenience of a spacious new parish house, which was completed in 2001 and dedicated by Bishop Geralyn Wolf.
As for the church itself, in 1872 Eugene Sturtevant dreamed of developing the land on which Saint Columba’s now stands. With many neighbors meeting for prayer in their homes, Mary Clark Sturtevant, his wife, saw the need for a chapel. (Mrs. Sturtevant, whose silhouette is behind the organ bench, was the daughter of Thomas March Clark, Bishop of Rhode Island and later presiding Episcopal Bishop of the U.S.) In 1882, Mr. Sturtevant donated an acre for this purpose. A Philadelphia architect, Wilson Eyre, Jr., designed the chapel.
The church was originally known as The Berkeley Memorial Chapel (in honor of Bishop Berkeley of Derry, who stayed in nearby Whitehall). The story goes that its first treasurer felt the chapel should be dedicated to a saint; the Irish-born missionary Columba, renowned for his teaching, healing, and miracles in sixth-century Scotland, was chosen.
The cornerstone of the chapel was laid on October 11, 1884. The first service was held on June 23, 1885, even though the chapel was not complete. The land, plans, furnishings and windows were all donated, and cost $9,096.15. The chapel was consecrated on August 31, 1886, as a mission of the Diocese of Rhode Island by Bishop Clark (his silhouette is behind the pulpit). The small stone building contains an astounding collection of stained-glass windows, most designed by David Maitland Armstrong and fabricated by Tiffany Studios of New York. In its early history, the chapel had a close association with Saint George’s School in Middletown. Many of the ordained teachers officiated at services, and before the school’s own chapel was built, boys walked to St. Columba’s for Sunday worship.
The churchyard (with its rare American example of the classic English lych-gate) is a wonderfully tranquil place to walk and reflect in every season of the year. It “houses” many members of St. Columba’s who cared for and supported the chapel’s ministry over the centuries, including some with significant roles in U.S. history. A guided audio tour of the notables gravesites is available below. There is a committee in charge of the churchyard and its use. For details, please contact Kate Field at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Stained-Glass Windows
The stained-glass windows that grace St. Columba’s, the Berkeley Memorial Chapel were designed by David Maitland Armstrong (1836-1918), a friend and associate of John LaFarge, and fabricated by the Tiffany Studios of New York.
The chancel window, depicting the archangel Michael, is dedicated to George Berkeley, philosopher and Bishop of Cloyne (born in Ireland in 1685; died at Oxford, England in 1753), who lived for a time at Whitehall in Middletown. The window at the rear of the chapel was given in memory of Mary Devlin Booth by her daughter Edwina Booth Grossman. Mary Booth was the wife of the acclaimed actor, Edwin Booth, one of the earliest residents of Indian Avenue and brother of John Wilkes Booth. The Booth window shows a figure holding a dove and is therefore often thought to depict St. Columba, though the figure is clearly female and strongly resembles Mary Devlin Booth.
The nave windows, four on each side of the aisle, and the dove window in the sanctuary, were given by various parishioners in memory of family and friends.
Restored in 1995, the windows are considered “a rare treasure of American stained-glass art” (Julie L. Sloan, President, McKernan Satterlee Associates).