Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County.
A Brother with a vision, a Brother who lacked faith and a Father that was a true believer are the beginnings of what may be seen as a small miracle which led to the establishment of a Catholic community in Russell County – Holy Trinity just south of Fort Mitchell in what was originally considered a part of Oswichee – in the early 1900s. The three men were Brother Eugene, Brother Augustine and Father Thomas Augustine Judge.
Father Judge established an order of both men and women at Holy Trinity known as the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity on what was once known as the Burr Plantation. This order began sometime around 1917 or 1918. There being plenty of room for both the men and women on the Burr place, it came as a surprise to Father Judge when Brother Eugene informed him of his vision of having separate facilities for the men and women. Brother Eugene envisioned a separate economy and separate facilities for the men.
Brother Eugene told Father Judge the Forbes Bradley Plantation, owned at the time by the family of James Nuckolls, was for sale. After several meetings about the possible purchase of the plantation, Father Judge told Brother Eugene to see if a deal could be made for the property. Brother Eugene met with the Nuckolls family, but could not strike a deal for the purchase. The price was far out of reach for the small order and the plans were quietly dropped.
Several months after Brother Eugene left for the seminary that Brother Augustine’s automobile played a role in rekindling the possibility of purchasing the Bradley Plantation. Brother Augustine’s automobile broke down in front of the Nuckolls family home. Brother Augustine was working on repairing the vehicle when James Nuckolls came out of the house to speak with him and hinted that the price originally quoted was negotiable. After a week of negotiating, the original price was down to $14,000, far below the beginning figure. James Nuckolls agreed the order could make a down payment of $5,000 and the rest could be paid off in annual installments. He told Brother Augustine he would give him a 30-day option on the property for $100 – the exact amount the Brother had.
Brother Augustine immediately contacted Father Judge who was on a trip North about the deal. Father Judge told him to make the purchase. But with no funds, Brother Augustine asked how it could be done. Father Judge told him he would be back to the area in two weeks and they would discuss the matter then. Until then, Father Judge told Brother Augustine to “Pray about it.” Brother Augustine was skeptical and feared the deal was not going to come about.
When Father Judge returned from his trip two weeks later, instead of discussing the details of how to obtain funds for the purchase of the Bradley Plantation, he called for the opening of an eight-day retreat. Brother Augustine was becoming more and more uneasy with the situation as there was just two weeks left before the option would expire. Father Judge told him to go on with the retreat and when it as over the two would discuss what needed to be done. Brother Augustine’s question remained, “What about the money?” To which Father Judge told him “You start the retreat and then we will discuss it.”
The matter was placed on hold for a couple of days as Brother Augustine could not get a moment alone with Father Judge to hold a discussion. The retreat was underway and had people from around the area, including from Columbus, Ga., were in attendance. Brother Augustine’s hopes were waning.
But on the third day, Father Judge walked into Brother Augustine’s room and said cheerfully, “You will need a chapel over there.” “We’ll have to have the place first,” Brother Augustine said. Father Judge said in return, “Mrs. (Mary K.) Walker wants to build a chapel. Now, you talk to her.” Father Judge then turned and walked away. Leaving Brother Augustine even more dejected.
On the sixth day of the retreat, Brother Augustine stopped Father Judge and bluntly told him they had to have the money or abandon the idea of making the purchase of the property. He even hinted he felt Father Judge was ignoring the situation. Father Judge was taken aback. He said to Brother Augustine, “I’m thinking about it. We’re praying about it. The retreatants are praying about it. Have you spoken to Mrs. Walker?” Brother Augustine admitted he had not.
Father Judge told him to go speak with Mrs. Walker. Brother Augustine gave up all hope of making the purchase. He had never given serious consideration to speaking to Mrs. Walker because he could not see how she was relevant to getting the down payment for the purchase before the option expired. While Brother Augustine consoled himself, Mrs. Walker came to him. She was received coldly by Brother Augustine, but he agreed to take her on a tour of the property.
Brother Augustine hitched up a horse to an old buggy the next day to take Mrs. Walker on the tour because he had made the promise. The two rode quietly together. She was unaware of Brother Augustine’s feelings that the tour was a waste of time. They continued to ride quietly until they reached the property where Brother Augustine began to show his excitement as to what could be done with the property. He pointed out the current buildings and what would be done with them. He told her the approximate boundaries of the property. On their way back to the buggy, Mrs. Walker told Brother Augustine, “As soon as you are settled I will put up the chapel.” Brother Augustine was defeated and told Mrs. Walker the chapel would not be built because he had only two days left to raise an impossible amount of money to make the down payment. Protesting in embarrassment, Mrs. Walker said she had not understood the situation and asked how much money was needed. Brother Augustine told her “$5,000.”
“Why that is exactly what I wanted to give you to build the chapel. I will give it to you for the down payment and when the time comes for building the chapel you can just consider it as my gift,” Mrs. Walker said. They made arrangements to meet at a bank in Columbus on the morning after the retreat ended which was the 30th day of the option.
When Father Judge heard the news, he said to Brother Augustine, “Now you see, you haven’t enough faith. And you weren’t making a good retreat, either. I noticed that.” Father Judge’s next conference was on Faith and confidence in God. Brother Augustine was said to be in the back pew of the chapel blushing all the way through it.
The next morning, on Sept. 30, Brother Augustine met Mrs. Walker at the Columbus bank and received a certified check for the $5,000. He promptly deposited the funds in a Phenix City bank where he got a check book and headed off to make the purchase of the Bradley Plantation, approximately 1,400 acres, from the Nuckolls family.
About a month later, the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity occupied the property. And on Christmas morning, about 8 a.m. in the former Bradley home, Father Judge offered the Holy Sacrifice for the first time at St. Joseph’s Missionary Cenacle.