St. Katharine Drexel Scholarship fund at Father Ryan closes in on $225,000

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The appreciation Mass for donors to the St. Katharine Drexel Memorial Scholarship fund at Father Ryan High School was concelebrated by Father Joe McMahon, center, and Father Mark Simpson, right, pastor and associate pastor of Holy Family Church in Brentwood, on Saturday, March 4, in the chapel of St. James at the school. Scholarship founder Deacon Bill Hill, left, also helped during the Mass. Photo submitted by Father Ryan High School

When Deacon Bill Hill of Holy Family Church in Brentwood first established the St. Katharine Drexel Memorial Scholarship in 2017 for African-American students looking to attend Father Ryan High School, he set out to raise $50,000.

Five years later, that goal has more than quadrupled, raising $222,0000 thus far.

“When I started, Paul Rohling and Elaine McReynolds said, ‘You don’t want to go for the minimum. You need to raise more than $50,000,’” recalled Deacon Hill, formerly of St. Vincent de Paul Church in North Nashville. “We started, and the number just kept going up. We went from $50,000 to $100,000 to $150,000 to $200,000 thousand, and now here we are at $222,000.”

“Katharine Drexel was such a strong influence in my life and in the Catholic Church,” he continued. “She was the only one for years and years that supported Blacks and the mission. Now, we have this scholarship to continue her good work.”

St. Katharine Drexel, a wealthy heiress, founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and used her personal fortune to establish Catholic schools to education African-Americans throughout the South and American Indians in the Southwest. Among the schools she founded were Immaculate Mother Academy and St. Vincent de Paul School in Nashville.

To thank those who have donated to the scholarship fund, Father Ryan High School hosted more than 75 people for a special Mass on Saturday, March 4, at the school’s Chapel of St. James. The Mass was concelebrated by Father Joe McMahon and Father Mark Simpson, pastor and associate pastor of Holy Family Church in Brentwood and both former chaplains at the school.

Deacon Hill served as deacon for the Mass with the St. Vincent de Paul Church choir providing the music.  

“Everyone was happy” with the event, Deacon Hill said. “Everything went almost perfect. Everybody enjoyed themselves, everybody had a good time.”

Deacon Hill first got the idea for the St. Katharine Drexel Memorial Scholarship Fund after speaking at a Father Ryan alumni Mass in 2017.

“One of the scriptures there was about family,” explained Deacon Hill, a 1967 graduate of Father Ryan.

“My granddaughter was with me and asked, ‘If it’s family, where are the Black people?’” he recalled, noting that he, his wife, and his granddaughter were the only ones at the event out of about 75 people. “From there, I decided I was going to try and do a little something to help these figures.”

Thus, he leaned on the example of St. Katharine Drexel, the founder of the former St. Vincent de Paul School in North Nashville, from which Deacon Hill is also an alumnus. He chose Father Ryan as the home of the scholarship, not just because he went there but because of the financial support his family received so that he could go there. And he’s hoping the scholarship will provide the same for other African-American families who want a Catholic education for their children.

“The other piece is the evangelization part,” Deacon Hill said. “The only reason I’m Catholic is because the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (who taught at St. Vincent de Paul School) not only provided a quality secular education, but also taught and modeled morals and Catholicism early in my life. That was Katharine Drexel’s overall goal.” 

At Father Ryan, “you get a good education, and you help people to be good people in society,” he said. “Katharine Drexel’s theory was Black folks can be Catholic and serve on an equal level. They’re part of the Church.”

The St. Katharine Drexel Memorial Scholarship is a need-based scholarship at Father Ryan to assist Black students who desire to attend Father Ryan, whether they are Catholic or not. To date, $12,000 has been distributed amongst various students, said Paul Davis, president of Father Ryan. 

“The Katharine Drexel Scholarship helps us meet the strategic initiative of Expand Demand, Inclusivity, and Access for all students, specifically African-American students. So anytime we have this type of opportunity that directs money towards minority students or students of color is helpful toward reaching that goal,” Davis said. “It’s important that in our community that we have a diverse student body to bring all aspects to the table – people’s ideas, people’s experiences, people’s opinions – and to have a diverse student population. 

“The Katharine Drexel Scholarship helps us further that effort,” he said. “We hope that $12,000 will continue to grow thanks to the work Deacon Hill and the donors have done to make it possible.” 

For more information about the scholarship, visit

To donate to the scholarship fund, call Deacon Hill at 615-496-5797 or email Interested donors can also call the Father Ryan High School Advancement Office at 615-296-7926 or donate on the school website at 

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